The oldest restaurant in Little Neck closed its doors for good Oct. 11, becoming the latest victim of the pandemic.
Aunt Bella’s opened in 1977 and was a popular destination for the neighborhood, but even their support couldn’t save the business from ruin. The intense Covid-19 limitations for nearly all of 2020 had put the restaurant into a hole that proved too deep to climb out of, a worker told the Chronicle in an email.
Owner Andy Lin had made the decision to close Aunt Bella’s once before already — last year, he decided on Thanksgiving Eve that the holiday weekend would be the last for the Italian eatery. Aunt Bella’s had suffered an 85 percent revenue drop, which seemed too arduous to overcome.
Even though the indoor dining restrictions only allowed 10 customers inside to dine at a time, Lin ultimately decided against closing. Instead, he reduced the operation to just five hours a day and offered customers the chance to rent the entire restaurant at a time so they could feel safe. While other restaurants created slimmer menus that pushed their more popular items to cut costs, Aunt Bella’s maintained its original menu, and even added some new items. The chef, Homero Tello, started making custom plates to entice customers to stop by, and many could be bought for under $10.
“We think we may have a fighting chance to remain open,” Lin, who took over Aunt Bella’s from original owner Richard Coy in May 2018, told the Chronicle last winter.
But less than one year later and despite the staff’s best efforts, Lin was forced to face the decision to close once again. This time, he unfortunately followed through.
“An environment has been created that has hindered and will continue to strangle small businesses such as Aunt Bella’s from surviving,” a worker, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Chronicle over email.
The Queens Chamber of Commerce estimated in May that roughly 1,000 borough restaurants have closed their doors for good since the start of the pandemic. That same month, the National Restaurant Association estimated that 90,000 restaurants, approximately 14 percent of all eateries, across the country had closed either permanently or long-term.
The loss of Aunt Bella’s, at 46-19 Marathon Pkwy., is one the tiny restaurant’s loyal customers are finding hard to grapple with.
“It was our local Little Neck version of the television sitcom ‘Cheers,’ said Larry Penner, who had been frequenting the Little Neck restaurant since 1983 when it was still relatively new. “Everyone knew the staff, Customers knew each other. There was never the need to go elsewhere when you could dine local.”
In addition to being regular customers throughout the year, Penner and his wife Wendy were loyal holiday visitors, especially on New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. They relied on Aunt Bella’s for private birthday parties and as a meeting destination for congregations with friends.
Lin did not provide comment to the Chronicle on the event of Aunt Bella’s closing.