Co-owner Tommy Pagonis in the kitchen at Louie's in Manhasset.

Co-owner Tommy Pagonis in the kitchen at Louie's in Manhasset. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

Tommy Pagonis has worked at Louie’s, his family’s Manhasset restaurant, for 43 of its 61 years and he is pretty sure he knows the secret to its success: “We really are that place where everybody knows your name — Cheers, but with food, good food.”

The eatery recently got a modern makeover and, with the help of the third generation of Pagonises, is moving decidedly into the future. Yet it has not strayed far from the vision of Tommy’s father, Ilias “Louie” Pagonis, who first hung up the Louie’s sign on Plandome Road.

When he was 17, Ilias emigrated from Sparta, Greece, to Canada. He made his way to New York, got a job in Hempstead and, within a few years, was working for his uncle Andromitis, who owned Andy’s Luncheonette in Manhasset. In 1963 Louie bought the modest establishment and renamed it Louie’s. In 1974, he lost his lease — the spot is now Park Drug — and moved the establishment across the street to 339 Plandome Rd. where, over the last 50 years, it has become the village’s de facto gathering place.

A full house at lunch at Louie's in Manhasset.

A full house at lunch at Louie's in Manhasset. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

Everyone comes to Louie’s: commuters heading to or from the LIRR, school kids hungry for an after-school snack, Plandome shopkeepers looking for a quick lunch, local families looking for a reasonably priced dinner, and quite a few celebrities. Tommy counts rapper-actor LL Cool J, New York Islanders Mat Barzal and Josh Bailey (former), financiers Richard Grasso and Anthony Scaramucci and TV hosts Carson Daly and Bill O’Reilly among his current or onetime customers.

“We get Islanders here, we get the Wall Street guys who get $20 million bonuses,” Tommy said. “But we don’t have pictures of anyone on the walls and everyone is treated the same — my mother has to wait for a table.”

Tragedy has only strengthened the relationship between Louie’s and its clientele. With its sizable Wall Street community, Manhasset was hit hard when the Twin Towers fell. Tommy recalled that “after 9-11, everyone would be either here or at St. Mary’s [the Catholic Church down the road].” During COVID, customers kept the restaurant afloat by ordering unprecedented amounts of takeout. Both customers and management collaborated on donating food to local hospitals and first responders.

Tommy and his brother Peter took over when Louie retired in 1998. (He died in 2021). Their brother-in-law, Billy Georgas, is also an owner. This new guard extended closing time, opened on Sunday and, at Tommy’s urging, upgraded and expanded the menu.

But despite the longer hours, ownership is not onerous. “It’s not the lifestyle my dad had,” Tommy said, “With three of us, nobody has to work more than 40 hours a week.”

Tommy’s wife, Andrea, works behind the counter and makes most of the cakes. His son Louie, 27, and Peter’s son Eli, 23, are also at Louie’s full time.

According to young Louie, “every generation has a different mindset. My grandfather was always here, worked harder than anybody. He had to make an impact on this town. My father and uncle brought in the nighttime business. I’m bringing my knowledge of technology and sales to the table. We used to be all pen-and-paper but now we have a computer system with handheld credit-card readers.”

Co-owner Peter Pagonis, captured in the late '90s, at Louie's...

Co-owner Peter Pagonis, captured in the late '90s, at Louie's in Manhasset. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

The renovation, unveiled in the fall, dispensed with the wood paneling, tan upholstery and dark granite counters, ushering in white booths and quartz counters, hammered glass light fixtures and framed photographs chronicling the eatery's history. “We renovated back in the '90s and got rid of the phone booth,” said Tommy’s wife, Andrea Pagonis. “This time we closed for four months, refreshed the dining room and actually made the kitchen bigger.”

Customer Mike Kozuch, of Greenvale, is glad to be back. After patronizing Louie’s for 20 years, he was forced to dine elsewhere during the renovation. “I always thought the food was better here, the people were friendlier,” he said. “But during those four months I realized just how much.”

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