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Lifestyle

Amagansett pizzeria keeps it in the family

The Lupo and Stipanov families in front of

The Lupo and Stipanov families in front of their business, Astro Pizza and Felice's Ristorante, in Amagansett. Seated, Anthony Stipanov with daughters Ava and Olivia, and wife Sofia. Back row, from left, Gianfelice Lupo, Alex Stipanov, Nado Stipanov, Alda Stipanov, Felice Stipanov, Tony Lupo and Joey Lupo. (July 15, 2012) Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Inevitably, it happens every summer.

After 10 weeks of working nearly nonstop at their family restaurant in Amagansett, the Stipanov and Lupo cousins — five 20-somethings whose parents own Astro's Pizzeria and Felice's Ristorante — start talking about the future, and they're not sure the family business is in it.

"We work 60- to 70-hour weeks for 10 weeks," said Alex Stipanov, 22. "We get tired. Every summer we always say it might be our last."

The cousins — Stipanov brothers Alex, Felice, 24, and Anthony, 27, and Lupo brothers Joey, 20 and Gianfelice, 27 — have plenty of reasons to flee the nest. Three of them are certified teachers, one is studying to be a teacher, and the youngest of the five is entering the NYPD's police academy. They have wives and children, girlfriends and other obligations.

But every summer, they come back from their respective corners and other lives. Back to Amagansett, where they each live with their parents; back to the restaurant at 237 Main St., where they spend their days and nights, sacrificing free time, beach time and most of the more glamorous elements of life in the Hamptons.

This spring, the first sign of a change of heart from the year before came from Anthony Stipanov. He is the oldest of his brothers and the one with the most commitments — a full-time teaching job in Brooklyn, a wife and 19-month-old twins.

"What should we do with the late-night menu this year?" he texted his brother Alex.

"That was it," Alex said. "Then it's like, 'OK, we're all coming back.' "

 

Family's rich history

It's a rare kind of loyalty to their roots and their family, but it's all the young cousins know.

Forty-two years ago, Felice Lupo, 86, who came to New York from Sicily in 1969, bought Astro's pizzeria when neither he nor his wife spoke a word of English.

His oldest children, Alda, who was 13, and Gaetano, who was 12, were the face of the business.

"My father didn't even know how to write a check," said Gaetano Lupo, 53, who now goes by Tony and owns the joint pizzeria and restaurant with sister Alda and her husband, Nado Stipanov. "My sister did the bills, and I made the orders."

The business has changed throughout the years — it was at one time a separate pizzeria, restaurant and Italian deli, but now the pizzeria and restaurant are housed together and the deli is gone. But the way it is run has not changed.

The current generation grew up behind the counter and learned that one person's problem is everyone's problem. They fill in for each other, come in on days off and try to make things easier for their parents.

The cousins all started working at the restaurant when they were 5 or 6, constructing pizza boxes and wiping down tables.

Now they are taking the reins.

"All winter long, me and my brother and my husband are working," said Alda Stipanov, 54. "The kids come [for the summer season] and basically take over. They are very dedicated."

The Lupo brothers live with their parents in Amagansett year-round, and during the summer there are eight people in the five-bedroom Stipanov house, including the twins. But even when the Stipanov brothers leave, they go together.

For the past two years, they have all lived together in an apartment in Queens. The younger brothers were there while Anthony's wife, Sofia, was pregnant, when she had the twins and for the middle-of-the-night feedings afterward.

Sofia Stipanov said her brother-in-law Felice went to more doctors' appointments with her than her own husband and mother.

Anthony Stipanov said the living arrangement felt natural to him and his siblings.

"We did not have a normal upbringing, I think," he said. "But I always knew I could count on anyone for anything."

 

Their unique bond

Felice Lupo decided to leave the business after his wife died in 2001, and he remarried and moved to Baltimore. He visits Long Island often, and each trip Lupo throws on his old apron, sits in his favorite seat and shakes hands with the regulars.

He said the business has always run well because the family does, too.

"What makes them unique is how close their bond is," he said recently in Sicilian as his daughter, Alda, translated. "They are great friends outside of the business. You can't teach people to have that bond."

Lou Linder, who works in advertising and has homes in Manhattan and Springs, said he has been coming to Astro's for years. It is his first stop when he gets off the bus and his last stop before he leaves.

"The food is incredible, but it's the ambience," Linder said as he sat down at a table with Tony Lupo on a recent visit. "It's the family. You rarely see this anymore."

That's how everyone would like to keep it, but as Tony, Alda and Nado get older and their sons advance in other careers, they all admit the future is a question mark.

Gianfelice Lupo, a student teacher at East Hampton High School, said despite their professions, the family obligation is a strong pull.

"I'll stay as long as they need me," he said. "If it were up to me, it would be another 42 years."

And maybe it will be, said Alda Stipanov, who has a theory:

"This is what they want to do," she said. "I think they became teachers so they can spend summers making pizza."

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