The Work We Do: Anthony Meras and the history behind ‘Papa Nick’s’

My name is Anthony Meras, and I started working at Star Confectionery May 1991. I was in the city working and I came out for the summer to just hang out and do the dishes. Then my uncle retired, and I started working, and now I’ve been here 26 years. 

I love the people and the stories that I hear. Just this past weekend there was someone from the Class of 1951. Back then this was called Papa Nick’s. That was my grandfather, so that was the nickname of the place. The alumnus was telling me he was a football player and after every home game the fans and the team would come down here. They would fill the restaurant with all the kids from the team and their friends and they would close the doors and have their own little party here.

I graduated from Riverhead in 1984 and then I went to a junior college in Massachusetts and I finished at C.W. Post. Then I worked for the Standard Register Company for a couple years before I started here. I didn’t know how to cook, even just from watching my dad and my mom. I didn’t know how to do any of what I do now, so I think it’s kind of funny how you fall into things.

First thing, I will check all the salads and make sure if we need to make anything fresh for the day. I’ll get things rolling as far as making the grill hot, making pancakes, get all that ready. I’ll check things downstairs, if we need to place orders — like this morning, you know, there’s always something. It’s a moving thing, it’s not the same thing every day. Sometimes it is, but most days something is different. Like I said, if the front door is open and unlocked you never know what’s gonna come in. So that’s what’s fun. And then throughout the day, sometimes it gets busy and that’s where the stress comes in.

I like the mornings, because more of my friends come in. It’s kind of a little breakfast club. My father had his own breakfast club. I remember as a kid coming down and the whole counter was filled with, you know, guys from the bank, from the optical, old school guys that would come in every day. Same spot, sit in the same booth, same counter.

Everybody comes in and busts my chops, “How’s your kids?” You know, that’s what I think is important about this business, is you take an interest in your customer. They’re not just your customer; they’re your friends.

The building is from 1875; the interior, the parlor, is from 1911. My grandfather’s cousin built this, the interior, the floor, the ceiling, the doors and the windows are all original 1911. And people come in and say, “Oh my, what a great job you’ve done redoing this!” and I say, “No, no; it’s all original.”

My grandfather came out in the late teens. The story goes that his cousin was a gambler and he owed someone a debt. So my grandfather came out and paid the debt and said, “Hey, I kinda like it out here, can I stay? I like to work.” He worked for about a year and then sent for my grandmother in Greece and he bought the restaurant about 1920. My father and uncle, they were here for the better part of 50 to 60 years, and my mom.

I was gonna get back into sales, but this is just another version of sales. You can get a burger anywhere, but you can’t get a burger here with this ambiance, with the shake with the homemade ice cream. That’s the fun part of it.

Even the other night, I was here till almost 8 making ice cream. But just doing something different, I was fine. I wasn’t tired.

Sometimes those different things, they make it fun.

‘The Work We Do’ is a News-Review multimedia project profiling workers on the North Fork. See more photos on Instagram @riverheadnewsreview.