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Economy killed First Edition’s business: Owner

A 50-year-old Flushing line cook is facing a tough job market after First Edition Bistro, a longtime Bell Boulevard bar and restaurant where he had worked since the early 1990s, shut down earlier this month after 61 years because the struggling economy had caused business to decline.

Lorenzo Castillo, who worked as a line cook at Bayside’s First Edition, said he was having difficulty finding work after losing his job last week.

“I’ve worked here for 17 years,” he said Tuesday as he helped clean out the restaurant. “Now, I’m looking for something to do. I have credit card bills to pay. I have no job and it’s almost Christmas. I’ve been looking for work, but no one is hiring right now.”

Rick Ritacco, who co-owned the eatery with his brother, Robert Ritacco, and sister, Margie Mercado, said the restaurant had been founded at 41-08 Bell Blvd. in 1948 by his father, Angelo Ritacco, and grandfather, James Pascale. On Dec. 7, First Edition closed its doors permanently.

“The business over the last two years had taken a hit,” Ritacco said. “We didn’t believe an investment would pay off. Last week was very sad. It was like a death. I’ll miss Bayside. When you’ve been here so long, you become part of the community.”

The bistro, which was next to Bell Boulevard’s Long Island Rail Road station, served hamburgers, pizza, wraps, pasta, salads, all-day breakfast and fish, but it was known best for its hot wings. First Edition also had seven big-screen televisions and 70 smaller TVs, which drew sports fans to the bar to watch football, Yankees and Mets games.

First Edition, which had a dedicated local customer base, served food late into the night and often featured drink specials throughout the week.

But boxes packed with kitchen equipment were stacked inside the restaurant this week as its employees helped put a footnote to a vanished era.

“It was a very popular place to come to after 10 p.m. for half-price specials,” Ritacco said. “People would come at 1 or 2 a.m. for a bite to eat and a cocktail.”

Ritacco, who had previously headed the Bayside Kiwanis Club and been a member of the Bayside Business Association, said the economic downturn as well as a demographic change in Bayside ultimately led to First Edition’s closure. Now, the restaurateur has opened a new hot wings site called Wings Plus in Port Washington, L.I.

But he said more than 20 employees lost their jobs after his Bell Boulevard business was shuttered. Ritacco was only able to take one cook with him to his new site, which is significantly smaller than First Edition and focuses primarily on take-out orders.

A sign that thanked First Edition’s customers was posted in the restaurant’s window last week.

It read, “After serving the Bayside community for the past 61 years, First Edition has been forced to close our doors due to declining business brought on by the economic conditions of the past year.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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