To his multi-hyphenated career of Instagram influencer-marketing consultant-travel writer, Sal DiBenedetto is adding another descriptor: restaurant owner. And @TheGrubfather has given his new Huntington venture the inevitable name of The Grub Shop.
He has some serious culinary firepower in his partner, John Romero, owner of Punta Cana Dominican Grill in Westbury and Rockville Centre. In fact, the Grub Shop’s New York Avenue storefront had been a short-lived Punta Cana (2019-2020) that its owner said never really caught on. When he closed the restaurant, Romero, who had hired DiBenedetto’s The Connect Agency to do its social-media marketing, now asked if he’d like to partner up.
You might think that five years of helping restaurants to market themselves in an increasingly competitive marketplace would have convinced DiBenedetto to stay far away from ownership, but you’d be wrong.
"I love the food industry," the 30-year-old Hauppauge native said. "I don’t do The Grubfather to get flown around the world. I do it because I love to tell stories. And it’s my turn to tell my story." With his 290,000 Instagram followers, he felt confident of his digital influence, but "I needed to sow my roots on Long Island with a physical imprint." The pandemic provided a rare lull in his travel schedule, and the stars seemed aligned for The Grub Shop.
The pocket-size restaurant positively pulses with Grubfather-ness. "I wanted to make the space like stepping into my vision," he said. That vision begins with Anthony Bourdain, whose visage dominates the mural on the south wall of the dining room. "When I was 22," DiBenedetto recalled, "seeing ‘Parts Unknown" changed my life." A student of anthropology and history, he related to the groundbreaking CNN show's embrace not only of global cuisines, but of the cultures that gave birth to them. (He allows that @thegrubfather’s gustatory sweet spot of heaps of spaghetti and cheese-topped everything owes less to "Parts Unknown" and more to "Diner, Drive-Ins and Dives": "If you smashed Bourdain and Guy Fieri together, their food baby would be me.")
Facing Bourdain is another mural depicting a huge orange octopus that pays tribute to DiBenedetto’s first culinary epiphany, at age 10. "My Sicilian grandmother was cooking octopus. It looked like an alien but then I put a piece in my mouth and it tasted amazing." (Both murals are the work of Northport’s Efren Andaluz III, better known as Andaluz The Artist. The work of local graffiti artist Phetus is also featured.)
In one tentacle, the octopus holds a cheesesteak, in another, a sheaf of French fries. Which gives you a good idea of The Grub Shop’s menu. Cheesesteaks are made with beef, fried or grilled chicken or "Impossible meat." Signature cheesesteaks include "The Ninja" (fried chicken with Pepper Jack cheese, teriyaki sauce, mushrooms, onions and "Ninja" sauce) and "The Cowboy" (rib-eye steak with barbecue sauce, fried shoestring onions, peppers, Grub cheese sauce and Cowboy sauce). "Loaded Grub Fries" can be topped with sauces ranging from Sweet Thai chili to classic honey mustard. There are also jumbo chicken tenders, salads, egg rolls and big, overstuffed cookies from Cookies by Munchiez in Westbury. Prices here top out at about $15. The restaurant is in soft-opening mode for the next few weeks and is open from noon to 8 p.m. Thursday to Sunday.
The Grub Shop is at 376 New York Ave., Huntington, 631-546-1445, @eatgrubshop