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Farmingdale people: Restaurateur Joe Tonelli
Editor's note: All week long, Brittany Wait is profiling people around Farmingdale, from community leaders to residents she bumps into around town.
Joe Tonelli, 55, of Massapequa, has owned Bollinger’s Family Restaurant since 2010. The Main Street restaurant closed Feb. 19, and opened its doors again on April 28.
Community associations: Farmingdale Breakfast Rotary Club; Farmingdale Chamber of Commerce.
Tell me some of the history behind your business.
I was the sole owner from 2010, until it closed its doors Feb. 19, 2012. It reopened April 28. The restaurant used to be a dessert and coffee shop until two women took it over in the late '80s, expanding it to what you see now. I purchased the restaurant from Fred Bollinger on October 2010 and kept the name. I know that the village considers this a historic point in Farmingdale. They were sad to see that we closed.
Why did it close?
We were trying to sell the business because it wasn’t busy, it was hard to make rent. We ended up scaling back the menu. We used to have 30 different ice cream flavors, now we’re down to 15. Our old menu was diner size, which kind of ate me alive. The closing was due to the combination of a bad economy and the high rent. I put everything I had into that restaurant. Now, I have a partner, Mary Bulone, and we cut management and renegotiated the rent, which, thankfully, was frozen for the next two years.
How did you get in touch with new co-owner, Mary Bulone?
She was a customer of mine. I made her a frittata, topped with le cordon bleu, that she fell in love with. She calls the restaurant and says she’ll be over in 20 minutes, and I have it ready for her.
Tell me what’s unique about your business.
We make things from scratch. I’m an old chef. With the chain restaurants, food comes in bags and there’s no real personal touch to the foods. It’s all about the delivery of the food and where it’s going to be at its peak freshness. We have a retro ’50s-style-diner. Our old menu had liver and bratwurst on it, but in order to please the demographic, we had to get rid of stuff.
How did you get into the business of cooking?
My grandmother started me in the kitchen, sealing raviolis. Now, my expertise is in Italian and Mediterranean food like lasagna, spaghetti and linguine. This restaurant doesn’t call for all that, but it’s what I like most.
Can you bring yourself to go out to eat for dinner?
Not really. I’ll start critiquing a restaurant from the parking lot. I’m so obsessive that I’m better off not going out to eat. I know what’s in each dish and how it should be treated.
Owning a business on Main Street allows you to see businesses come and go. What have you noticed?
Main Street is really flat. There’s not a lot of movement to revitalize the area. I see over 35 percent of vacancy. It’s something that elected officials need to be concerned with.