Owners Patricia and Philip Bonanza at the food stand they operated...

Owners Patricia and Philip Bonanza at the food stand they operated in Oyster Bay on Aug. 11, 2020. Credit: Raychel Brightman

Philip Bonanza Sr. was a maestro behind a stove — dazzling his family with Italian dishes he made from scratch.

But the greatest skill of Bonanza — the third-generation owner of Bonanza’s, a hot dog and Italian food stand in Oyster Bay for more than 120 years — wasn’t making meatballs or chicken parmigiana. 

“He made family meals like celebrations,” said his wife, Patricia Bonanza, 76, of Huntington.

Bonanza died March 12 after a bout with cancer, Patricia Bonanza said. He was 80.

The stand had grown from modest beginnings. His grandparents, John and Emma Bonanza, who emigrated from Italy and first settled in Brooklyn, began running the business with his grandfather pushing a cart down to the ballfields a few blocks away from where the Shore Avenue storefront is situated today.

Later, his father, Michael, took over, with Philip Bonanza sweeping the floors of the 10-by-12-foot wooden stand and stacking containers of soda when he was as young as 5 years old, Newsday previously reported. He continued the family tradition and took over the business in the 1980s, Patricia Bonanza said.

“Phil brought a lot of joy to the Oyster Bay community for over 40 years,” she said.

Over the years, Bonanza hired students to man the stand. Many of them attended his wake and told his family their time there “was the best job they ever had,” Patricia Bonanza said. His impact in the community was indelible, she said. 

The couple  married in 1995. Both were each other’s second marriages. Bonanza had a son, Philip Bonanza Jr., from a previous marriage and Patricia had four children from her previous marriage.

“We were the best thing that ever happened to each other,” Patricia Bonanza said. “We were like a team.”

Bonanza grew up on the North Shore of Long Island. He married his first wife, Anne, in 1963 and the two were together for 30 years.

Philip Bonanza Jr., of Locust Valley, fondly recalled his time growing up in Bayville, where his dad was supportive of the sports he played. As he became a teenager, Bonanza Jr. began to learn the family business from his grandfather, Mike Bonanza.

What began as a lesson in learning the recipe for the stand’s lemon ice became the start of a massive expansion for the family name. He went to school to learn the art and science of dessert manufacturing and grew the stand’s brief Italian ice menu to its current iteration of over 40 options.

“My dad was very influential with working with the store, teaching me the other side and behind the scenes, what had to be done,” said Bonanza Jr., who is taking over the stand with his wife, Stephanie, and their sons, Tyler and Alec. He said his family is aiming to uphold the standards set for the stand for over a century.

A grandfather to 10, Bonanza's grandkids became a new source of joy, Patricia Bonanza said. He had a love of teaching them recipes and how to cook.

“They’re all going to miss his cooking, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to match him,” she quipped.

In the couple's Huntington backyard, he played badminton, boccie and cornhole with his grandkids, she said, with the winner getting a trophy.

And, of course, dinner was always expected.

“The more that he could have at his table, the more he enjoyed it,” Patricia Bonanza said.

Besides his wife and son, survivors include his stepchildren; Michael O'Brien, of Florida, Christine O'Brien, of Long Beach, Tricia Greenwood, of Brooklyn, and Frank O'Brien, of Huntington; his brother, John, of Huntington; and his 10 grandchildren.

Services were held at the Francis P. DeVine Funeral Home Inc. on Monday and a Mass was held at the Church of St. Gertrude in Bayville on Tuesday.

NewsdayTV's Elisa DiStefano and Newsday food writer Marie Elena Martinez take a look at the hottest places to dine on Long Island this summer.  Credit: Randee Daddona; Newsday / A.J. Singh

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NewsdayTV's Elisa DiStefano and Newsday food writer Marie Elena Martinez take a look at the hottest places to dine on Long Island this summer.  Credit: Randee Daddona; Newsday / A.J. Singh

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