Despite rumors, White Oak forges ahead in Mineola

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White Oak LI owner Dean Miller addresses rumors about his forthcoming Mineola restaurant in a July 22 Facebook video. (Photo from White Oak LI via Facebook)

Though it’s taking longer than expected to open, the owner of downtown Mineola’s next oyster bar says his place isn’t going anywhere.

Rumors swirled in recent weeks that NYU Winthrop Hospital, formerly known as Winthrop-University Hospital, had bought the building at 133 Mineola Blvd. where Eleanor Rigby’s operated for more than two decades.

But Dean Miller, the owner of White Oak LI, who bought the space in January, said the hospital never approached him with an offer. He posted a video to Facebook on July 22 to put the rumors to rest.

“We’ve got a lot of big ideas, a big vision for what we’re going to do here, and we’re looking forward to making all of you a part of it,” Miller said in the video, in which he tours the restaurant’s gutted interior.

The new restaurant will open sometime from December to early next year, Miller said.

Cathy and Larry Monachelli closed Eleanor Rigby’s in mid-January after 23 years to spend more time with family and friends. Miller has said he plans to turn the spot into a Long Island outpost of White Oak, his Manhattan restaurant and bar, while maintaining the former owners’ ties to the community.

The schedule for Miller’s planned $1 million renovation got pushed back about two and a half months because it took longer than expected to get initial demolition permits, Miller said in an interview Tuesday.

Once the restaurant was gutted, Miller thought more about how he wanted it to look and operate and reworked his plans, he said. He wants to move the bar toward the front of the room and create a space for private parties, he said.

“We couldn’t just come in and put a fresh coat of paint over it and say, ‘Hey, let’s do it,’ and make what we were attempting to do work,” Miller said.

Miller, a Garden City native and former Eleanor Rigby’s patron, said he got a barrage of about 50 messages alerting him to the rumor about Winthrop buying the space. He’s unsure how it got started, he said, but it may have come from Facebook.

The lingering empty storefront, combined with NYU Winthrop Hospital’s recent expansion in Mineola, may have birthed the rumor, Dennis Walsh, a Village of Mineola trustee, said.

“He could have had a baby in the time that the place has been closed,” Walsh said of Miller and the restaurant.

Hospital officials in January announced a $99.5 million plan to expand its maternity ward, emergency room and an employee parking lot. Winthrop’s president and CEO, John Collins, said at the time the hospital’s merger with NYU Langone Medical Center would allow for more expansion in the area.

Edmund Keating, a Winthrop spokesman, did not immediately respond to an email Tuesday asking whether the hospital was interested in purchasing Miller’s building.

Miller said friends and customers have expressed “tremendous relief” since he posted his video debunking the rumor. He plans to share regular updates on social media as he gets approvals for his renovation plans, he said.

The brand-new kitchen at White Oak LI will produce dishes from a menu created by executive chef Steven Del Lima, Miller said.

“It’s not pretentious food,” Miller said. “It’s things that are accessible to everybody.”

White Oak will be among several downtown Mineola restaurants to open following the development of high-end apartment complexes near the village’s Long Island Rail Road station.

Tony Lubrano, president of the Mineola Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks the eatery will still draw attention after the delays.

“My gut feeling is that when he does eventually open, pretty much everybody’s going go there at least once to try out the new place and take a look,” Lubrano said.

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