George O’Neill, owner of the restaurant at 64-21 53rd Dr., watched from across the street as the fire charred everything in his store back in May 2011.
“When I tell you everything burned, not one piece of paper did we have,” he said, recalling the two-day-long fire.
As the restaurant is currently undergoing a relentless rebuilding process for the building’s revitalized design, O’Neill says they are preparing to open their doors at 3 p.m. on Flag Day.
“What I’d like people to do is bring in an American flag with them,” he mentioned.
The restaurant will have a new catering room for large parties up to roughly 225 people, the dining room is expected to seat around 100 and the remodeled bar area will house around 100 guests.
He also says there are plans to provide rooftop seating in the future, as soon as he gets approval from the city.
But for all the changes, loyal customers and neighbors can expect the same community involvement that has characterized O'Neill's throughout it's history.
Looking toward the grand re-opening, O’Neill said the Fire Department is expected to present the flag that was burned during the fire on the flagpole out front. Hall of Fame sports celebrities like Brian Leech are also anticipated to join in the reopening celebrations and resign some of the sports memorabilia that was lost in the fire.
“A lot of athletes jersey’s that were signed in here were burned from guys like Michael Jordan, my son-in-law is Brian Leech, and he’ll be here,” he said. “I’m hoping to get Derek Jeter here, too.”
Today, O’Neill sits outside of his deeply rooted family establishment, antsy and with a childlike hysteria in his eyes as he watches the workers putting his restaurant back together, piece-by-piece. The new sign is already proudly mounted atop the front entrance.
“There was a grocery store, a refrigeration store over there,” O’Neill said, pointing around the block, remembering when he first opened the doors in 1960. “There was a newspaper store over there, a bakery store over here and I just kept knocking the wall down to build O’Neill’s, the restaurant.”