New Birchwood owner updating interior, aims for Nov. opening

Birchwood is expected to re-open by November. (Barbaraellen Koch file photo)
Birchwood is expected to re-open by November. (Barbaraellen Koch file photo)

It has a new catering room, a new menu, and even a new name — technically.

But the new owner of the Birchwood restaurant in Polish Town makes something very clear: the things that locals loved about the venerable eatery will stay the same.

“It’s been a tradition in this town for how many years?” said Danielle Sessa, who is set to close a deal on the property Tuesday. “I feel this restaurant is the heart of the town. It is filled with history. My family and I are making sure the doors open again on this landmark.”

The eatery has been closed since June, after the previous owner, James Loo, died in January and the property was given to his 12-year-old daughter in estate proceedings following his death. Though a note on the door posted in July said work would be underway, the doors have remained closed.

Ms. Sessa, a Wading River native who runs a local catering business and whose family has years of experience in the restaurant industry, plans to reopen the shuttered restaurant by the first week in November.

The restaurant will be renamed “The Birchwood of Polish Town” as a way to honor its heritage and the town, she said.

Andrea Mayer, who divorced Mr. Loo in 2004, was named as administrator of the property last month in her daughter’s stead and had previously announced her plans to sell the property.

Ms. Sessa emphasized that the new Birchwood will be “family owned and operated,” adding that she and her parents will add their own Italian twist to the Birchwood’s old menu, adding passed-down recipes for pastas and homemade cheesecake.

But locals need not worry; the old favorites, like the pu pu platter, won’t be going anywhere, she said.

The catering room in the new Birchwood is set to be renovated, with new carpets, mahogany-stained wooden panels and new white trim around the walls, Ms. Sessa said. She added that LED lights and televisions will be installed to update the space for weddings, parties, seminars and luncheons.

“I just wanted to update everything,” she said in the still-vacant catering room.

The main restaurant, she says, will be kept the same as a nod to the restaurant’s history. Her father, will also be adding a section of the wall as a “9/11 Tribute” she said.

Ms. Sessa’s two siblings will also work in the restaurant; Ms. Sessa plans to rehire some of the old staff who were laid off by the previous owner.

The new owner said she was looking for a space for catering events with a “home spun” atmosphere to call her own.

“The Birchwood fits this all into one package for me,” Ms. Sessa said. “It’s the character of the place and the town.”

Local business owners all said they’ve heard customers asking about the Birchwood and whether it would reopen.

“We still see people pull up, get out of their cars, go to the door and try to go in,” said Wanda Wilinski, who works at Gadzinski Insurance across from the restaurant on Pulaski Street. “We’re in favor of it [reopening].”

Damian Klusek, a manager at the Euro Deli nearby, said having the Birchwood was an essential part of the community.

“We need a Polish restaurant here,” he said.

A nearby manager of Carlo’s Pizza Oven around the corner said customers had been asking about the Birchwood restaurant and whether it would reopen.

“I’m sure you’re going to get all the customers back, but I can’t really say,” the manager, who gave his name as Pete, said. “It was always a good place here in Polish Town.”

The pizzeria manager said that the new Birchwood may face some challenges opening so late into the season, with the cold winter coming.

“There’s gonna be positives and negatives,” he said. “It all depends on how they open it up.”

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