There is a light at the end of the tunnel for John Abbracciamento.
The restaurant bearing his father Joe’s name, located at 62-96 Woodhaven Blvd. in Rego Park, has been in business since 1948 and has served dignitaries such as President John F. Kennedy and Rep. Geraldine Ferraro in addition to generations of hungry Queens residents.
But on Sunday, March 2, Abbracciamento’s servers will take dinner orders from hungry customers and uncork bottles of wine for the final time before closing the restaurant’s doors the following day.
Abbracciamento says that so many of his customers have begged him and his wife, Marie, who handles the business portion of the restaurant, not to close. But after over 60 years of hard work and dedication, they say it’s time to take a break.
“People have told us ‘Please don’t go, we’ll miss you,’ but it’s just time to sit back,” Abbracciamento said. “So we’re retiring the restaurant. It’s been a 60-year run and I’ve been here all my life.
“We’re physically and mentally exhausted,” he continued. “All that time working really adds up, you know?”
Abbracciamento’s was opened by Joe Abbracciamento, John’s father, in 1948. Born and raised in Middle Village, the son began working in his father’s eatery at 12 years old, when he was tasked with opening the restaurant and cleaning.
In addition to its food and history, Abbracciamento’s, which is open every day except Monday, is known throughout the borough as a landmark venue.
The restaurant features a signature red marquee, left over from part of the building’s previous use as a movie theater, bearing the eatery’s name as well as a bright, neon sign.
Eventually, the father and son duo began operating the restaurant together and Abbracciamento says that it was their dream to retire the restaurant together as well.
But the elder Abbracciamento passed away in 1999 after a stroke at 73 years old, and his son, who is one of the restaurant’s chefs as well as owner, has been running the restaurant in his father’s memory ever since.
“This was his dream and this was his life. He gave his life for it. I remember cooking for him and he was standing in front of me cutting the bread for years,” he said. “This is a tribute to my father. This is his place and it will always be his place. I think he would very much be proud of what the restaurant is today.”
In the late 1970s, Abbracciamento’s father bought the block on which the restaurant and other businesses sit.
But Abbracciamento insists that, once his establishment closes, there will never be another restaurant on that location for as long as he owns it.
That is, unless, he decides one day to bring Abbracciamento’s back, an option that may remain on the table after its closure.
“There won’t be another restaurant here. As long as I own the property, there will never be another restaurant here in this spot,” he said. “For all I know, we’ll see how I feel over the next few months. Will there be a possible comeback? I don’t know. You never know what doors may open for you.”
Abbracciamento also says that, while the restaurant may be closing in just a few weeks, there are no plans in the works to sell the building at this time.
“I have no idea,” he said, when asked what will become of his building after the restaurant closes. “I’m taking the stages as they come. This will be the first stage and we’ll see what happens.”
Among the many customers, including Chronicle employees, who have mourned the restaurant’s impending closing, Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, is saddened by the news.
“It’s the end of an era with Abbracciamento’s closing. We were planning the Juniper Park Civic Association’s 75th anniversary party there in the spring. However, that can’t happen now.” Holden said, adding that the group’s 70th anniversary event was held there. “We all attended many functions there over the years, we are all sad to see it go.”
Abbracciamento is sad to see his restaurant go as well, but he chuckles recounting all the memories he has of his establishment.
While President Kennedy and his brother, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, coming to dine stands out in his mind as moments that Abbracciamento will never forget, the media scrum surrounding then-Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro’s visit to the restaurant is the most memorable.
“People were calling the restaurant from all over the place to ask what she had to eat,” he said. “It was completely crazy.”
Abbracciamento insists that, while his restaurant may be retiring, he certainly has no plans of doing so.
He works as a freelance photographer on the side, and, in addition to making up for lost time with his wife, he will be trading in his pots and pans for cameras and film for the foreseeable future.
Abbracciamento may be leaving the restaurant, possibly for good, in just six weeks, but he says the restaurant will not only never leave his mind, but it will physically never leave him as well.
“Once this place closes, I think I’m going to take the big Joe Abbracciamento neon sign down and I’m going to put it on the back of my house above my pool,” he said. “And every time I get a little lonely, I’m going to turn it on and let it reflect on my pool.”