London Lennie’s, 63-88 Woodhaven Boulevard, began as a humble retail fish market and expanded to “The Premier Seafood Restaurant of Queens.” It is owned by Leslie Barnes, who is the son of Joan Marilyn Barnes and her late husband Leonard Barnes. Leslie’s daughter, Teagan, is now in the business and serves as the restaurant's wine steward.
London Lennie’s takes pride in the ethnic diversity of Queens, and in recent years has began incorporating new foods and a Latin, Asian, or European twist to some dishes.
But back in December 1959, it was much simpler. Joan and Leonard acquired a small fish market on Woodhaven Boulevard, invested their passion and expertise, and renamed it Rego Park Seafood. Fish and chips were sold for 99 cents and served at a table for two or at a counter with two stools.
“In our early days, we only cooked on Fridays, since if you were Catholic, you didn’t eat meat that day,” explained Leslie.
Leonard, a native of London, experimented with a touch of his native culture.
“My dad fried with a beer batter back in London and then here, whereas most people in America were frying in bread crumbs,” Leslie said. “His frying was so good that we bought bigger fryers, since people wanted his fish all week long.”
Eventually, two neon signs were installed side by side in the window that read “London Fish N’ Chips” and “Lenny’s Clam Bar,” but patrons began reading those names horizontally.
“We didn’t name it London Lennie’s,” recalled Joan.
According to her, Leslie picked up a call and said, “Hello, Rego Park Seafood,” and a patron asked “Is this London Lennie’s?” He replied, “Yes, it is London Lennie’s.” The rest is history.
In February 1967, the block sustained significant fire damage, but that did not hold down the family operation for long. They expanded from a 15-foot-wide space to a 30-foot space, and sat 60 patrons rather than 30. In 1971, they acquired four out of seven storefronts on the block.
In 1977, Leslie took over the business from his parents after earning a degree in restaurant management. In 1987, London Lennie’s expanded again to its current size, taking over all seven storefronts.
It now features an elegant dining area on the left, the retail counter in the center, and the more casual raw bar dining area on the right, which offers eight varieties of oysters.
To ensure quality, Leslie periodically takes his manager and chef to Dutch Harbor in Alaska or to oyster farms along the East and West coasts.
“When I was five, I began going to the Fulton Fish Market with my dad.” recalls Leslie. “Today, there are not many people like me who grew up in the fish business and became a restaurateur.”
Connecting with the local community is a big part of the restaurant's success. Leslie is on the advisory board for Visions, a blind service organization, while Joan is a member of the Women’s Club of Forest Hills and was formerly on the board of Flushing Town Hall and the Queens Museum.
After Hurricane Sandy, the staff worked overnight to prepare 400 sandwiches and 40 gallons of New England clam chowder to distribute in Far Rockaway. Every November, the restaurant coordinates a fundraiser for Visions.
“If you are going to have a local business, get involved with the locals,” said Joan.