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07/28/13 2:36pm
07/28/2013 2:36 PM

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | John Mantzopoulous, owner and chef of Athens Grill in Riverhead, prepares mediterranean meatballs at a “Rebuild Athens” fundraiser held at the Suffolk Theater Saturday evening to raise money for the eatery’s restoration.

It was devastated by a grease fire last month, but Athens Grill in Riverhead will rise from the ashes next year as Mazi, a Greek word meaning “together” — and the restaurant will feature an open layout, coffee bar and enhanced menu, owner and chef John Mantzopoulos announced Saturday evening.

“We wanted to put Athens Grill to rest,” Mr. Mantzopoulos said at a “Rebuild Athens” fundraiser hosted by the Suffolk Theater to raise money for the eatery’s restoration. “When I was looking for a new name, I came up with the word “mazi.” In Greek, it means “together,” and I thought it was a very nice name because the restaurant is getting put together by the community, by my friends, and by my neighbors.”

Mr. Mantzopoulos said the new restaurant will have an open-concept feel and that the menu will focus on tapas — small plates of food people can enjoy with friends. He also plans to build a full bar as well as a coffee bar.

“We have a lot of new ideas,” he said. “We want to get people to come in three times a week instead of having a traditional dinner once every three weeks. It’s going to be a restaurant where, if you want to chill with a friend and spend 20 bucks, you can do that.”

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07/15/13 4:25pm
07/15/2013 4:25 PM
Suffolk theater

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | The theater marquis in downtown Riverhead.

Nearly a month to the day from when Athens Grill in Riverhead was devastated by a grease fire, the neighboring Suffolk Theater will host a fundraiser to help support the restaurant’s grill chef and owner John Mantzopoulos rebuild.

John Mantzopoulos

John Mantzopoulos

While Mr. Mantzopoulos estimates it will take at least six months before the restaurant could re-open, regulars won’t have to wait that long to enjoy some of their favorite Athens menu items. Mr. Mantzopoulos will be back in the kitchen at the Suffolk Theater, cooking his Greek specialties for the event. The theatre’s regular menu will be available as well.

This is the second fundraiser for Mr. Mantzopoulos’ reconstruction efforts. On July 6, dozens of friends and fellow downtown restaurant owners banded together “Rebuild Athens” fundraiser hosted by The Riverhead Project, another restaurant.

The evening will feature live performances by popular local bands Who Are Those Guys and Craving Strange.

The fundraiser is scheduled for July 27 at 7 p.m. at The Suffolk Theater, 118 East Main Street in Riverhead.

Tickets are $20 (and count as a donation; feel free to give more) and are available at The Suffolk Theater Box Office, or at the door.

All proceeds go toward the Athens Grill Restoration Project.

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PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | The interior of the Athens Grill three days after the fire.

07/08/13 6:00am
07/08/2013 6:00 AM

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | Athens Grill owner John Mantzopoulos (left) with fundraiser organizer and owner of the Riverhead Project restaurant, Dennis McDermott, on Sunday.

On a weekend typically reserved for fireworks and family gatherings, restaurant owners are usually hunkered down at their businesses, trying to make the most of the busy summer holiday.

But this particular holiday weekend, Riverhead proprietors put their own livelihoods, and competition, aside for an afternoon to support one of their own.

Friends and fellow downtown restaurant owners banded together Sunday for the first of many fundraisers to help Athens Grill rebuild after it was destroyed in a fire a little more than a week ago.

The barbecue lunch, called “Rebuild Athens,” at The Riverhead Project restaurant saw dozens show up in support for Athens Grill owner John Mantzopoulos and his family. Trays of food were donated from neighboring eateries, including Blue Duck Bakery, Digger O’Dell’s, Meeting House Creek Inn, Crooked Ladder, Cody’s BBQ and Grill and many more.

“It’s like the end of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ when everybody comes together,” event organizer and Riverhead Project owner, Dennis McDermott, said of the event. Guests were not asked to pay for a meal, however nearly all donated for Athens Grill’s reconstruction efforts.

“It’s not even about the money; it’s to show John that we are here for him,” Mr. McDermott said.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | The interior of the Athens Grill days after the fire.

“I was actually surprised so many came together,” Mr. Mantzopoulos said. “Riverhead has really shown me good faith.”

In 2004, Mr. Mantzopoulos took ownership of Athens Grill, expanding and upgrading the former gyro joint into an elegant, Greek restaurant. For almost 10 years he has been a part of Riverhead’s downtown revitalization efforts and currently serves on downtown Riverhead’s Business Improvement District’s board of the directors.

“John would always help anybody and now it’s his turn,” said Ray Pickersgill, the BID president, adding the outpouring of compassion is characteristic of the downtown business community. “They are all in competition, but they are all members of the business district.

“People here like to help others when they’re down.”

Mr. Mantzopoulos said he was relieved no one was injured by the fire, and that he is looking forward to re-opening.

“It’s too early to say what color the walls will be, but we will rebuild,” he told the crowd Sunday. “Hopefully in six months from now I’ll see you back at my tables.”

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07/07/13 6:15am
07/07/2013 6:15 AM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | The interior of the Athens Grill Monday afternoon.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | The interior of the Athens Grill Monday afternoon.

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.”

Athens Grill fire

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Firefighters at the scene of Friday’s night’s fire at Athens Grill in downtown Riverhead.

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.

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07/06/13 10:00am
07/06/2013 10:00 AM

I often tell people there’s no greater place to cover news than in Riverhead.

This town has it all: diversity, a downtown in flux, agriculture, silly politics, great local sports and loyal residents who are passionate about the place they call home.

With all of this comes the good type of news and the bad. This town is heartwarming one day and heartbreaking the next. The past week provided the perfect example of this.

My wife, Vera, and I were camping near the Jersey Shore two years ago when we received word of the horrible gel candle incident that left Michael Hubbard badly burned. The breaking news reporter for the paper at the time, I remember Vera, the breaking-news reporter at the time, trying to report the news from the road. It was exactly the kind of story you hate to have to tell, the kind where everything changes for the worst for a young person with promise.

Ever since that day, we’ve enjoyed hearing little bursts of good news as Michael has experienced small victories in his long road to recovery. Two years later, his friends and family were able to celebrate his biggest win yet as he was returned home to Riverhead from the Westchester County facility where he had been cared for since September 2011.

As a great example of a community hospital looking out for one of its own, Michael is now being cared for at Peconic Bay Medical Center’s skilled nursing facility as he awaits the opening of Brendan House, a group care facility planned for Riverhead. (I’d be remiss to not mention the role riverheadlocal.com publisher Denise Civiletti played in connecting Michael’s family with the hospital, where she previously worked. She declined to accept credit when asked about it last week, but both Michael’s family and hospital officials say she was a critical piece of the puzzle.)

Michael’s move back home was among the best news for Riverhead in quite some time. It was only one day later, that this community received some of its worst news in awhile.

If you know that feeling of nervous tension you get deep in your stomach when you hear unexpected bad news, than you know exactly what I felt when I received a phone call Friday night from one of our reporters was who was on the scene of a fire at Athens Grill in downtown Riverhead.

It’s not that uncommon to hear volunteers responding to a kitchen grease fire at a local restaurant over the scanner. But this one, I was told immediately, looked real bad.

News that a local restaurant was lost in a fire would never be good, but I can’t think of too many places I’d less like to see destroyed than Athens Grill.

Opened in 2004, John Mantzopoulos’ restaurant was ahead of others in the push to revitalize downtown Riverhead. And despite the restaurant’s reputation for serving up great food, it was clear he wasn’t making a killing there.

Like a lot of businesses on East Main Street, Athens had seen some ups and downs, and I don’t think it would be a leap of faith for me to say the restaurant had seen more slow days than busy ones as revitalization efforts downtown have ebbed and flowed over the years.

Still, Mr. Mantzopoulos carried on in a town where many before him had packed up and taken their recipes elsewhere.

It would take a heart of concrete not to feel sorry for the man and his staff, or to the many other downtown business owners affected by the news that his restaurant burned.

But this is Riverhead, the place where you get knocked on your back one day and you’re up on your feet another. This is a place where despite its flaws and the cynicism that breeds, everyone loves a tale of rejuvenation. This is, after all, the home Michael Hubbard returned to.

I’m sure the fundraisers that are already in the works to help rebuild the restaurant will be a major success.

I look forward to the day when the Athens building is restored and the restaurant rises from the ashes. I look forward to my next plate of lamb meatballs.

Grant Parpan is the executive editor at Times/Review Newsgroup. He can be reached at [email protected] or (631) 354-8046.

06/28/13 9:23pm

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Emergency crews responded to a fire at Athens Grill on East Main Street in Riverhead Friday night.

Flames engulfed the Athens Grill restaurant on East Main Street during dinner rush Friday night, destroying the building and temporarily closing a portion of the busy street.

The restaurant was quickly evacuated and nobody was injured, emergency officials said.

Riverhead firefighters responded to the scene around 8:30 p.m. as smoke was billowing out of the building’s roof, officials said.

The fire was under control before 9:30 p.m. and the building’s electric had been cut. Fire officials said the fire may have spread to the neighboring La Mexicana grocery store.

The grease fire sparked in the kitchen at Athens Grill, a police officer at the scene said.

Riverhead Fire Department press officer Bill Sanok said the damage to the interior of the building was mostly cosmetic but the damage to the roof was more substantial.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The back of Athens Grill Saturday morning.

The fire spread and was caught between two layers of the roof, which created a challenge for firefighters.

Two Riverhead ladder teams were placed on the roof of the building to extinguish the fire, officials said. Volunteers from the fire departments in Wading River, Flanders, Eastport, Manorville, Westhampton and Hampton Bays all assisted at the scene. The Jamesport Fire Department served as backup at the Riverhead firehouse.

Both Riverhead fire marshals were at the scene investigating the fire Friday night.

As of 10:30 p.m. East Main Street was still closed at Peconic and East avenues. Roanoke Avenue is closed at Second Street.

Athens owner and chef John Mantzopoulos of Greenport said Friday night was the busiest of a summer season that had so far been slow.

“This is the worst thing that could have happened [for the restaurant]” he said. “At least no life was lost.”

His wife, Christine Mantzopoulos, said “No one got hurt and that is the most important thing.”

Ray Pickersgill, president of downtown Riverhead’s Business Improvement District, said he was in the restaurant at the time of the blaze.

“It smelled like burnt toast,” said Mr. Pickersgill, who said the building sustained too much damage and is likely lost.

Tom Lassandro, who was visiting the restaurant with friends at the time the fire sparked, said he initially thought a cook had burned a meal.

“Then the dining room filled with smoke,” he said.

Speaking outside the restaurant, Athens waitress Debra Walsh said, “I can’t believe this is happening.”

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said late Friday night that the town will speed up the permit process to rebuild the restaurant as best it can.

“Anything we can do to help we will,” Mr. Walter said.

The fire marks a somber start to a busy weekend on the riverfront with the popular cardboard boat race scheduled for Saturday and a triathlon planned for Sunday.

This is the second downtown restaurant fire in a little more than a week, following a kitchen fire at nearby Cliff’s Rendezvous last Tuesday.

Athens Grill opened in 2004.

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06/07/13 10:00am
06/07/2013 10:00 AM
COURTESY PHOTO | An undated photo of Aaron Hartmann, who was seriously injured Sunday morning.

COURTESY PHOTO | An undated photo of Aaron Hartmann, who was seriously injured on May 12.

Athen’s Grill in downtown Riverhead will host a fundraiser today, June 11, for Aaron Hartmann, the 23-year-old Riverhead man who suffered serious injuries in a hit-and-run in Flanders last month.

Proceeds from the fundraiser will go toward helping Mr. Hartmann pay for his medical bills and rehabilitation costs. The event will include complimentary hors d’oeuvres and appetizers, music and a 50/50 raffle.

The 23-year-old Riverhead resident was walking along County Road 105 about 12:50 a.m. on Mother’s Day from a friend’s birthday party when he was struck by a vehicle, which fled the scene, police have reported.

Mr. Hartmann was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center and later to Stony Brook University Medical Center with serious injuries, including swelling in his brain.

Two days after the crash, Jacqueline Celentano, 21, of Calverton was arrested in connection with the hit-and-run.

Ms. Celentano, a 2009 Riverhead High School graduate, was charged with leaving the scene of an accident with physical injuries, a felony, and was freed on $30,000 bail after pleading not guilty.

Mr. Hartmann, who returned home last week after three weeks in the hospital, has broken bones in his left leg, sees double out of his left eye, and has poor vision in his right eye as a result of the May 12 crash.

He will have to rehabilitate over the next several months to relearn how to walk, he said.

The fundraiser will run from 6 to 8 p.m. on June 11 at the Athens Grill at 33 East Main St. in Riverhead.

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