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Steve Bitetzakis

Steve Bitetzakis in front of his restaurant on the Coney Island Boardwalk. November 6, 2010. Photo © Jim Kiernan via jamienyc/flickr

Coney Island lost one of its own last night. Steve Bitetzakis, 54, the owner of Steve’s Grill House located on the Coney Island Boardwalk from 1993 until 2011, passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Decorative flags, flowerpots, hand-painted signage and ample seating gave Steve’s Grill House a homey ambiance. Friends remembered him as a nice guy who knew all of his customers and would help out people who were hungry. “He’d say, you can pay me when you have the money, but I’m sure they never did,” said retired arcade operator Stanley Fox. “But he was that kind of guy.”

Door of the Grill House. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

Handpainted Sign on Door of the Grill House. August 1, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

The restaurateur was the last hold out of the “Coney Island 8″ evicted from the Boardwalk by Zamperla. In February 2012, he called off plans to have his modular building moved down Stillwell and instead took a buyout. Steve invested in a state-of-the-art concession trailer which opened for Easter of last year on Thor Equities’ Stillwell Avenue lot leased to the BK Festival.

Unfortunately, he lost his location to Cha Cha’s Club Atlantis and had to move to another lot leased by the festival where he was not able to open for business. The BK Festival’s plan for satellite locations on Surf Avenue called for opening the fencing during business hours but it turned out that city regulations did not permit it. Steve’s shuttered trailer remained parked on the Surf Avenue lot until a few weeks ago when all of the vehicles on the lot were towed away to a City pound.

Steve's Grill House

Steve's New Grill House concession trailer at the BK Festival on Stillwell Avenue. April 8, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

It was sad to see Steve’s Grill House leave Coney Island since we knew he was ill and his restaurant was not likely to be coming back. There was no spot for him to lease in the new Coney Island, even though there are still empty lots.

Steve’s family has a long history of operating food concessions in Coney Island. His father Gregory Bitetzakis was the co-owner of Gregory & Paul’s, which opened more than 50 years ago. After Gregory retired in 2009, the restaurant changed its name to Paul’s Daughter. Steve first got sand in his shoes working for his father in the G & P’s on West 10th Street opposite the Cyclone. “He wanted to be in Coney Island more than anything,” said an old friend.

A wake will be held at the Dahill Funeral Home, 2525 65th Street, Brooklyn, on Tuesday, May 21st from 5 until 9 pm.

Grill House coney Island Boardwalk

Steve’s Grill House, Coney Island Boardwalk. Last day of season, Oct 31, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Dreamland Bell at Grimaldi's

1885 Bell from Iron Pier at Dreamland Park on Display at Grimaldi’s Coney Island. Mary 12, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Grimaldi’s in Coney Island, which renovated and reopened on April 30 after being flooded by Superstorm Sandy, is now offering a slice of Coney Island history along with their pizza pies. The “Dreamland Bell” that survived the Dreamland Fire of 1911 was put on display yesterday at the pizza restaurant, where it is a powerful symbol of Coney’s comeback from Sandy. The Bell can be seen through the open storefront by pedestrians walking on the north side of Surf Avenue. It is expected to be on display at the popular pizza restaurant for two to three weeks the summer, store owner Joe Silvestri told ATZ. (Fall Update: The Bell is there through September 27, 2013 and will return in April 2014.)

The 1885 bronze bell cast by James Gregory once welcomed steamship passengers arriving at the New Iron Pier to visit Coney Island’s Dreamland Park, which was on the site of the New York Aquarium. After a 20 year quest, Coney Island diver Gene Ritter found the Bell twenty-five feet underwater, about one hundred yards offshore. On September 3, 2009, nearly a century after the fire that destroyed Dreamland and the Pier, the bell was raised from the ocean floor and a day later was put on exhibit at the Coney Island History Project.

Vintage Ad: Iron Steamboat Co. The Only All Water Route to Coney Island.  Photo by Tricia Vita via Coney Island History Project flickr

Vintage Ad: Iron Steamboat Co. “The Only All Water Route” to Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita via Coney Island History Project flickr

“The reason we’re doing it now at Grimaldi’s is because of the devastation of Sandy,” Ritter told ATZ. “We’re trying to help them out.” The fact that the restaurant is decorated with poster-size photos of Coney Island’s historic Dreamland Park and Luna Park “makes it a natural,” Ritter added. Later this week, Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project will install a plaque with the history of the Dreamland Bell and archival photos.

When the Dreamland Bell made its debut at the History Project on Labor Day Weekend in 2009, joy and optimism about the future of Coney Island was reflected in the faces of many friends and acquaintances who made a special trip to see the Bell and ring it. The discovery of the Bell symbolized and presaged the rebirth of Coney Island because it marked the return of something that was thought to have been irrevocably destroyed. No one expected the return of an artifact lost nearly one hundred years ago in a fire, and certainly not such an important artifact as the Dreamland Bell. It’s fitting that the Bell has been brought back to ring in Coney Island’s comeback from the destruction of Sandy.

Grimaldi’s, 1215 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11224

Gene Ritter Dreamand Bell

Gene Ritter with Russell of Grimaldi’s in front of photo of Dreamland Tower at Grimaldi’s Surf Avenue restaurant. May 12, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

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Grimaldi's Pizza

Grimaldi’s Pizza Take-Out Order, Coney Island. July 14, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Renovations are underway at Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, which expects to re-open its Sandy-damaged restaurant on Coney Island’s Surf Avenue in two weeks. “May 1st is my birthday,” Grimaldi’s operator Joe Silvestri told ATZ. “We’ll be open for my birthday.” Their pizza was a favorite of workers in the amusement area. One of our very first takeout pies is pictured above.

The Coney Island outpost of the famed Brooklyn Bridge pizzeria had been open only four months old when Superstorm Sandy struck. The restaurant’s metal gate gave way to Sandy and the interior of the pizzeria was wrecked by the wind and flood waters. The cobwebs in Jim McDonnell’s photo were part of the Halloween decor and look genuinely eerie. We dined at Grimaldi’s just two days before Sandy and can’t wait to welcome them back.

UPDATE April 30, 2013

Grimaldi’s reopened today! The pizzeria is currently hiring a pizza chef, waiters, kitchen help and bartender. They’re expecting their beer and liquor license to come through. Updates soon!

Hurricane Sandy Aftermath in Coney Island

Surf Avenue, Coney Island: Interior of Grimaldi’s Pizzeria. October 30, 2012. Photo © Jim McDonnell

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