AJs Gourmet Grilled Cheese Shop, which fast gained a reputation after opening in February 2016 as a premium grilled cheese destination on Long Island, has closed.
“We are one of those restaurants that will contribute to the statistics of restaurants who closed their doors for good because of the harsh restrictions faced over the past two years.”— Anthony Leis
In an interview with GreaterBayShore, owner Anthony Leis pointed to the pandemic, state restrictions and the reshaping of the economy — and people’s eating habits — as the reasons for the closure.
The pandemic struck in 2020 just as AJs was picking up serious steam, Leis said, and the Main Street storefront in Bay Shore was never able to fully recover from the restrictions that followed — then the worker shortage.
Looking back, Leis now thinks fondly of the shop’s earliest challenges.
These were “good challenges,” he said.
“Lines forming for months straight out the door while my family and I struggled to keep up pace and perfect our newly introduced products,” he recalled. “From there we settled in, adapted, and grew with no lack of help from family, friends, and dedicated staff.
“We became well known in our community, while participating in as many fundraisers and donation opportunities as possible. We started earning a name for ourselves across the entire island through multiple news appearances and just general word of mouth advertisements.”
Amidst the pandemic, AJs tried to reinvent itself with a scaled down, yet more diverse menu, and other efforts.
Alas, AJs Gourmet Grilled Cheese announced its permanent closure this week on social media.
In our interview, and on Facebook and Instagram, Leis hinted that AJ’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese, also a permanent fixture at the Alive by the Bay and other Bay Shore festivals, might not be entirely gone for good.
“We would love to see all of our customers again someday, whether that be in another brick and mortar location or possibly a food truck, only time will tell for us. Stay safe, healthy, and support as many small businesses as you can,” he said.
Scroll down for more from AJs Gourmet Grilled Cheese Shop owner Anthony Leis.
in his own words
While struggling to keep the doors open with the limited business we were permitted to cater to under the state of emergency, AJ’s along with countless other local small businesses came together to support each other and the community.
Groups started forming all over social media raising money from the community so that the local restaurants could provide food daily, for months straight, to the healthcare workers struggling to keep up with the strain placed on hospitals due to a lack of experience and knowledge of this brand new virus.
The intent here was to lift their spirits and give them the boost they needed to continue fighting to save lives. What we were told was going to be a short hold on normal business operations ended up being quite a long one, in fact it lasted just about two years and it is still lingering around.
Small businesses are held in limbo on whether or not they will be operating at full capacity that next week or month. Many restaurants and small businesses could not hold on much longer and were forced to close their doors for good.
Sadly, we were young in the industry and just gaining some ground when we were hit by this pandemic and all of its backlash. We are one of those restaurants that will contribute to the statistics of restaurants who closed their doors for good because of the harsh restrictions faced over the past two years.
My family and I would like to truly thank the community of Bay Shore and all of the surrounding communities of which we had many great, loyal customers who continued to patronage and support not only our restaurant but many other small businesses throughout our five years in operation.
Our hope is for everyone to be safe, healthy and to support small businesses now more than ever.
Call a local place directly or stop in to order in person whether dining in or simply taking it home, going directly to these small businesses is what will help to keep them afloat during these tough and unprecedented times. With that, I hope this is not a goodbye but a see-you-later for AJs Gourmet Grilled Cheese Shop.
Top: AJs Gourmet Grilled Cheese Shop was located at 182 West Main Street in Bay Shore.