Charlie Meaney's grows backyard garden


Charlie Meaney’s eatery lies close to the outer edge of North Valley Stream, run by five owners, Terry Meaney, Mike Labeck, Kevin Labeck, Jarmaar Thomas and Sherrard Thomas. From the outside, this 17-year-old restaurant looks like a run-of-the-mill bar and grill. Though the restaurant has seen many shops along the strip come and go, it has remained. Inside, the place has all the trappings of a lively neighborhood bar: laughter booming, people breezing in and out the door, a friendly wait staff who are quick with a beer. 
Out back there is a dining spot with a big-screen TV, outdoor sofa and a half dozen seats for patrons to lounge around, kick one’s feet up and take in the cool, late summer evenings. On Sundays, patrons can expect the outdoor area to transform into a culinary battleground for Charlie Meaney’s famous barbecue cook-offs. But just to the right end of that space, half-hidden from view, there is a humble garden sprouting a fine assortment of vegetables and herbs. 
The owners cultivate a hearty yield of romaine lettuce, basil, tomatoes, eggplants and hot peppers. Every vegetable and herb grown in the garden winds up as an ingredient for the menu. Mike Labeck, owner and self-described Food Network nut, consults with the cooks and customers to churn out experimental dishes for the restaurant and the faithful regulars.
During the thick of the pandemic season, mass isolation and social distancing threatened to choke the financial future out of eateries and bars. Rather than simply try to stay above water, Charlie Meaney took this period to breathe new life into the look and feel of the restaurant. Renovations were made, but something more was needed, and so, during a season that seemed to punish dining establishments and community life in general, the idea for a garden was born.
The garden, according to Labeck, was essentially a “dead space” in September, when it was originally a pile of soil and dirt in an unused part of the property by Karahi House, the halal restaurant next door. The idea for the garden came from fellow owner Jarmaar Thomas. 

“I was thinking about what we can do to expand and see what we can do as a group,” Thomas said. “We set a goal to have the garden done by May, before Mother’s Day.”
A representative from Meaney’s reached out to the chef at the restaurant, who asked the owner if Meaney’s could use the space for the garden.  
“I liked the idea for the garden. I just gave them the space,” said Kash Zeb, owner of the Karahi House. “We help each other out.” 
Then, Mike Labeck enlisted the help of his son, Andy Labeck, and a crew of his friends to do the heavy lifting. The five-man squad was paid handsomely in “beer and chicken wings” for clearing out the area of dirt and debris, owner Labeck assured. And so, in a half a day —working diligently in thirty-minute shifts—the young men shoveled out all that dirt and wheel-barrowed it off the premises. Having leveled the ground, the “canvas” was set. 
“We went to some of the local grove houses and nurseries, and picked out a variety of seeds, and saw what we could and wanted to grow,” Thomas said.
Labeck added some tiling to the foundation from tiles that were lying about to construct a neat walkway at the center of the garden. Thomas has been nurturing the garden ever since.
“Once a day, every morning, I talk to the plants,” Thomas said. “I say ‘Please, please, please grow — continue to grow.” The garden was informally christened “Charlie’s Garden.” 
“It’s really a testament to the people that come here,” said Labeck, acknowledging the contributions of the restaurant’s loyal patrons. “They really take ownership of this place.”
As part of their latest project, the owners plan to use the hot peppers grown in house to roll out a new line of Charlie Meaney’s hot sauce. “I actually already created three different flavors — four pepper hot sauce, sweet mango hot sauce, mild hot pepper sauce,” Thomas said. The owners are currently in the testing phase, but Thomas is confident that “once we narrow down the flavor, we’ll be bottling and giving it to the people.”