Lessing's Hospitality operates the Cougar Cafe at St. John the...

Lessing's Hospitality operates the Cougar Cafe at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip. Its recent acquisition will expand its reach in school food service. Credit: Lessing's Hospitality Group

The owner of Mirabelle Restaurant in Stony Brook and the Library Café in Farmingdale has completed a purchase that expands its school cafeteria business in Westchester and New York City.

Lessing’s Hospitality Group of Great River, a 133-year-old business that operates more than 115 catering and wedding venues, restaurants, and corporate and academic dining centers across the Northeast and Florida, completed the purchase of New Rochelle-based Division Hospitality Group, the company said.  Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Family-owned Division, started in 2017, provides cafeteria services to 15 K-12 Catholic schools, mostly at the high school level, throughout Westchester, the Bronx and Queens.

“We both operate in the same space, so we’ve known of each other," Michael Lessing, chief executive of Lessing’s, said Wednesday. At the start of the year, Division approached Lessing's about an acquisition, he said.

“We were able to sit down and discuss the possibility of working together,” Lessing said.

As part of the deal, Nicholas Mancini, owner of Division Hospitality, will continue to oversee operations at the 15 schools Division currently serves.

"We're eager to align with Lessing's and leverage their industry experience and resources,” said Mancini, who has co-managed the business with his three sisters Nicole Cestra, Kristina Bastian and Brianna Mancini.

The purchase expands Lessing’s reach further in the Westchester area, and will grow the company’s employee base to about 2,400 workers, a few hundred of those coming from Division.

On the Island, Lessing’s has around 1,200 employees, Lessing said. In total, the company operates 20 wedding and catering venues, 20 restaurants, 2 pop-up kitchen concepts, over 75 corporate and academic dining centers and a hotel.

Lessing said while the local business is largely known for its restaurants and catering venues today, Lessing’s Hospitality has had a long history of providing café and cafeteria services.

The company, founded in 1890 by Maxwell Lessing, got its start providing lunch counter services at offices in New York’s Financial District in the early 1900s. It was only after the late '70s that the business expanded into concessions and catering offerings.  

Lessing said the expansion of services in the school setting provides greater longevity for the firm, which currently provides food and beverage services to private schools including St. John the Baptist High School in West Islip and Molloy University in Rockville Centre.

“The one thing the pandemic taught us was the need to stay diversified,” he said. With office buildings, particularly in the greater New York City area, seeing higher rates of vacancy, pivoting toward services in school settings is more sustainable long term, Lessing said.

The purchase “puts us in a really strong spot, especially knowing that the corporate dining side of the business hasn’t returned and probably won’t look like it did pre-pandemic,” Lessing said. 

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