Jim and Sunny Liszanckie outside the Riverhead Diner and Grill in December 2016. File photo: Denise Civiletti

The buildings where Sunny’s Diner and Michelangelo’s were located have been sold.

Local real estate broker and property manager Ike Israel of Richmond Realty said the same investment group that purchased the PeraBell Food Bar building also bought the Sunny’s and Michelangelo’s properties.

Sunny’s owner Jim Liszanckie and Christopher Pia, principal in the company that owned the Michelangelo’s property, both confirmed the sales on Friday.

The same group of investors that bought the former Hy-Ting building on West Main Street in late 2019 are principals in the companies that have purchased the three East Main Street restaurant properties, Israel said. The owners are already negotiating leases with prospective tenants and new restaurants will be opening in each location, he said.

Sunny’s Diner & Grill, PeraBell Food Bar East and Michelangelo’s of Riverhead, all shut down over the last 18 months, during COVID-19 crisis.

HREA 54 W Main LLC, which bought the Hy-Ting building, has been renovating the site. In December 2019, Israel said he expected the building to be ready for occupancy in spring 2020. Israel said it took much longer than expected to obtain the necessary building permits and renovations are still underway. The new owner is building out two new apartments on the second floor and a new restaurant on the ground floor.

Israel is upbeat about activity in downtown Riverhead, with investor interest high and new restaurants soon to open. He said with recent property sales on Main Street, including the town’s acquisition of two long-vacant blighted buildings which it plans to demolish to make way for a town square, things are really looking up for Main Street.

“The cool thing is we pretty much wiped out every old landlord, everyone that was holding Riverhead back,” Israel said.

The Long Island Science Center has purchased a third blighted building adjacent to the planned town square. One of the partners in Summerwind Square has purchased the long-vacant West Marine building opposite Sunny’s and plans to redevelop that with a new mixed-use building. The town is seeking a master developer to renovate and expand a third building it acquired which, along with the new science center building, will frame the town square.

A lot is happening, Israel said.

Liszanckie said in an interview Friday he will be the chef at Kenny’s on the Green, a new restaurant opening at the Indian Island Golf Course, where the Outer Banks restaurant was located.

While he’s excited about his new position, Liszanckie said he didn’t want to leave Downtown Riverhead.

“We had created something good for our town,” Liszanckie said.

He said the outpouring of love he’s received since he announced the sale on Facebook last week has really touched him and his wife Sunny.

“So many people really loved our place,” Liszanckie said.

The Liszanckies bought the iconic Riverhead Diner and Grill from longtime owner Liz Strebel in January 2017. Strebel’s father and uncle purchased the iconic diner in 1961. Strebel had worked there most of her adult life, starting out when she was in high school. She bought the diner in 1973. The diner was first opened in 1932. The current steel structure dates back to 1937.

The Liszanckies updated the menu, obtained a license to serve beer and wine, and offered live music on weekends. Things were going well, but the couple wasn’t able to survive the COVID-19 shutdown.

Michelangelo’s, which opened in 2019 about six months before the coronavirus outbreak, closed its doors permanently in March. It was the third restaurant to occupy the former bank building, which was first renovated and opened as the Riverhead Project in spring 2011. The upscale restaurant, which opened with much fanfare, closed in September 2014. Sonoma Grill opened at the location in October 2016 and closed a year later. The building sat vacant until it was rented by Michelangelo of Riverhead.

PeraBell Food Bar East opened in June 2015 and closed in June this year. It was a second location for the owners of PeraBell Food Bar in Patchogue, John Peragine and Scott Campbell. Their Patchogue restaurant remains open. Peragine and Campbell bought the building from Bridghampton National Bank, which had taken title from the owner of the shuttered Cody’s BBQ in June 2014.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the restaurant industry hard. Shutdowns and restrictions on indoor dining and public wariness have shuttered numerous restaurants across Suffolk County, according to Robert Gerety, vice president of the Suffolk County Restaurant & Tavern Association. Most of the survivors are still struggling to get back on their feet, dealing with extreme staff shortages and worrying about the impacts of the surging delta variant as cold-weather season arrives.

Nonetheless, most downtown Riverhead eateries survived the pandemic and some new ones even sprouted during or shortly after the outbreak began.

“There are a lot of positive things going on downtown,” Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said during a recent town board work meeting.

In addition to the town square project, the science center development and the proposed mixed-use building at the former West Marine site, there is a new four-story mixed-use building already under construction, two other multistory apartment buildings proposed — one on East Main Street and one on McDermott Avenue — and a five-story addition proposed at the Suffolk Theater, which will provide rental apartments and a backstage expansion for the theater. Another five-story, mixed use building is also proposed for a site just north of West Main Street, at the intersection of Court Street and Osborn Avenue.

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