Q: How did you come to the North Fork?
A: Through a series of restaurants with Tom Schaudel. In 2006 I’d had a seasonal restaurant on Dune Road in West Hampton Beach with him, called Passion Fish. That was a relocation of his Woodbury restaurant of the same name. Our lease wasn’t renewed, so then I helped him out with the Jedediah Hawkins Inn, which was another project of his at that time. We stayed there 2006-8.
I was living in Flushing in the time, driving out here for three nights—working doubles each weekend—heading back to Queens. In 2008 I bought the restaurant that I turned into aMano, and moved to Mattituck. In 2010 we opened a catering company that is currently called Plated Simply. In 2011 we opened A Lure, with my working partner Jeff Uguil, aka Jeff the Chef.
Time flies: St. Patrick’s Day will make nine years at aMano, and it’ll be six years in the spring at A Lure.
Q: Passion Fish, Jedediah Hawkins, aMano, Plated Simply, A Lure—that’s a lot of businesses you built with Tom Schaudel. How did you guys connect?
A: I met him when I was 18 as a bus boy in Oyster Bay, then a few years later when I was a waiter in Wantaugh, and then in 98-99—at that point I was a wine salesman, and a couple of his accounts became mine. We did wine dinners together and became friendly. Then I left sales—I became bored—and I opened a Manhattan restaurant called Vespa in 2003, did that to 2005.
In summer 2006 I reconnected with Tom for the Passion Fish move. It was the first time we worked together.
Q: Normally I ask people how they got into the business or industry they’re in now, but your answers so far make it clear—you’ve always been in the restaurant industry. Why?
A: I washed dishes at 13, was a bus boy at 14, and did that until 19 including at Mill River Inn. I went to college for a while for education but it wasn’t for me. All in all I’ve held most restaurant jobs: bus boy, dishwasher, waiter, bartender, sommelier, manager, a few months in the kitchen, wine salesman, now owner/operator. Eventually went I back to school for hospitality.
I love the restaurant business because in a restaurant you get a restart every day. Provided you can keep the restaurant open, each day I have a whole new chance to please customers—I have an opportunity to make people happy. People come having chosen your restaurant, you’re not approaching people trying to get them to like your product.
When I was a salesman I worked out of a cubicle; quota constantly hung over me. I joke that I took up smoking just to get out of a cubicle.
aMano is in the middle of North Fork wine country; A Lure is in such a beautiful spot, even if no one shows up I’m ahead of the guy in the cubicle. I just look out at the water, enjoy the view.
I’ve run restaurants around the world, but this is where I’ve put down my roots, am raising my family.
Q: So aMano was your first place out here. How would you describe it? And why Italian food?
A: I’d call it a creative Italian restaurant with a Northern Italian influence. Originally, it was supposed to be a Japanese Steak House, not Italian at all. When I was working at Jedediah Hawkins, working all those doubles commuting from Flushing, I didn’t really know the North Fork. I asked the guys in the kitchen where they got their sushi, and they all said there was no sushi out here. That amazed me because of all the fresh fish here and how there was sushi everywhere in Queens.
So when the building that’s now aMano became available, I pitched Tom on a Japanese Steakhouse. He was into it, but then he sent me a list of possible restaurant names, and none of them were Japanese at all.
I asked him what happened to the Japanese steakhouse idea, and he said he’d was thinking we’d do a trendy, casual, fun Italian place with a pizza oven, no tablecloths, and no classic chicken parm.
Since the chef was inspired and excited, and had more experience than I did, and I had a lot of experience in Italian restaurants anyway, I agreed and aMano was born.
Q: Do you have a favorite dish at aMano? And do you guys incorporate local ingredients?
At aMano one of the dishes that speaks to the cool twist on Italian food is Tom’s carbonara. He calls it carbonara on steroids, and it has smoked duck in it. It’s the only item that’s never come off the menu.
As to local ingredients, the duck, the produce, the cheese, the fish—we use as much local farms and fisherman as much we can. When we opened aMano, part of the concept for Tom was only North Fork and Italian wines. That was new, 100 bottle wine list that was half North Fork wines. And the A Lure list is all North Fork wines, we got an Award of Excellence from the Wine Spectator for that list.
Q: The aMano carbonara sounds delicious. Do you have a favorite A Lure dish?
A: One that’s stood the test of time at A Lure is macademia and coconut encrusted flounder. Every year you change the menu some, so after six years pretty much everything else’s changed.
Q: So you mentioned you’d worked in and run restaurants all over the world. But you’ve put down roots now; why on the North Fork?
A: Yes, I’ve settled down. I got married in 2013, had a couple of kids. Why the North Fork? Well, the natural beauty here just can’t be beat. It’s just beautiful here, and there’s a lot to do. My ride to work is about 15 miles, and I think I pass three lights on my way. There’s really something to be said for that.