By Peter Sloggatt
“I’m just Rhona from the Bronx.”
Rhona Silver liked to put her own twist on the 2002 Jennifer Lopez song. But when Silver said she was “just Rhona from the Bronx,” she wasn’t being modest. It was more of a “look at me now” statement.
Silver, who started a catering business in the Bronx and eventually bought – and sold – the Huntington Townhouse, died Monday of a heart attack. She was 66.
Silver ran the Huntington Townhouse for a decade, from 1997, when she purchased it from the Manno family. Under her ownership, it was reportedly the largest catering hall in the country, hosting 1,500 parties a year. The Townhouse had 12 banquet rooms and could accommodate parties of up to 3,000 guests. The catering hall hosted events for such famous notables as Hillary Clinton and Rosie O’Donnell, and once was site for a concert by the rapper 50 Cent. But it was more known for the thousands of weddings, proms, business dinners, fundraisers and charity events that filled the hall night after night. And with 12 banquet rooms on three floors, it was not uncommon to see multiple brides in its hallways.
“She loved the catering business. It was her life,” said Todd Shapiro, a publicist who worked with Silver on many events over the years. “She was an icon of catering who made Huntington Townhouse a destination. There was a time when you couldn’t be in Huntington without having to be at the Townhouse at least once a week.”
Silver grew up in the business, working with her father’s catering company in the Bronx. Capitalizing on a niche market, she gained a reputation for producing high-end events for the Orthodox Jewish community and claimed at one time hers was the only woman-owned Kosher Glat catering company in New York.
Silver had catering contracts with four Jewish centers on Long Island when the Manno family put the Townhouse on the market. She saw an opportunity to consolidate, she told Long Island Business News in a 2001 story on the purchase.
In addition to churning out parties in the three-story, 148,000 square-foot building, Silver had bigger plans for the property. Its 20 acres on prime real estate at Jericho Turnpike and Route 110 were devoted mostly to parking. Plans for her vision – a 244-room hotel and luxury spa – received town approvals in 2001, but the $30-million project eventually took a back seat when retail home center Lowe’s made an offer. The Lowe’s deal closed in 2007 for a reported $38.5 million, but due to the retailer’s own financial setbacks, the store was never built and the property sold to Target, which eventually built at the site.
The sale was hardly a happy ending. Silver found herself in court, sued by Douglas Elliman real estate over commissions, and by her half-brother who claimed half ownership of the property. And Silver brought a suit herself, seeking $29.5 million in damages from real estate developer and one-time boyfriend Barry Newman who put together the deal. The Newman suit is still in court.
Silver continued catering privately after the Townhouse was sold, and five years ago launched an online business, CaterBid, with her son and daughter.
Funeral services were held today at New Montefiore Cemetery in Pinelawn under direction of Dodge Thomas Funeral Home.
Editor's note: Rhona Silver was 66. An earlier version of this story and the print
version published in the Nov. 9, 2017 issue of The Long-Islander incorrectly stated otherwise.