Local fans of The Palm Restaurant at Huntting Inn in East Hampton Village noticed when local news outlets reported the restaurant chain might be in danger of closing. After all, it’s been a fixture locally since 1980.
The steakhouse chain, The Palm Restaurant Group, owned by Just One More Restaurant Corp., may be up for sale, according to court papers.
A federal bankruptcy judge has cleared the way for a controlling interest in the steakhouse chain to be sold by the families that have owned it since 1926. The chain filed for Chapter 11 in early March last year.
The proceeds of that sale would be used by direct descendants of the chain’s founders to pay certain cousins the $120 million they were awarded in an earlier lawsuit involving licensing fees. They claim they were not fairly compensated for their share in the ownership of the chain.
Proprietors of the local Palm did not return calls by press time.
Some history: In 1926, Italian immigrants Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi opened the first Palm restaurant on Second Avenue in Manhattan.
A defining and memorable feature of the restaurant are the caricatures covering the walls depicting celebrities, famous politicians, and prominent sports and media figures. The original restaurant was located near several newspapers’ headquarters whose staff, including several cartoonists, were frequent diners. The caricatures began as a twist on the phrase “sing for your supper,” where many of these cartoonists, as well as other local artists, would pay for their meal by drawing a portrait for the wall. The featured celebrities often provided an autograph next to their portrait.
As for the local and much-loved Palm at the Huntting Inn? According to East Hampton Town records, in 1698, the two-acre plot of land was given to the Rev. Nathaniel Huntting, minister of the Presbyterian Church. The house remained in the Huntting family for nine generations. In 1875, the building became a boarding house and then an inn, when new wings were added, around 1912. Although, according to Jeannette Edwards Rattray in her book “Up and Down Main Street,” it’s been an inn since before the Revolutionary era.
In 1939, the last Huntting descendant sold the property, and in 1980, The Palm Restaurant Group took over, opened the restaurant, and continues to manage it to this day.
Two of the founders’ grandchildren, Walter Ganzi Jr. and Bruce Bozzi Sr., who were part owners of the original location, created a separate company and started expanding. Today, The Palm has approximately 30 locations in cities throughout the United States as well as locations in Puerto Rico and Mexico.
The company is the largest family-owned, U.S.-based chain of “fine dining” restaurants.
Fred Newman, an attorney who represents some of the aggrieved family members, said, “The parties have been unable to reach a settlement so far.” He indicated the first preference is to keep all the branches open, which would be good news for lovers of the local porterhouses, creamed spinach, and the famous mega-lobsters.