New Birchwood owner updating interior, aims for Nov. opening

09/30/2014 5:22 PM |
Birchwood is expected to re-open by November. (Barbaraellen Koch file photo)

Birchwood is expected to re-open by November. (Barbaraellen Koch file photo)

When it opens later this fall, it will have a new menu, catering room and name — technically.

But the new owner of the Birchwood restaurant in Polish Town made something very clear recently: Everything locals loved about the venerable eatery, which has been closed since June, will stay the same.

“It’s been a tradition in this town for how many years?” said Danielle Sessa, who is set to close a deal on the property Tuesday . “I feel this restaurant is the heart of the town. It is filled with history. My family and I are making sure the doors open again on this landmark.”

In January, Birchwood’s former owner, James Loo, died and the property was granted to his 12-year-old daughter in estate proceedings.

Ms. Sessa, a Wading River native who runs a local catering business and whose family has years of experience in the restaurant industry, plans to reopen the restaurant by the first week of November.

The eatery will be renamed “The Birchwood of Polish Town” as a way to honor the town and its heritage, she said.

Andrea Mayer, who divorced Mr. Loo in 2004, was named an administrator of the property last month in her daughter’s stead and previously announced plans to sell the property.

Ms. Sessa emphasized that the new Birchwood will be “family-owned and operated.” She added that she and her parents will incorporate an Italian twist to Birchwood’s former menu by adding passed-down recipes for pastas and homemade cheesecake.

But locals needn’t worry: Old favorites like the pu pu platter aren’t going anywhere, Ms. Sessa said.

The Birchwood’s catering room is set to receive new carpeting, mahogany-stained wood panels and new white trim around the walls, Ms. Sessa said. LED lights and televisions will be installed to update the space for weddings, parties, seminars and luncheons.

“I just wanted to update everything,” she said this week in the still-empty catering room.

In a nod to its history, Ms. Sessa said, the restaurant’s dining room won’t be changed. But her father will create a “9/11 Tribute” on one part of the wall, she said.

Ms. Sessa’s two siblings will also work in the restaurant. And she plans to rehire some of the staff who were laid off by the restaurant’s previous owner.

Ms. Sessa said she was looking for a space for catering events with a “homespun” atmosphere to call her own.

“The Birchwood fits this all into one package for me,” she said. “It’s the character of the place and the town.”

Local business owners all said they’ve heard customers asking about the Birchwood and whether it would reopen.

“We still see people pull up, get out of their cars, go to the door and try to go in,” said Wanda Wilinski, who works across the street from the Birchwood at Gadzinski Insurance on Pulaski Street. “We’re in favor of it [reopening].”

Damian Klusek, a manager at the nearby Euro Deli, said the Birchwood is an essential part of the community.

“We need a Polish restaurant here,” he said.

A manager at Carlo’s Pizza Oven around the corner said customers had been asking about the Birchwood and whether it would reopen.

“I’m sure you’re going to get all the customers back, but I can’t really say,” said the manager, who gave his name as Pete. “It was always a good place here in Polish Town.”

Pete said the new Birchwood may face challenges opening so late in the season, especially with winter approaching.

“There’s gonna be positives and negatives,” he said. “It all depends on how they open it up.”

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