While Lino Viola recently closed his landmark Italian restaurant, , with a heavy heart, he is optimistic about the future, looking forward to a brand new chapter in his career as a restaurateur.
He said that even though business has been slow for quite a while, it’s only in the past year that he seriously considered closing down.
“This place has been my life, and it’s hard to detach myself from it,” he said. “But business hasn’t been that good recently, and we didn’t have any more money to put in. You can’t keep putting good money into bad. But I’m very, very sad about it.”
After a 35-year run in Cedarhurst, Viola decided to change course a bit, with plans to open a new kind of restaurant in a new place with his daughter Paulette.
They have their sights set on the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, where they plan to open a pub or café.
“Young people today want food that’s simpler, lighter and quicker,” Viola said. “My daughter Paulette says that Williamsburg is an up-and-coming area. She will do well, because she grew up in the restaurant business, along with my other two children. But we don’t want to rush into anything, because when you rush, you can make mistakes. We’re looking for the right location.”
Since Viola said he thinks that there is a slim chance his Cedarhurst location will remain a restaurant, he decided to sell the contents with an auction planned for next week. He thinks the location will likely become some kind of office building.
“We’ve got two big floors, expensive chefs, assistant chefs, so much inventory and a big menu," he said. "It’s a very big operation. If anything, maybe a kosher restaurant has a chance to succeed here.”
Viola said that having a non-kosher restaurant in an increasingly kosher neighborhood has hurt business, as well as the poor economy. His daughter Paulette voiced the same sentiments.
“It’s hard when more and more residents want kosher,” she said. “The neighborhood isn’t what it used to be. Also, people used to come from all over, but no one wants to come here anymore, because there’s nothing going on here. The economy hurt too. There’s a couple of restaurants that are still here, but they’re hanging on by a thread.”
By contrast, she claimed that Williamsburg and surrounding areas are flourishing.
“Williamsburg is booming,” she said. “There’s so much going on there. A lot of young people live there, enjoy the arts and spend money. Since we live in Cedarhurst, we’ll miss the convenience we had of living a few blocks from our restaurant, but we’re on to bigger and better things.”
Viola still gets choked up when he reminisces about the history of La Viola, which he started in the 1970s with his wife Elsa, who died earlier this year. But he’s not the only one who is sorry to see the restaurant close.
“Whenever I walked in there it was a very warm and cozy place,” said Fran Lombardo, a longtime employee of the . “Before he passed away, Danny Dwyer, the tennis pro from the Woodmere club, used to take a group of us there every year for a nice dinner. He liked to do something nice for us, as a thank you for working hard for him. They had good family-style food at La Viola, and it was very homey.”
Lisa Lanese, co-owner of , also had kind parting words for La Viola and its owner.
“It was a nice place, and Lino was a wonderful neighbor,” she said. “His place was a great addition to the town of Cedarhurst. He was a gentleman from day one.”
Viola owns the building, located at 499 Chestnut St., which he says was an inn decades before he bought it. There is a large unused part of the restaurant that remains as it was back then — several bedrooms linked by narrow hallways. Now, as Viola strolls through those halls and the empty dining rooms, which are being prepped for the upcoming auction, he reflects on all the prosperous years and the customers who became friends.
“We had some very good years here. It was wonderful,” he said. “I will miss this place, and most of all, I will miss the people that I’ve gotten to know so well over the years. But I guess it’s time to move on.”