David Bryer, executive chef at Beginnings in Atlantic Beach, died unexpectedly Saturday.
A veteran of numerous South Shore kitchens, he was 55.
Beginnings' owner, Ben Freiser, said he became concerned when Bryer was late to work Saturday morning, since "he was never late," and sent a mutual friend to Bryer's East Atlantic Beach apartment, where the executive chef was found nonresponsive. The cause of death was not known.
Sunday marked five years since Bryer helped Freiser and his wife, Heather Freiser, open Beginnings Bar & Restaurant.
Bryer grew up in Westbury. His oldest friend, Joe Renta, met him in the third grade at Bowling Green Elementary School. Renta recalled that Bryer "was always into cooking, always learning recipes from his mother. His first job was at a Pizza Stop in Westbury, which later turned into a Pizza Hut."
Bryer went on to study at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. He spent a few years cooking for a cruise line and eventually made his way back to Long Island. He was cooking under chef John Brill at Chesapeake Bay in Long Beach when Ben Freiser was hired as a server in 2000. "I was just a young pup," Freiser recalled, "but we became close — even lived together on two occasions."
In Long Beach, Bryer cooked at Minnesota’s, Sutton Place and Lil’ Baja, among other restaurants. In 2005, he and Brian LaRose opened B.D. Cool’s Fish Shack in Merrick. It was short-lived, but enthusiastically reviewed by Newsday’s Joan Reminick, who praised the aptly named "clam love," a bowl of clams, chorizo, corn, tomatoes and basil with a chunk of bread to soak up the sauce.
When he was preparing to open Beginnings in late 2015, Freiser recalled, he was looking for a chef who "had never worked in the area. I didn’t want anyone who was going to tell me that what I wanted to do wouldn’t work." He got a Facebook message from Bryer, with whom he had lost touch, that said, "Do I need to send you a resume or … [are] you not interested in hiring old friends?"
Freiser hired him and never looked back. "During the pandemic, crazy as it was, he flourished. Giving our customers what they needed, trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in the kitchen," Freiser said. Normalcy in the kitchen, apparently, required the correct music. "If he was playing Stray Cats, you knew the vibes were good," he said.
He said Bryer never became what he called a "clipboard chef" who managed staff and inventory but didn’t cook. "He never stopped working the line, getting his hands dirty," Freiser said. Bryer took great pride in his food and would bristle when customers wanted to customize their orders. "He’d want me to ‘educate’ the guest on why he did things the way he did things," Freiser said.
Freiser hastened to add that such prickliness did not extend to children. "There was nothing he wouldn’t do for kids," he said, noting that his own three children are heartbroken with Bryer's death and that his 8-year-old says "he wants to be a chef like Dave."
Bryer is survived by a sister. After his parents, Joan and Frederick Bryer, died, Bryer was "adopted" by Renta and his family. "My kids grew up with him being their uncle," Renta said. His daughter, Kristen Renta, a server at Beginnings, set up a GoFundMe page for Bryer's funeral expenses.
"I loved my uncle, David M. Bryer more than life itself," she wrote on Facebook. "Working with him was the best part of my summers. Growing up, he couldn’t attend many family gatherings. Seeing his face everyday doing what he loved was what made all those years of missing him worth it."
A memorial is being planned and will be announced on Beginnings’ Facebook page.