Will The Fireplace reopen? What might replace it? Here's what we learned from the owner

Esther Davidowitz

Patrick Reilly, the owner of The Fireplace, the 65-year-old burger restaurant in Paramus that abruptly closed for good last week, is not ruling out opening another restaurant, one that's not dissimilar to The Fireplace.

"I do not intend for this to be the end of the Fireplace Restaurant," Reilly said. "Stay tuned as we consider other options for our future business."

Reilly also said The Fireplace has been eyed by a number of companies, including Chick-fil-A, Wawa and QuickChek. 

"We don't have a deal with anyone yet," he said. "We've talked to a lot of people."

None of the chains could be reached for comment. 

Reilly took over the restaurant 17 years ago from his dad, Frank Reilly, a former FBI agent. The restaurant started out as a small, no-frills burger and hot dog spot that over the years was enlarged, with a big parking lot added. 

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Reilly noted that The Fireplace "has a great location." Anyone driving by on Route 17 could see it. "We are fortunate," he said. "We own the property."

Reilly said that at age 48, he's too young to retire. "I've got to do something," he said. "We may reimagine the restaurant in some other form."

Perhaps, he quipped, the new restaurant will sell pickles — only pickles. "The biggest outcry was over the pickles," he said.  

'I'm crying over a burger':Hundreds line up to say goodbye to The Fireplace on closing day

The Fireplace, where so many North Jersey residents had their first dates and class reunions, celebrated high school football victories and took their children and grandchildren for meals with a nice helping of nostalgia, was famous for its burgers and its "pickle bar" — a selection of pickles and condiments from which customers could help themselves.

Reilly said it was a difficult decision to close the restaurant, but it was also a question of simple math. "When you have more money going out than coming in, it ceases to be a viable business," he said.

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He said The Fireplace, like all restaurants, struggled mightily for the past 1½ years due to the pandemic, but that in the past couple of months he realized that the business was not going to survive.

"We got knocked down, got up, kept fighting, but we heard the bell ringing. The fight was over," he said. "People just didn't really come out like we thought they would." 

If only they had, Reilly said, as they did on the restaurant's last day, July 30.

"We had more than double the number of people we usually have on a Friday," he noted.  

"I’m not bitter," he continued. "But if you see a restaurant as an old friend, then if you see an old friend drowning, you don't say, 'I should get over there at some point and help.' You go when the friend needs you.  I want to encourage people to support their local independent restaurants. They are all struggling." 

But Reilly said he was happy that he was able to keep the restaurant open until his longtime general manager, Frank Wierzbicki of Warwick, New York, "the glue" that kept the place going, could retire. Wierzbicki had announced that he was going to retire at the end of July.

"We wanted to keep the restaurant open until Frank's last day," Reilly said. "It was happy for him that he could leave on his own terms."

Esther Davidowitz is the food editor for NorthJersey.com. For more on where to dine and drink, please subscribe today and sign up for our North Jersey Eats newsletter.

Email: davidowitz@northjersey.com 

Twitter: @estherdavido