Friends and fellow downtown restaurant owners have banded together to kick off a series of fundraisers to help Athens Grill owner John Mantzopoulos rebuild the Riverhead restaurant after it was destroyed in a fire that swept through the kitchen last Friday night.
The first fundraiser, a free barbecue dinner called “Rebuild Athens,” will be held Sunday, said event organizer and owner of the Riverhead Project restaurant Dennis McDermott.
The event will be held at The Riverhead Project from 2 to 5 p.m.
“This is going to be a homestyle, informal, old school event to help John rebuild his place of business, the event is free and all we ask is that people donate whatever amount they can to help John rebuild”. Mr. McDermott said. “We rushed to get this event up and going, there will be more events to follow, we know this is a tough weekend but the key is that make a beginning to help John build anew.”
Mr. McDermott also announced the Riverhead Restaurant Group, an organization devoted to promoting downtown’s restaurants that will also help to support Mr. Mantzopoulos as he rebuilds.
“We hope the RRG will bring Riverhead area dining establishments together and I know our local restaurant industry will come together to stand behind John,” he said.
Anthony Coates, a downtown Riverhead resident and friend to Mr. Mantzopoulos, is a co-organizer of Sunday’s fundraiser and said the blaze “sent shockwaves” through Riverhead.
He urged locals to give back to “a man who has given so much to Riverhead.”
“John is a good neighbor and a friend to all, now is the time for us to help out a friend,” he said. “Riverhead is a small town and our greatest strength is that when the chips are down we come together as a small town. We have come too far in rebuilding Main Street to slide backwards.”
In an interview Monday, Mr. Mantzopoulos said he was shocked by how fast the fire spread.
“There was not a lot of time to react … I was numb,” Mr. Mantzopoulos said. “One minute I’m waiting for 8:30 reservations to show up and the next minute I’m out in the parking lot.”
Some residents have already started donating to the cause, as the Riverhead cheerleading squad gave Mr. Mantzopoulos fundraiser money at Saturday’s cardboard boat race.
But Mr. Mantzopoulos said he feels guilty that so many are donating to help him in such harsh economic times, adding that a restaurant owner has already offered him a job as chef at that restaurant. He said it’s the thought behind the donations that matters far more than any money he might receive.
“It’s not a matter of people giving you a quarter or $1,000,” he said. “At the end of the day it matters that you’re well-liked by people, and you have friends.”
He said reopening Athens Grill will be a “long process.”
On Monday, Mr. Mantzopoulos went back to the restaurant with coworkers and friends to survey the damage. Rain trickled through the exposed holes in the roof, landing in puddles and dripping into plates still filled with uneaten clams. Yellow caution tape blocks off part of the restaurant near the bar where pieces of the ceiling tile fell onto the floor.
“I don’t think we’re going to open in a month or two,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”
The fundraiser will be held at The Riverhead Project today, Sunday, July 7 from 2 to 5 p.m.