“He’s influenced so many people in so many ways, I don’t think the community will ever forget him,” Ms. Morris said. “He’s changed a lot of careers, including mine.”
Ms. Morris said friends and loved ones had began to gather on Wednesday to celebrate Mr. Hayden and his legacy.
“I never met anybody who dealt with [illness] like him,” she said adding that despite his long illness, she was still unprepared for the news. “I thought he had another birthday in him, another fundraiser.”
Mr. Hayden and Ms. Fleming found success with North Fork Table & Inn, winning rave reviews as one of the East End’s top restaurants. Mr. Hayden had been nominated for the prestigious James Beard Award three times; on Monday, Zagat declared the restaurant as having the Best Food and the Best Service. Mr. Hayden excitedly tweeted the announcement that day.
Their success allowed the couple expanded the eatery in 2010.
Then, in January 2011, Mr. Hayden was diagnosed was ALS, a debilitating neurological condition also known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” The illness has no known cure.
In the four years since the diagnosis, the disease had robbed him of the use of his hands. Physically, he couldn’t cook anymore.
Yet that didn’t stop Mr. Hayden from continuing to run his restaurant. He managed the kitchen from his electric wheelchair, despite the fact that his speech was slowed by breathing tubes. Still, the couple was forced to list the restaurant for sale last year.
Mr. Hayden also used his condition to raise awareness for ALS, sponsoring fundraisers and hosting events. Friends raised more than $100,000 through a fundraising group called Hayden’s Heroes.
In an October 2014 interview, Mr. Hayden declared the restaurant a “complete success,” just as his ALS progressed to the point where he could no longer cook.
“It never felt like it to me because I was always trying to find money,” he said. “When we finally sorted everything out and built this room, I just happened to get sick. So, the fact that now we’re here and the restaurant is still up and running and people are writing about it, and want to write stories about the history of it, and the investors will get all their money back, I’d say we went on a pretty successful run.”
Originally Published in The Suffolk Times