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Huntington burger joint closes after 47 years

The illuminated red, white and blue Conte's Burger Haven sign that has beckoned hungry passersby with the promise of hamburgers, ice cream and hot dogs on Pulaski Road for decades went out for the last time yesterday.

After 47 years, the restaurant became a victim of the harsh economic times and the changing appetites of area residents.

"There's just no money," owner Robert Conte said yesterday. "I've had declining sales four years in a row; I'm doing 50 percent less than I did four years ago, while my costs continue to go up."

All afternoon longtime customers stopped in to order lunch, get an ice cream cone, sign a farewell book and bid good wishes to Conte.

John Schmitt brought his daughter Elizabeth, 8, and his niece Madeline Rinere, 10, for a round of burgers and fries one last time.

"We're really going to miss this place," Schmitt said. "This is a sad day."

Conte said his father, John, and uncle Carl, both barbers, opened the burger joint that offered 15-cent burgers, 15-cent fries and 20-cent milkshakes in 1961 after one of their customers told them he was opening a new restaurant in East Northport called McDonalds. That original hamburger now goes for .95 cents.

The brothers built their restaurant on the property where they had been born. Business boomed through the 1960s, and over the years they expanded the building, and the menu.

In 1990, Robert Conte bought the place and soon added a drive-through. In recent years, to appeal to the growing Hispanic population, Conte put plantains, jalapeno peppers, beans and rice, and fish on the menu. But it wasn't enough to attract enough customers to sustain his business.

Conte said a few weeks ago he decided it would be fitting to close the restaurant the day before Thanksgiving because his four remaining siblings, including Assemb. Jim Conte [R- Huntington Station], would be in town and they could share in closing the local landmark. Conte said his decision was solidified Monday when his father passed away.

"I realized the place was never really mine," Conte said. "I thought it's not that I have to close, or need to close, I'm supposed to close. There's a greater power out there telling me to go." Conte said that although he is not sure what his next move will be, he's not worried.

And his immediate plan was to leave two burgers, two fries and two sodas on the counter Wednesday night, turn off the lights and leave.

"It's for my parents," Conte said. "so they can be a part of the closing too."

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