Mike Pantano’s eatery on Broadway in Hewlett has been an area favorite for sandwiches, paninis, burgers and more since it first opened about a decade ago. He also opened a more upscale Italian restaurant, Ciao Bella, four months ago, also in Hewlett.
Now, the restaurateur hopes to find similar success at his newest location in Long Beach, at 18 E. Park Ave., which opened its doors on Jan. 9. Patch sat down with Pantano to talk about his background and where he hopes to see his business go.
Tell me how you got your start in the food industry?
I used to have a large entertainment company, which kept me busy on the weekends. During the week, I’d meet with clients, but I really didn’t have much to do. So in 1997 I ended up finding a store for sale in Oceanside on Long Beach Road. (That store closed two years ago.)
How’d you end up in Hewlett?
I said to myself that I wanted to open in my hometown of Lawrence because there really wasn’t any place to eat. I had a store next to Lawrence Diner on Burnside Diner for 10 years. I sold it to my brother, and there was a fire next door, and we just never reopened there.
I found this location in Hewlett, we opened up and little by little it started to get busier and busier. That was it. Since then, we opened more stores — in Merrick, which moved to Seaford, and now we’re in Long Beach. In the interim, I opened a few bagel stores called Bagels, Bagels, Bagels, in Valley Stream and Franklin Square. I sold both of them. When I had them all, there were too many things going on.
What was appealing about opening in Long Beach?
I saw an opportunity here. It was close enough to my Hewlett location that I felt comfortable enough taking it on, and it’s just a market that I think my product can excel at. It’s a younger crowd here. The Pantano name will be beneficial to me here. They know my product, so it’ll be easier to grow versus an unknown area like New Jersey or Connecticut.
How is business different in each of the markets?
In certain areas, certain parts of the menu will sell better than in other areas. In Hewlett, more salads and wraps. Here in Long Beach, we have more burgers and paninis. The seaford store sells a lot of pizza and pasta. It’s all relevant to wherever we are. In the end, we sell pretty much an average amount of everything.
Keep in mind we also do a tremendous amount of delivery. Almost 50 percent of our business is delivery. We were the first, in 2004, to bring branded cars to Long Island—as far as I can remember.
Do you have a business philosophy?
I don’t want to sound cocky and say I have no competition, but that’s how I run my business. I can’t worry about everyone else and what they do. All I can only worry about is when my phone rings, or people walk into the store. We take care of the customer. Everything else is out of my control.
What’s your signature sandwich?
Our most popular is the Guido—chicken cutlet, American, crispy bacon and creamy Russian dressing. It’s hands down the number one seller.
What are the greatest challenges facing restaurateurs nowadays?
One hundred percent employees—being able to put together a good staff and keeping them together. I can’t do it on my own. The most challenging part is giving them the responsibilities and making sure they take care of them. I think I work the hardest out of all my employees and I think every boss does. But I happen to have excellent workers.
What are you looking forward to in the future?
The future is going to go in a different direction by me hopefully franchising and seeing some more stores opening up, whether it’s here in New York or in Florida or somewhere else. It’s just a matter of me finalizing my product and making it easier for the next person to take on the responsibility of running a Pantano’s and maximizing his employees. My goal is to be the top guy in control of 12, 15 stores in Nassau County as well as operate my own couple of stores.