This year, Uncle Bacala’s was closed for Thanksgiving for the first time ever — but owner Peter Hewitson had a very good reason: In the wake of a kitchen fire that shuttered the restaurant in September, the day after Thanksgiving was the soonest he could open.
It's particularly auspicious as it was the day after Thanksgiving in 2004 that the Garden City Park restaurant made its debut.
Hewitson said that the fire took out most of his kitchen, but that it was the insurance and permitting, not the rebuilding process, that took more than two months to complete. “I just had to sit there and wait for them to let me start working,” he said.
When Uncle Bacala's first opened, Hewitson was one of a number of partners, but by 2009, he had bought out all the partners.
Reflecting on his nearly two decades in Garden City Park, he said that very little about the restaurant had changed other than the seating capacity nearly doubling. During the pandemic he added a large tent that could accommodate 60 people, then another one that could accommodate 25, then two more smaller tents and some igloos. “Someone would call and try to reserve a table for 20 in the dining room on a Saturday night and it just started to make sense to put them in a tent. Unless it gets down to 15 degrees outside, they are very comfortable.”
Hewitson attributes the restaurant’s longevity to its good food and service, of course, but also to the familiarity of the concept. “We’re a red-checked-tablecloth place serving Italian comfort food,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of wow factor, but people just keep coming back."
Uncle Bacala’s is at 2370 Jericho Tpke., Garden City Park, 516-739-0505, unclebacala.com.