Community mourns loss of Phil Bonanza


Oyster Bay lost one of its most beloved community members with the death, on March 12, of Philip Bonanza, the third-generation owner and proprietor of Bonanza Stand, an old-school hot dog and Italian ice stand. He died suddenly, of cardiac arrest, and he left a profound void in the hearts of family members, friends and regular customers all over town, marking the end of an era that spanned over a half-century.

“As far as I’m concerned, Oyster Bay is the Bonanzas, and the Bonanzas are Oyster Bay,” said Jane Shaw, whose grandparents first went to the stand roughly a century ago when it was owned by Bonanza’s grandparents.

Born into a family deeply rooted in Oyster Bay, Bonanza, who was known as Phil, inherited a legacy of culinary excellence and community service from his family. His widow, Patricia, spoke of how much he loved working at the stand, and especially being able to bring the community together and put smiles on customers’ faces.

“My husband loved all of his customers,” Patricia said. “He tried to learn everybody’s names. He wanted to make things good for people, to make them happy. He got real pleasure out of that.”

Philip Bonanza, born in November 1943, grew up in Bayville. An athletic, community-oriented man, he had strong family values. Patricia said that he grew up working at the family’s stand.

Bonanza loved golf and bowling. Throughout their 29-year marriage, he and Patricia traveled to Ireland and the Caribbean to compete in golf tournaments. And Phil loved organizing bowling parties with his entire family, even when health issues kept him from bowling himself.

His impact extended far beyond his family business. He was a pillar of the community, known for his generosity, warmth and unwavering commitment to serving others, especially as a former chief of the Bayville Fire Department.

Patricia said that when they met in the 1990s, they were both going through divorces. A mutual friend set them up on a date, but she wasn’t certain Patricia would like Phil, considering that her previous husband had worked on Wall Street. But then Patricia asked her friend the question that mattered most to her.

“I asked her, ‘Is he happy?’ and she told me, ‘Yes,’ so that’s all that matters,” Patricia recalled. “We went on from there, and we both have been the happiest we could possibly be with another human being.”

Both had children from their previous marriages, but Patricia said that Phil loved and cared for her four kids “as though they were his own.”

His grandson Joseph O’Brien, one of many family members who continue to work at the stand, said that although he misses his grandfather, being at the stand helps keep his memory alive.

“He was a really good guy, you know, always helping people,” O’Brien said. “He was always kind to customers, and even outside of work he was always trying to take care of people.”

Bonanza was a friend and mentor to many, with an infectious smile, warmth and boundless generosity that endeared him to all who knew him. From everyday regulars to out-of-town visitors, he welcomed everyone to the stand.

Rich LaMarca, Oyster Bay’s town clerk and a customer of Bonanza’s for over 50 years, said that his friendliness and hard work, not to mention his amazing culinary skills, made the stand a fixture in the community. LaMarca reminisced about getting Italian ices and hot dogs as a child. In the years since, he has enjoyed taking his own children to Bonanza.

“Whenever we pass the stand, my kids want to stop and get some ice,” he said. “There’s some aura about that place, and I think a big part of that was thanks to Phil.”

Despite its proprietor’s death, the future of Bonanza Stand is secure. His son Phil Jr. will take over its operations, moving the family’s fourth-generation ownership forward.

His father’s legacy of love, kindness, and generosity will no doubt endure for generations to come. As Oyster Bay mourns the loss of one of its most beloved sons, his memory will continue to serve as a beacon of friendliness, community — and great food.