The restaurant and bar called 56th Fighter Group Headquarters is...

The restaurant and bar called 56th Fighter Group Headquarters is located in Farmingdale right next to Republic Airport. (June 4, 2010) Credit: Jacqueline Connor

The 56th Fighter Group restaurant, which won awards for its gut-busting Sunday brunches and has been a fixture at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale for 30 years, will close Aug. 12, the restaurant's manager said this week.

Manager Robert Johnson said the decision to close was made earlier this month after the restaurant was unable to reach an agreement with Babylon Town over payments in lieu of property taxes. Under an agreement with New York State, which owns and runs Republic, the payments are required of nonaviation businesses at the airport.

This year's bill was $159,891.60, which Johnson called "excessive." In addition to that payment, the restaurant paid $12,500 monthly rent to Republic.

Johnson said that while the state has been a "great" landlord, the payment in lieu of taxes was "excessive."

Babylon spokesman Tim Ruggeri said town officials were open to a reassessment of the property that could have lowered the bill in the future, but that the new rate wouldn't have taken effect until next year.

"They wanted an immediate reduction; unfortunately, there's a process," Ruggeri said, adding that restaurant management could have asked for the reassessment "at any point really over the last 20 years."

Thirty people will lose their jobs when the restaurant closes, Johnson said, himself included. "I'm exploring options," he said.

The 56th Fighter Group restaurant is one of four military-themed restaurants named after actual combat units run by Anaheim, Calif.-based Specialty Restaurants, which owns 22 restaurants across the country.

The chain was once described in Nation's Restaurant News, a trade publication, as having decor "in which customers are seated for cocktails and dinner in re-creations of partially bombed-out structures, featuring patios with fire pits and bunkers."

About half of the chain's restaurants were on government property, a strategy the story said led to lower-than-normal rents.

Geiger said several potential tenants have already expressed interest in the Republic Airport location.

The fate of the restaurant's home -- described on Specialty Restaurant's website as a "1917 French Style Allied Headquarters Farmhouse" -- is uncertain.

"If somebody else wants to come in there, the building might come down," Geiger said.

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