Canterbury Ales, a mainstay in restaurant-heavy downtown Huntington for more than 36 years, announced this week it had closed its doors.
The reason: The owner owes $220,779 in back taxes, according to New York State tax officials.
Owner Billy Hoest said Tuesday two "aggressive" state sales tax audits found the eatery owed the money. "Closing was my only option," said Hoest, who has owned the restaurant for the past 28 years. "Unfortunately, too late in the game I discovered I had two horrible accountants."
Cary Ziter, a spokesman for the state Tax Department, said Wednesday in an email that the restaurant has not been seized by the state tax department.
"We can confirm, however, that this business, at this address, currently has a total warranted assessment balance of $220,779 for back Sales Tax owned to the State," he said. "We are working directly with the taxpayer in an effort to resolve this matter. As you know, the privacy provisions of the Tax Law prohibit us from going into further detail."
Hoest said that in recent weeks he had been trying to sell the restaurant where he has worked since its inception, and which employed 25 full- and part-time workers. But being in denial about having to sell delayed that effort, he added.
"I was trying my best to trim back costs and operations to keep open," said Hoest, 55, of Greenlawn. "But in the last two weeks it seemed obvious the situation was too overwhelming to get over."
On Monday the subject line of his email to patrons announcing the shutdown read: "Thank you and Goodbye from Canterbury Ales."
Patrons of the New York Avenue restaurant could always expect a warm greeting and an authentic English pub-style meal.
Lifelong Huntington resident and town board member Mark Cuthbertson said he was sad to see the restaurant close. "It would be a shame if it's closing," he said. "It's been a fixture for as long as I can remember."
The decor included vintage menus and framed prints of that squabbling comic strip couple The Lockhorns, whose creators were Hoest's parents, Billy and Connie.
Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce co-chairman Robert Bontempi said the closing is a huge loss to the community. "It's an institution in Huntington, but had reached a loyalty that extended across Long Island," Bontempi said.
Hoest said he was holding out little hope he could reopen. "Right now it's definite that it won't open again."