By Katerina Valdivieso
“That’s the one! That’s the portrait! Let me see?” Victor Coker was stunned when he saw the picture of his missing portrait in a page of the book I had brought to show him: Lundy’s: Reminiscences and Recipes from Brooklyn’s Legendary Restaurant. I had opened it to a random page and, ironically, it opened at the page of the portrait of Mr. Irving Lundy, Coker’s missing portrait.
I was interviewing Coker, 51, for an article about Cherry Hill Gourmet Market, a new store in the building that once housed Brooklyn’s legendary seafood restaurant of the 50s, Lundy’s, when he realized his portrait was lost. Coker has been taking care of the building for the past 16 years. He is the superintendent of entire building, including adjacent stores and Irving Lundy’s old house. Lundy’s Landing occupies the whole block on the corner of Emmons Ave. and Ocean Ave. in Sheepshead Bay.
Coker, a resident of Canarsie, has taken it upon himself to take special care of this historical landmark and all the things that belong to it. For more than a decade he has kept the old pictures of the Bay and other artifacts that used to adorn the old restaurant. Among those artifacts was Irving Lundy’s portrait. Coker said that the last time Lundy’s restaurant closed-it has had four incarnations since the original-someone trashed this painting. Coker rescued Mr. Lundy’s portrait from the garbage and took it to Lundy’s old house, which is in the middle of Lundy’s Landing. “I placed the portrait in his house where he belonged, and I looked at Mr. Lundy and told him ‘It’s all good. You are back home now,” said Coker.
When Coker was a child, he used to come to Lundy’s to eat delicious lobsters and oysters, but the biscuits are what he remembers the most. Someone from Kentucky called Coker not too long ago asking for Lundy’s and they both had a conversation about the biscuits. “There are no biscuits like the used to make them at Lundy’s,” said Coker.
It is not unusual for Coker to get phone calls from people asking for Lundy’s restaurant. He has kept the same landline and phone number and he likes it like that. “I get phone calls from all over; from people from Florida, from California, even from other countries. And they ask me if they can get a reservation.”
Coker now works for David Isaev, the owner of Cherry Hill Gourmet Market. But over the past two decades he has seen at least four different managers coming and going of this building. In 1995, Lundy’s Restaurant re-opened with Frank and Jeanne Cretella as new owners. Coker was there. He said it was the closest it ever got to the original Lundy’s restaurant. The service and the food was much like the original, he said, except the place was less than half as big. The original Lundy’s accommodated more than 1,600 chairs, one of the biggest restaurants in America in the 19th century. The Cretella’s thought, said Coker, that it was important to keep memories alive in their new restaurant so they hung old pictures of the Bay inlcuding the portrait of Irving Lundy, the original owner and founder of the restaurant. Coker also thinks like the Cretellas. He said it was wrong to trash the portrait, he said, it was disrespectful.
The old Lundy’s house and his portrait intrigued me so I asked Coker if he could show me the painting. He agreed but after talking a phone call, he came back to Cherry Hill Gourmet Market some 30 minutes after talking on the phone. Coker looked pale and disturbed. “My portrait is gone. Someone took it,” he told me. During those 30 minutes he had gone to the old house and found out the Lundy’s portrait was no longer where he left it.
Coker remembered that some contractors had come to the building not too long ago to do some work so he made several phone calls, including one to the landlord of Lundy’s Landing, Steve Pappas. Someone told him over the phone that probably the contractors moved the painting so it didn’t get damaged and forgot to put it back where it was. But Coker could not find his portrait, and he was upset.
Isaev, who is most of the time walking around his gourmet store, stopped his work and asked Coker what was wrong. Then Moisha, Cherry Hill’s manager, also stopped his work and joined Isaev and Coker. Isaev tried to ease Coker by telling him that the portrait was probably misplaced, not lost or stolen, as did Moisha. For more than 20 minutes they speculated about the destination of the absent painting.
Every night, Coker turns off all the lights of Lundy’s Landing -the whole block. “This is when you hear things at night,” said Coker. Mr. Lundy he speculated that is probably checking out his property. Now that the portrait is gone, Coker said he will keep caring for his beloved building but he is concerned that Irving Lundy’s is not around. “Mr. Lundy should be in his home, where he belongs. I worry about the building now.”