6 Long Island restaurants and counting; the story of Lily Flanagan’s group

Lily Flanagan's Restaurant Group

Niall Crowe emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland 38 years ago, at 22 years old.

He had $200 in his pocket and lived in a one-room apartment in East Islip with his brother.

There was a shower, and they cooked their meals on a hot plate.

Today, he eats well.

Crowe, now 60 and living in Oakdale, heads one of the fastest-growing hospitality companies on Long Island — Lily Flanagan’s Restaurant Group, which now counts six locations in Nassau and Suffolk.

The latest, The Villager Farmingdale, celebrated its grand opening in September.

“This is the best country in the world right here, the USA,” Crowe says proudly.

“Where else can you do this? Nowhere.”

Working and saving

Niall Crowe at the Irish Coffee Pub in East Islip in the mid-1980s. (Courtesy)

Soon after his arrival, Crowe landed a job as a baker at the Irish Coffee Pub in East Islip. From there, he began taking additional shifts as a bar-back and then a bartender. 

Then he got a job at The Pumphouse in Islip.

One thing that amazed him — as it would many Irish immigrants at the time — was that you could make enough money here to actually save some — or even buy things you like. 

In Ireland, money went to parents and food.

There was never any “leftover,” explained Crowe and his Irish immigrant nephew, Wayne Meehan, also part of the company.

Amazed at the concept, Crowe began saving. 

“We just saved money every week until we got enough money for a deposit,” Crowe recalled.

In 1987, Crowe and his brother purchased The Pumphouse on Main Street in Islip hamlet and named it Lily Flanagan’s.

Then, it was off to the races.

The Lily’s chain grew to three across Nassau and Suffolk, with the two Nassau locations being sold off over the years.

The company’s now-flagship Babylon location was purchased in 2001. It was called R.W. Barkers at the time.

“It was an old-school nightclub” when they bought it, Crowe explained.

They had their work cut out for them.

The spot re-opened in January of 2007 as Lily Flanagan’s Pub, and the brothers brought on Damien Farrell as a restaurant manager as they transitioned the space into what’s now a family-style Irish restaurant.

Crowe’s brother left the partnership and moved back to Ireland that same year, and Farrell stepped up as the general manager and has since joined the newly formed hospitality group. Longtime Lily’s Babylon chef, Fabio Moronta, has also joined the corporate team.

Today, Lily’s, the parent company’s namesake, is a sparkling, massive space that’s always seeing upgrades, with the latest happening outside in the parking lot.

Fun facts about Lily’s

  • Coldplay played at Lily’s in front of around 50 people some random night in 2001 after a big show in Ireland. The band was big overseas at the time, but not so much in the U.S.
  • Talk show host Jerry Springer was at Lily’s for a Halloween event as part of a joint promotional campaign with a local radio station.
  • There’s a catering space upstairs that holds up to 100 people.

A family affair

Niall Crowe with his son Brendan at the East Islip St. Patrick’s Parade in 1996. (Courtesy)

While working and saving, Crowe met his future wife, Doreen, on his way to church. 

“I was picking up her brother for church and there she was,” he said.

The couple went on to have five kids: Emily, 33, Lauren, 30, Brendan, 28, Jaclyn, 24, and Justin, 23.

All five worked in the restaurants growing up. Four still work for the company, and full-time.

“I would bring them in Sunday mornings and they would sit at the bar and pour themselves sodas,” Crowe said. 

He recalled one time catching them doing shots of soda.

“I never drank shots, so I was like, where did you get that from?” he laughed. “And if your mother hears about this, I’m dead.”

Brendan spends much of his work days at The Local in Babylon, which opened in 2017.

“It was always my dream to run a bar and restaurant,” Brendan Crowe said. 

Wish granted. 

Though he was nervous at first, the grind didn’t surprise him because he had a front-row seat to his father’s work-around-the-clock lifestyle as a child.

“It’s exhausting, especially at first. Long days, long nights,” he said. “It gets easier as the days go on.”

Could he see himself every working a 9-to-5 job?

“No, I cannot,” he replied, as if he had never even thought of it.

Gotta keep growing

Village GM Jim Zeffiro and chef William Ahearn behind the bar in Farmingdale. (Credit: Nick Grasso)

The Crowe brothers sold the original Lily Flanagan’s in Islip around 2009.

Later, Joe Kennedy, Rob Kenneally and Tim Gay joined the group with an eye on expansion. And they expanded rapidly, with five more locations between then and 2022.

The restaurant group’s current six locations are:

Lily’s and The Local in Babylon, The Villager locations in Babylon and Farmingdale, and The Wharf and Oakdale Brew House, which are both in Oakdale.

More are on the way.

“We’re always looking for opportunities,” Meehan said. “Our ears are always open.”

You see, unless you’re looking to stick to one location and deal with an ever-turning carousel of staffers and managers, the group members explained, you have to expand.

“We learn that if you if find great people but you’re not growing, you’re going to lose them,” Meehan said.

Case in point: Keneally and Kennedy.

Both were Lily’s bartenders when the opportunity arose to take over the Joe Michael’s Steakhouse space on Deer Park Avenue and they all teamed up on The Villager, an instantly popular gastro pub that’s just south of the railroad tracks.

Where does Crowe see the restaurant group in 10 years?

“Hopefully these guys and my kids will be in charged and I won’t be,” he said with a smile.

Crowe’s basic advice for any entrepreneur or business owner is to work hard; that’s the foundation.

As for his own personal experience building a company while raising a family, he speaks more anecdotally.

“You put a lot of hours in,” he said. “Working days, going home in the afternoon, then going back to work at night. When you work for yourself, it’s up to you to make it successful.”

He spent many a Mondays combing through the weekend’s receipts.

“Did I make enough to pay my bills? Pay my mortgage? Sometimes you juggle, do I pay this or that bill? And that goes on for a long time, until, eventually, the mortgage is paid off.”

Niall Crowe is recognized with a proclamation for his company’s efforts in Farmingdale. (Credit: Nick Grasso)

Top photo: Damien Farrell, Wayne Meehan, Fabio Moronta (front), Niall Crowe, Lauren Salamone, Rob Keneally (front), and Brendan Crowe outside Lily’s in Babylon Village.