Star of Main Street celebrates 90 years

06/17/2010 12:00 AM |

Anthony Meras dishes up some breakfast plates Saturday morning at Star Confectionery in downtown Riverhead, just as his grandfather Nicholas did, starting in the late 1920s.

In the 1940s, it was not uncommon to see a star Riverhead High School football player waltz into Star Confectionery in downtown Riverhead after a big win and order a 40-cent Star sundae — four ice cream scoops, three toppings and whipped cream — for himself and his girl.

Today patrons can still order that same sundae, albeit for $9.20, and sit on the same bar stool at the same soda fountain, which has stood inside the East Main Street shop for over 60 years. Though the scene may be different today — it’s far less common to see high school students hanging out downtown — the luncheonette with that old-time feel celebrated its 90th anniversary this month.

While some things have changed in the past nine decades — the soda fountain was updated in 1949 and the booths were redone in the 1970s — many have remained the same. The marble floor, the tin ceiling and the stained-glass front windows have not been changed since the building was a candy shop in 1911.

“It’s history here,” said the shop’s third-generation owner, Anthony Meras, while making an ice-cream soda for a reporter last week.

The business, also known as Papa Nick’s, was purchased by Mr. Meras’ grandfather, Nicholas, in 1920. Then just a candy and ice-cream store, Star Confectionery later expanded to include hot breakfast and lunch. The shop, located in the heart of downtown at the corner of Roanoke Avenue, still sells homemade chocolate around Easter as a testament to its original incarnation.

Star Confectionery was later turned over to Nicholas Meras’ son, Anthony’s father, Tony, in 1970s. Anthony Meras took over the family business in the early 1990s.

“It was a place where people came down, especially high school kids,” Tony Meras recalled. Students would order 15-cent plates of french fries to snack on while they did their homework. “They hung out from 2:30 until 5, then my father would kick them out,” he said.

Tony Meras worked in the store in some capacity from the time he was 6 years old. He said he turned down an opportunity to attend college to tend to the family business, which enabled him to avoid being drafted in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

When he’s not playing golf, he now hangs out at the shop and eats homemade ice cream most every day.

“The restaurant is air for him,” his son said. “It’s life.”

Star Confectionery has seen scores of repeat and regular customers over the years, including the unofficially named breakfast club, which met every morning for about two decades.

Bob Dick, who is now a vice president at the Suffolk County National Bank, said about 10 members of the club, including himself, would sit at the same counter seat every day from the early 1970s until the 1990s.

Mr. Dick, who joked he was afraid to admit that he was part of the breakfast club lest it reveal his age, said the men would meet to discuss everything from Town Hall politics to national issues.

“A bunch of local business people went in there every morning and we would solve all of Riverhead’s problems before they ever started,” he said.

The group stopped meeting as members moved away or died over the years, Mr. Dick said, adding that reminiscing about the club brought back happy memories.

Anthony Meras noted that given the economy and the blighted downtown, the shop isn’t as busy as it used to be. He said that times are tough, but the fact that his family owns the building and the shop has a loyal customer base are keeping them afloat.

Every few years, he said, a rumor circulates that he will be closing the restaurant. But the Meras family has no intention of leaving. As long as the business can turn a profit in spite of a struggling Main Street, the joint will stay open.

“My grandfather would probably haunt me for the rest of my life” if he closed the shop, Mr. Meras said.

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