The concept of the healing power of food is not a new one. We eat to nourish our bodies. To combat illness. To fight lethargy or sadness. Beyond what’s on the table, we gather around it to strengthen relationships, to mend fences, to build foundations.
But what if we thought bigger? Beyond the individual, or even the family? What if food becomes something that can heal an entire community?
That’s exactly what Billy and Nicole Miller are doing in Lindenhurst with their recently opened Restoration Kitchen & Cocktails, a family-friendly gastropub where a remarkable 100% of the proceeds goes directly toward local, deeply vetted charities that, in turn, put 100% of their donations to their title cause. They choose two to three partners every quarter, interviewing the charity’s leaders to “make sure they’re passionate and focused, that the money will go where it will help our society,” Billy explains. “The last thing we want to do is feed a CEO’s private jet,” he laughs.
From there, the pair cobble mission statements for the organizations and leave them at the table, where guests are encouraged to read up on the charities to better decide where their meal proceeds go; they’re given poker chips when they initially sit down that they “vote” with when they leave. Then, at the end of the quarter, these chips are converted into revenue percentages and quietly doled out with smiles and tears to create a zero profit model.
It’s a business plan so unheard of, so outlandish that it actually works—especially when the entire town rallies behind it.
Hit hard by Sandy, this South Shore town is still feeling the effects of the storm. People left in droves, unable or unwilling to rebuild their homes and businesses. Others hesitate to move in, citing the high cost of flood insurance and the perceived risk of having to use it. And with the lack of movement into the area, the risk of blight.
However, “Lindenhurst used to be considered a prestigious destination,” Billy reflects, his already gentle voice softening as his memory touches on his childhood summers here. “It was the Babylon before Babylon, recorded to have some of the most bars per capita before things went by the wayside.”
“It’s our town and we’re proud of it,” Nicole says, as she sets oversized mugs of coffee to the refinished door that now serves as our table. “There are a lot of new businesses coming in and we hope it brings people back. The Chamber of Commerce and Board of Trustees are doing a lot, reinvesting in the town, taking action like making it more walkable.”
Billy agrees. “We all want to restore the realization that it’s a great place to be, and they’ve made it really easy to work with them. I know in some towns, some people are anxious about filing for permits and stuff, but honestly, they made it a pleasurable experience. Everyone was so friendly and supportive.”
“They bent over backwards to get this place open,” adds Nicole.
But they weren’t the only ones. This restaurant is a community space in its essence, built by the hands of family and friends with salvaged material from within miles away. Beyond town revitalization, another tie-in to the restaurant’s name is that roughly 90% of the furnishings and décor were creatively restored and recrafted. The ladders on the ceiling are 250 years old and were found in a Melville barn. Several tables are repurposed Singer sewing tables. The rustic wood trim throughout was lovingly rescued from old estates and dumpsters filled with Sandy wreckage. Discarded, tired items found new life and purpose in Restoration.
Coincidentally, this applies even to the building itself, the Millers discovered, as they learned that the space they fell in love with was originally an Odd Fellows lodge, an international fraternal order that lists right in its manifesto a commitment “to help make the world a better place […] by aiding each other, the community, the less fortunate … in every way possible” and “to promote good will and harmony.”
“I thought it was a joke, to be honest,” chuckles Billy. Nicole adds, “Their goal is the same as ours, and 108 years later, we’re helping to carry out that same mission.” Serendipity, they both agree nearly synchronously, smiling at one another.
These little moments between the couple are earnest and pure, two words that just as easily describe their passion for this project. Initially, the idea for a non-for-profit restaurant was Billy’s, but he deftly deflects the credit to “[his] wonderful wife for actually going along with this crazy, crazy plan.”
A trained teacher with a Master’s in counseling, Billy’s life mission has always been one of service. Until Restoration Kitchen, his career path had been split between the restaurant industry and non-profits, but found himself disheartened by his time in the latter.
“When you work on the business end of non-profit, you start to see things you don’t really want to see,” he says. “You read about it more and more these days—that only half a penny of every dollar donated goes to the cause, of no funds being left in the pot after raises and promotions are doled out … That’s just not how things are supposed to work!” Even now, the frustration and sadness of this truth affects him. With eyes alight with purpose, he continues, “I vowed to change it. I didn’t know how or when … but I knew I had to try.”
And so was sowed the seedling of Restoration Kitchen, one that finally sprouted in August of 2018.
Now, conceptually, this business model could be a game-changer. Theoretically, it’s revolutionary. But practically, the food and beverage program also need to be on point for this to be successful. And is it ever.
“We start with simple, fresh ingredients,” Billy says, his emphasis on quality a product of years of experience in hospitality, ”like antibiotic-free and free-range chicken, gluten-free and vegan options, and finds from the farmers market right up the road that we use to inspire our ‘of the day’ specials.” In addition, he says with pride, “We get 10 – 12 deliveries a week, including a special blend of meat nearly every day for our burgers and our bread comes fresh daily from a bakery right out in Queens.”
“We try to source as much as we can locally,” Nicole chimed in, because as they both agree, community relationships are one of the key tenets of Restoration Kitchen.
Billy says it simply: “I like good, nice people and want to support them. My suppliers are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and same with my staff. I believe in that.”
“Even though our bar staff hates us,” laughs Nicole. “Every cocktail is made with fresh ingredients, which means hand-squeezed juices and boiling down syrups like blueberry-lemon and honey habanero for our signature Moscow Mule and margarita menus ourselves.”
But top-shelf liquor deserves quality accompaniment to be truly restorative, in their opinion, and we’re not inclined to disagree. At $12 for specialty drinks and generous happy hour highlights, it’s hard to find a better deal for craft cocktail. Many choose to snack on the buffalo cauliflower bites at the bar, or one of the many quesadilla variations, like the chicken maple bacon. Others have become obsessed with wraps like the eponymous Restoration—a hangover cure if ever there was one, with housemade mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, and bacon— or healthier Peace, Love & Veggies with portabella mushrooms, spinach, sauteed red peppers, feta, and lemon vinaigrette; Stuffed Bleu Cheese and bacon, Breakfast Burger with egg, signature burger with fried jalapeno, sriracha mayo, and habanero jack cheese; or visit for their Impossible Burger fix.
As for the newly launched brunch service, look for Bellinis with fresh fruit, a refresher well-paired with peanut butter and jelly pancakes with housemade blackberry jam or waffle BLTs for those with a soft spot for savory.
With such an exciting, creative menu, it’s easy to get lost in your meal and forget that you’re eating for a greater cause than appeasing your own appetite. Awareness of their championed charities takes equal billing, after all.
“Going into this, I wondered, ‘Will this even make a difference?’” A trickle of doubt still shadows those words. “You see a lot of bad in this world … But opening this place has brought out the good in people. And you see these good people come out and do some great things.”
And in a fraught and fractured society, where the gap between the haves and the have-nots seem to widen with each day, it’s become more important for communities to stand together. To reach a hand out to one another; to love thy neighbor. To find—beyond exceptional comfort food, upcycled building material, a revisited historical purpose, and a community come-back in the making—our faith in humanity . . . restored.