Know your customers. Stay focused. Be flexible. Own the real estate. Tell a trendlet from a sea change. Follow the economy. Control quality. And, once more: Figure out what your audience really wants. Give it to them.
These are the ways restaurants last. Long Island is dotted with dining rooms that go back decades.
They've all lasted for different reasons. We've chosen representative restaurants that have been cooking for at least 20 years. Here's a taste of vintage Long Island.
All-American Hamburger, Massapequa (Opened in 1963): Back in 1953, Philip Vultaggio launched a Carvel stand in Massapequa. Ten years later, he decided to open a stainless-steel and neon-lit hamburger stand, which has remained essentially the same to this day. Now owned by his sons, Philip and William Vultaggio, it has people lining up for freshly made burgers and hand-cut fries, as well as a few other simple favorites. Seating is outdoors only -- but even in winter, the place goes full throttle, with many customers eating in their cars.
Trendy burger chains come and go, but classic patties are still being served up in foil pouches at All American Hamburger in Massapequa.
The Bayou, North Bellmore (Opened in 1986): This freewheeling Cajun spot, decorated with Mardi Gras paraphernalia, was known early on for its lively bar scene. Back then, there was no printed menu; just a blackboard -- augmented by verbal explanations of dishes (which hardly ever included green vegetables). These days, says current owner Lisa Livermore, "people are more concerned with being healthy," so the menu offers lighter options. And the bar takes a backseat to the food. Specials and new dishes show up daily on Facebook.
Tupelo honey shrimp and grits is served at The Bayou in Bellmore.
Benny's Ristorante, Westbury (Opened in 1987): "We've added whole-wheat and gluten-free pastas," says Claudio DiPietro, son of owner Benny DiPietro. A few years ago, bucatini with sardines and homegrown fennel became a staple, as did fettuccine carbonara with speck. There are fewer orders for house-made agnolotti in porcini mushroom-and- cream sauce. The restaurant has made some adaptations to changing diets and times, DiPietro says, without altering the basics. "We're still here."
Bucatini con le sarde, thick pasta with sardines, fennel and raisins, is served at Benny's Ristorante in Westbury.
Bigelow's, Rockville Centre (Opened in 1939): This Rockville Centre landmark, founded by Russ Bigelow, has been owned by the Andreolas family for the past 24 years. Says co-owner Chris Andreolas: "We've been doing things the same way Mr. Bigelow did in 1939." Which means making everything from scratch, including hand-cut fries, sauces and soups. Only real crabmeat is used, never imitation. And leave your credit cards at home; this is a cash-only place.
Bigelow's in Rockville Centre serves a fried clam sandwich piled high on a bun with a side of fries.
Bryant & Cooper
Bryant & Cooper, Roslyn (Opened in 1986): "With changes in lifestyle and in earnings, we've made smaller portions available, "co-owner Gillis Poll says. "But all the steaks and chops are still the same" as they were on opening day. And, in season, the restaurant offers stone crab claws, Nantucket Bay scallops and soft-shell crabs. Poll estimated that 70 percent of diners at Bryant & Cooper are regulars.
The porterhouse steak at Bryant & Cooper in Roslyn remains one of the restaurant's signature dishes.
Casa Rustica, Smithtown (Opened in 1985): Casa Rustica arrived with Hurricane Gloria and stayed open during the blackout. Look for the return of an old favorite, pasta with a Gaeta olive and olive oil sauce, said co-owner Mimmo Gambino. "We have got to be careful changing the menu," he says, adding that regular diners have their favorites. The pasta dish is made whenever requested.
Lasagna Bolognese is served at Casa Rustica in Smithtown.
Eddie's Pizza, New Hyde Park (Opened in 1931): Current owner Joseph DiVittorio maintains that Eddie's may be the ninth-oldest pizza parlor in the country. Opened by Eddie Fannelli in the early '30s, its ongoing claim to fame remains its thin, crisp bar pies; in fact, Eddie's actually had the term "bar pie" trademarked. Not a by-the-slice kind of place, this is a table service restaurant that recently had a major face-lift. Eddie's also deploys roving pizza trucks to the streets of New York City.
The "bar pie" is served at Eddie's Pizza in New Hyde Park.
Emilio's, Commack (Opened in 1980): Back in 1989, Emilio Branchinelli went from being co-owner to sole owner of this strip-mall spot, which he promptly transformed from pizzeria to "trendy pizzeria-restaurant." Since then, there have been more expansions and renovations as well as three spinoff restaurants -- Pasta-eria in Hicksville, Fanatico Italian Bistro & Bar in Jericho and Passione Della Cucina in Carle Place. While the classics are core to the menu, the repertoire is constantly being updated. Branchinelli says he stays tuned in to current needs, "like going gluten-free or offering European healthy-life choices."
Spaghetti and all-beef meatballs is served at Emilio's restaurant in Commack.
Fortune Wheel, Levittown (Opened in 1993): Devoted to serving authentic Cantonese and Hong Kong-style fare, this unpretentious restaurant is nearly hidden away in a Levittown strip mall. Owner Francis Chan estimates that 60 percent of the clientele is Asian. Weekend dim sum service from roving carts -- a rarity on Long Island -- is a tradition here.
Shumai and steamed pork buns are served at Fortune Wheel in Levittown.
The Jolly Fisherman & Steak House
The Jolly Fisherman & Steak House, Roslyn (Opened in 1957): Steven Scheiner is the current owner; his father, Fred, the original. Steven Scheiner says that ordering wine by the glass now supersedes cocktails and wines by the bottle. "A lot more sauce on the side these days," he adds. "But one in four still orders the banana cream pie."
Pan-seared Chilean sea bass with spinach and stuffed baked potato is served at The Jolly Fisherman & Steak House in Roslyn.
Laurel Luncheonette, Long Beach (Opened in 1932): The Long Beach standby reopened in April 2015 following what co-owner Andrew Loucas called "a total gut renovation." The eatery, situated in a building that housed an old movie theater, was redesigned in an art deco look that reflects its history.
A hamburger with tomato, lettuce and French fries is served at the Laurel Luncheonette in Long Beach.
Lobster Roll, Amagansett (Opened in 1965): The iconic "Lunch" sign is an East End landmark. Despite its sign, The Lobster Roll is open for dinner, too, with a repertoire that goes beyond its signature item. "We have over 150 items on the menu," says Paul Deangelis, who co-owns the nostalgia-themed place with Andrea Anthony and founder Fred Terry. Anthony adds: "We also have a huge gluten-free menu." Note: Opens for the 2016 season on May 6.
A lobster roll made with 100% pure cold water lobster meat is served at Lobster Roll in Amagansett.
Maureen's Kitchen, Smithtown (Opened in 1986): When Maureen Dernbach first launched a breakfast and lunch roadhouse, it was geared to feeding hungry truck drivers and working folk. Her whimsical cow-themed decor carried over when the business relocated to a large Victorian manse across the street. Now that Dernbach has retired, her son Kevin Dernbach and daughter, Christine Fortier, continue to draw crowds with creative breakfast dishes, overstuffed sandwiches and a welcoming vibe.
Lemon poppy pancakes served with fresh strawberries and blueberries is a specialty item on the all-day breakfast menu at Maureen's Kitchen in Smithtown.
Modern Snack Bar
Modern Snack Bar, Aquebogue (Opened in 1950): The food was passed "through the window, like at a drive-up," says Otto Wittmeier, co-owner with his brother, John. Customers then "would say what they liked," and his parents would prepare it. The restaurant started with 10 to 16 seats; now, it's 125 at tables and six at the counter. Wittmeier offers seasonal fare such as bay scallops and soft-shell crabs. Lobster salad is very popular. "People do not want us to change."
Fried soft-shell crab and mashed turnips are among the specialties at Modern Snack Bar in Aquebogue.
Nagashima, Jericho (Opened in 1990): When Makoto Kobayashi opened Nagashima, sushi was an exotic cuisine on Long Island. Now that it is ubiquitous, he must compete both in terms of price and in style: Many customers demand baroque, Americanized rolls that he makes with good humor and as much artistry as he can muster. "I make what my customers want," he said. But his greatest pleasure comes from teaching (and serving) them the glories of the sushi tradition.
Natto (fermented soybeans) is served with tuna, scallions, and rice at Nagashima in Jericho.
Nick & Toni's
Nick & Toni's, East Hampton (Opened in 1988): Season and market shape the menus at Nick & Toni's, a celebrity magnet and one of the summer's toughest reservations. N & T's started by serving the type of food founders Toni Ross and the late Jeff Salaway first tasted in Tuscany, fare then not found here. "Freshness, sourcing of ingredients and authenticity" remain the priorities, Ross says.
A vegetable-and-goat cheese terrine is served at Nick & Toni's in East Hampton.
Peter Luger, Great Neck (Opened in 1960): Amy Rubenstein, corporate secretary and daughter of Sol Forman, who bought the restaurant at auction in 1950, buys the meat and estimates that 80 percent of diners order the porterhouse steak. "We added a rib steak for more diversity," said Jody Storch, vice president. Peter Luger's main dishes also include the half-pound-plus "Luger-Burger" at lunch, prime rib, chopped steak, lamb chops, broiled chicken and broiled lobster.
The sliced porterhouse steak for two is a signature dish at Peter Luger in Great Neck, here, served with potato hash and creamed spinach.
Pumpernickels, Northport (Opened in 1973): "We have a lot of staples," from red cabbage and sauerkraut onward, says owner Arthur Glad. German specialties account for about 75 percent of the orders at Pumpernickels. "Ninety percent in September and October," he added. "A little bit of rain, and I'm packed. ... Weather means a lot to my business."
The Bavarian platter is a specialty at Pumpernickels in Northport.
Silver's, Southampton (Opened in 1966): This Southampton landmark opened as a newsstand and tobacco shop in 1923, and, under the same family ownership, became a restaurant in 1966. In 1980, Garrett Wellins took over from his parents, who were serving soda fountain treats and Russian Tea Room-style haute cuisine. Today, his lunch-only destination is known for what may be Long Island's best -- and costliest -- BLT, at $21, as well as for its lobster roll and crabcakes. And the borscht that Wellins' dad served back in 1966.
Silver's in Southampton serves a generously layered bacon, lettuce and ripe tomato sandwich on grilled Tuscan bread with Romaine lettuce and mayonnaise.
Stresa, Manhasset (Opened in 1992): Co-owner Giorgio Meriggi said diners often skip the menu, and select from specials, or have individual requests.
A chocolate soufflé is served at Stresa in Manhasset.
Thomas's Ham N Eggery
Thomas's Ham N Eggery, Carle Place (Opened in 1946): Although Thomas's has been around since the 1940s, the diner was bought by the Koukoulas family in 1973. Breakfast is a forte, attested to by lines out the door on weekends. Owner Tom Koukoulas says he finds that while older customers stick with comforting standards, there's a huge market of 20- to 35-year-olds.
The pulled pork breakfast melt at Thomas's Ham 'N' Eggery includes onion jam.