Barbara Russo dropped by LL Dent Restaurant in Carle Place to pick up a large birthday cake she ordered for her husband, William — although he was born in September.
The Westbury couple pushed up the birthday celebration seven months, just so they could get William Russo’s favorite confection for the occasion — an angel food cake with pineapple filling and coconut frosting — before the restaurant closes for good Feb. 28.
“We’re celebrating his birthday this weekend,” Barbara Russo, 76, said as she waited for the freshly baked cake. “We’re having friends over tonight, tomorrow we’ll have it for a celebration with my daughter, and then on Sunday we’ll have it at a Super Bowl party.”
Barbara Russo was among dozens of LL Dent customers who packed the restaurant on that recent Friday, after learning days earlier that their favorite Southern-style eatery and popular fixture in the Carle Place community was being shuttered after 13 years. “These two women are the epitome of goodness,” Russo, a retired nurse, said of owners Lillian Dent and her daughter, Leisa Dent. “They make everyone feel like they’re at home here. My husband and I have also enjoyed their Southern fried chicken wings with baked macaroni on the side, and the grits.” She adds, “I’m Italian and food is of the essence [in her culture].”
The Dents say they decided to close the Old Country Road restaurant, featuring mostly soul food, after much soul searching.
Lillian Dent says the cost to run the restaurant was outpacing its relatively reasonable menu prices and she and Leisa didn’t want to raise them to make the business profitable again.
But Lillian Dent, 78, who lives in Roosevelt with Leisa, 57, says the main reason the LL Dent era is ending is she and Leisa no longer have an appetite for the restaurant.
The mother-and-daughter team’s ties to food stem from Lillian’s roots in Evans, Georgia, where she grew up in a four-room house with six siblings. Her father, James Brooks, was a school bus driver who also worked in a grocery and her mother, Maude, was a homemaker who taught her to cook.
“We grew up in the country, so we grew up cooking and eating what we grew,” Lillian Dent recalls. The family cooking duties fell to her, so she had tired of cooking by the time the restaurant opened. Lillian worked the front of the house, Leisa handled the kitchen.
Leisa Dent was a personal chef to fellow Roosevelt High School graduate Eddie Murphy before being trained as a chef at the Culinary Institute of America and working as a Marriott corporate chef. It was Leisa’s dream to open a restaurant, her mother says.
Leisa Dent says a farewell party is being planned at the restaurant, but a date has not been set.
Both mother and daughter intend to pursue acting careers and other interests. While Leisa would be an acting novice, , Lillian Dent has already worked as an extra and had small roles on TV shows “Orange Is the New Black,” “Quantico” and ''Law & Order.”
Dallas Dalby, 63, of Valley Stream, is a Realtor who has retired from retail sales and made LL Dent a second home since it opened. It’s become a tradition to meet retired friends there once a month for a Friday lunch that can last until dinnertime.
Dalby — and others who love the restaurant — wonders where he and his friends will lunch now because there are no “comparable” spots to LL Dent, he said.
“We feel comfortable here,” Dalby said as he looked around the warm peach walls. They’re decorated with shelves lined with photographs of family and staff, and odds and ends such as a Georgia license plate and album covers from the ‘70s featuring such soul artists as Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield and The Jackson Five.
Some of the notables who have visited LL Dent over the years include comedian Bill Bellamy and legendary radio broadcaster Bob Law, 79, of Westbury.
“Words can’t express the sorrow that we feel," Dalby said. “The food was good and the people were good.”
Town of North Hempstead Councilwoman Viviana Russell, who was also at the restaurant, added that it has been a “staple in the community” and there’s nothing else nearby that has “this complete Southern flair.”
“It’ll be sad to see them go,” Russell said of the Dents. “But at the same time, they’re at peace with their decision to move on.”