Business

Pictured from left, RPSB Chamber of Commerce member Charles Todaro, restaurant owner Barbara Stephenson, RPSB Chamber of Commerce President Gary Pollakusky, RPSB Chamber of Commerce member Larry Hall, restaurant owner Robert Mastanduno (with scissors), Councilwoman Bonner, Leg. Anker, and RPSB Chamber Events Director Jeanine Pollakusky. Photo from RPSB Chamber of Commerce

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker joined members of the Rocky Point Sound Beach (RPSB) Chamber of Commerce, Angela Noncarrow from Rep. Anthony Palumbo’s office and the local community in celebrating the ribbon cutting and one year anniversary of Robert Anthony’s “Domenica alle Due” Italian Bistro Pizzeria & Cocktail Bar in Sound Beach on Oct. 29.

From left, Councilwoman Jane Bonner, chamber president Gary Pollakusky, chamber members Nichaldeep Parhar and Larry Hall, owners Robert Mastanduno and Barbara Stephenson, chamber members Charles Todaro and Cyndi Zaweski, Leg. Sarah Anker and
Angela Noncarrow from Rep. Anthony Palumbo’s office
Jeanine Pollakusky

Located at 257 Echo Avenue, the newly renovated restaurant owned by Barbara Stephenson and Robert Mastanduno (formerly CaraMia Restaurant and Pizzeria) features a large selection of popular Italian dishes, as well a variety of pizza, salads and more.

“I welcome ‘Domenica alle Due’ to Sound Beach. Brookhaven Town is open for business and it’s important that we support the people who invest in the community and create jobs for our residents, especially during this pandemic,” said Councilwoman Bonner. “I wish Robert, Barbara and the entire staff the best of luck and encourage everyone to stop. The food is ‘spettacalore!’”

“Thank you to owners Robert and Barbara for the delicious pizza and for welcoming us into your beautiful restaurant! Be sure to go visit them soon for some tasty food,” added Leg. Anker.

Restaurant operating hours are Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. For more information, please call 631-849-4809.

The family behind Druthers Coffee in Stony Brook Square. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Many stores, shops and restaurants had to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic nationwide. Sustaining a business was just too hard, especially during the unprecedented times of the virus spread then government-mandated shutdowns of most venues and shops. 

Despite these massive hardships, several so-called COVIDpreneurs, or people who opened up shop during the pandemic, decided to take a risk during a rather bleak time, some putting their livelihoods on the line for the sake of their passions as well as for the community.

While it’s hard to know the future of these new businesses, most owners said not even a pandemic could stop them from realizing their dreams.

SāGhar: 111 W. Broadway, Port Jefferson

Kiran Wadhwa and Indu Kaur inside their family’s new restaurant, SāGhar in Port Jefferson. Photo by Julianne Mosher

The family behind SāGhar officially took over the former Harbor Grill in January. With plans to open up a brand-new fine dining experience with Indian cuisine on the water in March, their first day open was also the day they closed, with no real way to prepare for what was going to happen on the horizon.

“Our main attention was, ‘How are we going to survive’?” co-owner Indu Kaur said. Since their concept was more upscale, they didn’t initially incorporate takeout or delivery options.

“We had to sit and brainstorm: ‘How are we going to handle not having any of those things and still be functioning and operating?’” co-owner Kiran Wadhwa said. 

They decided to spend their time helping essential workers while they waited for state restaurant guidelines to change. During the height of the pandemic, they donated over $30,000 worth of food and more than
2,500 meals.

“Instead of thinking about our own business and menu and takeout, we came up with the idea to donate food to hospitals from Riverhead to New York City.” 

During the summer, indoor dining was finally allowed and in just one week the family moved quickly to set up SāGhar, but it was tough. Since their original plans of opening were halted months before, they had to complete their menu, renovate the kitchen to accommodate Indian cooking and train their new staff under social-distancing rules. 

It was hard on the family financially as well. On top of typical expenses that would be spent during a new opening, they had to add masks, shields and signs on top of a budget that was already depleted. 

Kaur said her family began using personal savings and personal savings just to pay bills and make their dream restaurant a reality. Although customers were flocking to SāGhar during the summer and since their grand opening, now that the cooler weather is here, they’re getting worried again.

“We were able to recoup a little bit during the summer, but now it’s that same feeling of stress, because people aren’t walking in and going out as much,” Wadhwa said. “We’re just hoping that things normalize … I think now I’m feeling it more, because now that we’re settled from the summer, it’s just so draining. … You feel so down from it.”

Although it has been tough, the family is still fighting to keep their restaurant afloat because they believe in their brand and want to share good food with the community. “Breaking even would be ideal for the next year,” Wadhwa said. 

Taco Island Tex-Mex: 5507 Nesconset Highway, Mount Sinai

Taco Island opened up late this summer despite the fear of COVID-19. Photo by Aman Bhola

Aman Bhola has been in the food truck industry for a few years, owning a popular North Shore Tex-Mex vehicle. But he said in early March, he decided to leave that business endeavor and start anew with a brick-and-mortar location in Mount Sinai in April, even though the COVID-19 virus was spreading fast. 

“My customer base was already a strong motivation for me to come back,” he said. “But nothing in the world would stop me from following my dream.”

Taco Island officially opened up in July after a quick, but hefty, renovation of the space’s former occupant. Bhola, a 27-year-old Indian American knew his customers could use some good, affordable food while riding the pandemic out. 

“I believed in myself and I believe in my brand,” he said. 

Taco Island offers an extensive menu of Mexican options, all made fresh and from scratch with every order. 

“At Taco Island, our main focus is authentic flavor,” he said.

But it wasn’t the easiest task to open during the crisis. 

“It’s been a huge challenge,” he said. “My team has been working above and beyond.”

But to get through the rest of COVID-19, he’s come up with a plan to stabilize his business and “deal with the next wave.”

“We’re not increasing our staff or inventory,” he said. “We’re taking the right precautions.”

The young COVIDpreneur said that although it’s a worrisome time, he still feels motivated and excited to be doing what he loves. 

“For the last three Friday’s we’ve been opened, we’ve had to close early because we sold out,” he said. 

He didn’t fully remove himself from the food truck business, either, which helped out for catering outdoor events. 

Long Island Beer and Burger Experience: South Setauket 

These vehicles conveniently bring the party to you. Photo by Thomas Francis

When COVID-19 hit New York, Thomas Francis, of South Setauket, was worried because March is usually the start of his industry’s season. “My season starts St. Patrick’s Day,” he said. “From that time until the end of June it was bad.”

Four years ago, he started a small wedding business, the Long Island Cuban Cigar and Bourbon Experience. His mobile cigar and bourbon lounge sits inside a 32-foot vintage Airstream trailer that can be brought to any type of outside event. 

“It’s the only experience like this in the world,” he said, noting that he has brought his services across the country. 

Since the cigar and bourbon mobile was such a hit, two years ago he began the Long Island Wine and Cheese Experience, featuring wines from local vineyards and cheeses to pair with them.

With his businesses going so well, he began thinking of his next venture featuring burgers and beers. Accordingly, the Long Island Beer and Burger Experience was planned to roll out in April. Using the same model, it would feature craft beers from local breweries and a burger to go with them. 

“In April I had plans to begin the Beer and Burger Experience, but I thought I wasn’t going to open because of COVID,” he said. 

Despite the pandemic, he decided to start up his third vehicle anyway.

When everything shut down and events were canceled, it was hard, he said. But then as outdoor weddings, parties and gatherings became more common, it worked out in his favor. 

“Things really shifted,” he said. “It was the right time and place. … This is where the market is going.” 

His experiences are ideal right now for families planning small, intimate events. 

“It’s a safe, responsible, fully fledged experience,” he said, especially with vineyards and breweries closing during the summer, or not hosting a full capacity of visitors. 

“The Wine and Cheese Experience was the most popular because the vineyards were closed,” he said. “It literally saved me.”

While the pandemic was hard on him and his businesses right at the start of his busy season, he said it worked out and now he’s booked solid for the near future. “During this climate, we can easily have the party of your dreams in your backyard,” he said. 

Druthers Coffee: 1113 North Country Road, Stony Brook

The family behind Druthers Coffee in Stony Brook Square. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Kathryne Piazzola, Zachary Russell and Michael Buchholz had their plans to open a local coffee shop set for some time. Their goal was to open Druthers right across from Stony Brook University in a new center being built, Stony Brook Square. 

“We signed the lease three years ago,” Piazzola said. “And we were hoping to open actually in January.” 

But there were some construction delays and then the virus hit Long Island. After a few hurdles, they finally opened officially on Aug. 14. With their opening, they had to change their plans a little to fit into the new state health guidelines, like not allowing guests to bring their own glassware while still trying to be sustainable without many paper cups.

“Nevertheless, we’ve really developed an incredible following of regulars,” Buchholz said. “Everybody who comes by is truly so understanding about the circumstances that makes it so much easier.”

While continuously changing their opening date, and finishing the painting, decorating and preparing, they also had to go through the Paycheck Protection Program. “We knew we were going into it with a limited budget, we had to operate as intelligently as we possibly could,” Buchholz said. “So, navigating federal loan programs was not at all easy, while finding our footing and feeling confident about everything that we had spent three years planning.”

Piazzola said three months later things are running smooth. 

“You start talking to people and meeting our guests when they were first coming in,” Buchholz added. “And it just turned out that it’s exactly what people needed. They wanted an experience that felt welcoming and warm, and a bit of hospitality from the heart of a small business that had the human story behind it.”

Even with support from the community, they’re beginning to get a little anxious about the upcoming winter. “Rather than planning for growth in the way that we wanted to do initially, we’re planning for winter that might be a little bit more challenging,” Buchholz said. “There’s still things that we’re wrapping our heads around, but it’s been surprisingly gratifying.”

Osteria Umbra: 197 Terry Road, Smithtown 

Marco Pellegrini in front of his open-fire BBQ at his new restaurant in Smithtown. Photo by Julianne Mosher

It’s always been chef Marco Pellegrini’s dream to open a fine dining restaurant, and when he found the space in Smithtown over a year ago, he knew it was where he belonged. 

A chef from the age of 14, Pellegrini comes from the ancient Italian town of Foligno in Umbria. He and his family moved to the United States seven years ago to partner with another restaurant out on the North Fork. The partners decided to go their separate ways and Pellegrini moved west.

“Everywhere I stopped from Mineola to the south, I was not impressed,” he said. 

Then he found Smithtown. He said he visited the area when he first came to the U.S. and was impressed by the family oriented community.

“It’s more what I’m looking for,” he said. 

Together with his wife, Sabrina Vallorini, and partners — Stephen, Diane and Daniel Bragoli — they signed the contract in September 2019. From that point on, they renovated the whole space, decorated it with marble, chandeliers, wine racks and an open-oven BBQ imported from Italy. Their goal was to open in March. 

Although it was an uncertain and scary time, they made the most of it. Pellegrini, his wife and their partners took on the renovations themselves, painting the space and completing it at their own pace. The restaurant officially opened Sept. 9, more than six months past its planned date. 

But the uncertainty of another virus wave is stressful. “I really want to try and stay open,” he said. “We just have to cross the bridge until the end of COVID right now, and run the restaurant without losing money.”

He’s still hopeful, because he stands behind his brand. Pellegrini said that the food at Osteria Umbra is different than typical Italian — everything is made on-site, from the pasta to the gelato and the authentic Italian cuisine. 

“The way we do the food in Italy is little bit different than what we’re doing here in the USA,” he said. “Usually you find more authentication in the city, Long Island there are not too much.”

ENDO Ethos: 289 Main St., Huntington 

Christine Ruggeri at her second shop, Endo Ethos, in Huntington Village. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Clark and Christine Ruggeri opened their first hemp and CBD storefront in Northport last year. When space in Huntington became available, they knew to jump on it, signing their second lease in November. With the intention of opening their new location in March, COVID hit and halted their plans. 

“Who would have ever imagined,” she said. “We almost backed out of it. When it came time to decide what we were going to do, we decided to go through with it anyway.” 

While struggling to keep their other store afloat through e-commerce and local delivery from March until June, the Ruggeris opened their Huntington “dream location” on Aug. 1. 

“I think that’s why we were able to survive the first round of quarantine, because people that we didn’t even know were ordering from our website,” she said. “This might be the opportunity for people who don’t want to buy online but feel really stressed or anxious or can’t sleep … there are people who needed this space, and that’s why we decided to do it.”

She added that as they had the space since November 2019, they already had so much invested. 

“Then you have to find a way to pay that back without making an income from the space,” she said. “We kind of felt like we had no choice.”

But since they opened, although it’s been tough, the couple said they have been able to sustain their business. 

“We’re hoping that post-pandemic, it will pick up again. So, for now, as long as we can stay afloat, meet new people and introduce them to our products, I think that’s the goal,” Christine Ruggeri said. 

But right now, the village isn’t as crowded as it normally would be in the pre-pandemic world. 

“Huntington depends very much on the bar and restaurant scene,” she said. “With the bar and restaurant scene being so minimal right now, you can definitely feel the impact of that on the street.” 

Although the couple are concerned about the upcoming winter, they said it might work out in their favor since CBD, which stands for Cannabidiol, was an explosive market before COVID. 

“Hemp or CBD might be the thing that people need right now,” she said. “Maybe we’ll actually end up doing better than we thought because this is something that’s so needed.”

Susan Rodgers, owner of Susan Rodgers Designs. Photo by Kyle Barr

Susan Rodgers had her storefront on East Main Street in Port Jefferson for seven years. But because of the COVID-19 crisis, she decided it was time to change shape and focus on online sales for her Susan Rodgers Designs business. 

“The numbers were going continuously down,” she said. “So, I decided to react and be proactive.” 

Rodgers, a jewelry artisan known for her delicate and beautiful designs first opened her original store in Sayville 10 years ago. Three years later, she moved to the North Shore, settling in the village of Port Jefferson.

The Stony Brook resident said that while the village helped her grow her clientele, the pandemic made it harder to stay afloat because of high rent prices and less customers shopping. She made the hard decision to close her shop and focus on e-commerce at the end of August. She officially closed her door in mid-September. 

“It killed me because I was there for seven years but, as the years went on, I saw my site doing better than my store,” she said. “It made me realize I don’t need 800 square feet to show my work.”

Bernie Ryba, regional director of the Small Business Development Center at Stony Brook University, said that Rodgers isn’t the only small business owner to focus on online sales during the pandemic. 

“Businesses that were reluctant to be more accepting of social media marketing and making sales over the internet are now much more willing to do so,” he said. “We’ve really had a bump in internet retail and also the use of social media marketing.”

Ryba added that business owners during COVID-19 realized that taking on more debt wasn’t the best option, opting to check out of their leases. “Banks are working with more industries,” he said, “But more small businesses are trying not to take on more debt.”

And that’s why Rodgers decided to leave. “Every month was $4,000 just to keep everything afloat,” she said. “If it wasn’t for the pandemic, I could have hired more people to help out. … It was a tough decision, but I know I made the right choice.”

Now she’s working out of her home in Stony Brook with one assistant. By saving money on rent and by being home, she’s able to focus on her online sales, which have started booming. 

“Working on social media, contacting buyers …  these are the things I never had the time to do before,” she said. “During all of this, I was able to fine-tune everything that I already had.” 

Although it’s working out now, it was a heartbreaking experience to close her store, nonetheless. “I had to make a decision with my head and not my heart,” she said. “The sales aren’t there, it’s hard — and for my small business owner friends, too.”

Rodgers said that even with Phase 4 reopening, she still had customers who wouldn’t come out and shop because they were still too nervous. Now her customers can shop in the comfort of their own homes. 

“I’m still here,” she said. “I’m just different for now.”

Image from Dairy Queen

American Dairy Queen Corporation recently announced plans to bring a DQ Grill & Chill restaurant to Nesconset. Set to open in November, the restaurant will be located at 594 Middle Country Road.

The location will be owned and operated by local entrepreneur, Kanwal Azam, an industry veteran of 10 years in the food-service space and a multi-brand operator with 7/11 and Sunoco Gas Stations.

“I’ve always heard people praising Dairy Queen for their exceptional food quality and customer service. I knew I wanted to open my own restaurant once I learned about the support provided from the team along with the importance, they place on community involvement,” said Kanwal. “I was looking for an opportunity to diversify my ownership and the DQ Grill & Chill model was the perfect fit. I’m looking forward to continuing the amazing tradition of Dairy Queen and bringing the staple to the Nesconset community.”

In addition to Blizzards, the restaurant will serve made-to-order lunch and dinner options including GrillBurgers, Chicken Strip Baskets, hot sandwiches, salads, fries, onion rings and cheese curds.

While the Nesconset DQ’s management staff is in operation, Kanwal stated that she expects to create 120 part time and full-time job opportunities for the community and is currently accepting applications online at  www.indeed.com.

The Greater Middle Country Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony for Voodoo Crab in Centereach on Oct. 20.

Pictured from left, Robert Martinez, Chief of Staff, 4th Legislative District; Assemblyman Doug Smith; co-owner Scott He; Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle; and Thomas Lupo on behalf of Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy.

The new restaurant, located at 1759-G Middle Country Road in the New Village Plaza shopping center, joins locations in Massapequa and Rockville Centre in offering New Orleans-inspired appetizers, cajun boil and fresh seafood dishes, and dessert.

The event was attended by members of the chamber as well as local, county and state officials who presented proclamations to co-owner Scott He and welcomed the business to the Middle Country community.

Hours for lunch are Monday through Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. and dinner hours are Monday to Thursday from 4:30 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 4:30 to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 9 p.m.

For more information, call 631-676-7007 or visit www.voodoocrab.com.

Photos from Councilman LaValle’s office

Above, a representative from One Love Dog Rescue and OSJL store associates with some rescued puppies.

As part of Ocean State Job Lot’s “Close to Our Heart” program, the OSJL store located at 2150 Middle Country Road in Centereach made a donation of $400 to One Love Dog Rescue of Smithtown on Oct. 5 to support and contribute to its important mission. The 100% volunteer and foster-based rescue group is dedicated to the rescue, healing and re-homing of abused, unwanted and abandoned dogs.

“A cornerstone of our company is our philanthropy,” said David Sarlitto, Executive Director, Ocean State Job Lot Charitable Foundation. “Whenever we open our doors in a new community, we make a donation to a non-profit that is ‘close to the heart’ of our local team, but with so many communities struggling right now, we’ve expanded this program to allow our associates to make additional donations to organizations that are meaningful to them.”

The town’s Chief Fire Marshal Chris Mehrman said small businesses need to think about the fire code with outdoor dining this fall. Photo from Brookhaven Town

As the temperature drops in the fall and into winter, fire departments on Long Island and elsewhere are trying to help restaurants and other businesses remain open outside while ensuring a safe environment for customers.

“The town has gone above and beyond and continues to try to accommodate those businesses to keep them open or get them open, to increase their occupancy load,” said Brookhaven Town Chief Fire Marshal Chris Mehrman. “We have to balance between safety and allowing businesses to operate.”

The fire marshals have been busy, as they try to educate business owners about the safest way to run heaters, as well as to prepare for the coming winter.

Some business owners who don’t typically have outdoor seating or who aren’t aware of the rules regarding heaters and tents have found the rules difficult, particularly amid the strains caused by the pandemic.

As examples, portable heaters are prohibited within five feet of any building and within five feet of any exit or exit discharges. They are also not allowed on any exterior balconies or within any tent, canopy or other membrane structure.

Some business owners “thought they could just do what they needed to do,” Mehrman said. “People don’t realize there are codes and standards that we need to enforce.”

Although there’s no cost, business owners need to understand the process.

“The town has gone to great lengths to make sure they get these COVID-19 accommodations for outdoor dining,” Mehrman said.

The fire department has been working with business owners to help them meet code and permit requirements.

Fire marshals are sometimes taking steps out of order. Merhman said they have arrived at sites and conducted inspections. Even though the business may not have permits, the fire marshals conduct inspections to see if a tent can remain where it is legally.

The marshals have told business owners to submit their application immediately and to obtain an engineer’s certification, so the marshals can legalize the installation.

The town department has streamlined the process. At the same time, fire marshals have focused on the next step in the march towards winter: snow.

While tents offer opportunities to expand restaurants and bars into outdoor space, they need to be able to handle the additional weight.

“We have to ensure that the tents are going to withstand the snow loads,” Mehrman said.

On a small number of occasions, fire marshals have had to order tents down, either because they were improperly installed or because they were not going to be able to meet the state code.

Putting tents up on decks against buildings is a violation of the state code. Businesses have to have a permit for an addition to a building.

Businesses have also improperly used heaters and were ordered to remove them.

“Thankfully, everybody is complying,” Mehrman said. In some cases, the fire marshals need to convince the managers or owners, but marshals are reluctant to issue court appearance tickets.

“We want to achieve compliance, but we want to do it in an appropriate manner,” Mehrman said.

The fire marshals have been checking and rechecking on sites, to ensure safety and compliance.

To accommodate and streamline the process for outdoor dining, the town has created a COVID-19 Dining Accommodation permitting process. The town is offering a one-stop location to submit paperwork for the accommodations, which includes putting up tents.

Residents who have questions about tents, heaters or fire codes can reach out to the marshals at (631) 451-6262 or by email at [email protected]

Mehrman said residents who read the documentation on the web site, fill out the application appropriately and submit it electronically could probably complete the process within a couple of days.

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PJ Cinemas in Port Jefferson Station has been closed for over seven months, but now the owner finally has the chance to reopen. Photo by Kyle Barr

After more than seven months being shuttered, PJ Cinemas is looking to have people back in their seats Friday, Oct. 30.

It’s something that’s been a long time coming for Phil Solomon, the owner of the Port Jefferson Station-based theater. The local cinema had to close down in March due to COVID-19. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) made the announcement that movie theaters could open again at 25% capacity starting Oct. 23.

Solomon said his theater is going heavy with new filters, including MERV 13 filters, but also new HVAC ductwork units that purifies the air in each individual theater.  

“Not only is it doing what Governor Cuomo has asked but it goes beyond that,” the theater owner said. “We’re doing this to keep the public and especially our staff safe.”

All staff are mandated to wear face masks and face shields. The theater will also be added tempered glass barriers around the box office and concession stands, both on the main floor and upstairs. Each barrier is given a mahogany wood border that Solomon said makes it look like the place “has been built this way.” 

Capacity is limited for each of the seven theater rooms. There will be stanchions to mark which seats are available and which are not. Every other row will be blocked off, and in between showings the occupied row will be sanitized. While each row is cleaned, the seats originally blocked off will be made available for the next showing.

The question of what movies would be available once theaters could reopen was something that has dogged the theater owner for months. However, his booker gave Solomon the good news there were several available, including “Come Play,” “The War with Grandpa,” “Honest Thief,” 

 “Tenet” and “On the Rocks.” He said despite everything it’s a good selection, including a Robert De Nero flick (“Grandpa”), which often gets butts in seats, and Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending thriller (“Tenet”) that originally came out earlier this year, but never aired in New York.

“Right now, product is a big issue because distributors are not moving a lot of the product for six months or a year,” Solomon said. The seventh screen remains unused, and Solomon said they are waiting to see what can be used to fill that space. 

Of course, all this work won’t help unless people come back to the theater. Solomon went by the old proverb of “book it, and they will come,” and he’s “hoping it works now — we’re giving it our best shot.”

It’s been a difficult few months since he was made to close, saying it had been “frightening.” After he closed he had to furlough his workforce. He said he was able to apply for and get a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which he used to pay a few employees and use the rest to pay for intervening costs. Though even if he wanted to open in that time, there were very few new movies coming out to show.

“A hamburger store could be told, ‘OK, you can open,’ and they have hamburgers,” Solomon said. “We were like the hamburger store that had no hamburgers, we would have none to sell to the public.”

Because of the slate of movies on offer, he said it’s working out better than he originally feared. The man is known for recording entertaining voicemail descriptions of each movie on offer when people call up the theater, with his recognizable, “Heeeeyyyy,” being the first thing they hear. Now, moviegoers will get the opportunity to hear it again. The theater purchased large signs to put out on the road to let people know PJ Cinemas is open again. On the front window of the theater there’s now a sign reading “Heyyyyy! Reopening Fri, Oct. 30!”

“The community appreciates us as an asset, and we appreciate the community,” he said.

Young Rocky Point resident Geoffrey Psillos said he is brining mobile fitness to the local area in a new way to exercise post-pandemic. Photo by Julianne Mosher

It’s time to lose the “quarantine 15” — and it can be done outside. 

Geoffrey Psillos, a 22-year-old Rocky Point resident, recently became the first AWATfit (All Weather All Terrain Fitness) franchisee. The Hamptons-based mobile fitness concept uses equipment entirely out of a 20-foot truck, and allows people to exercise in a park, parking lot or outside their home in the driveway. 

“Working out outdoors is a natural mood booster,” Psillos said. “And to have the means to open this franchise is a really big goal I never knew I had.”

The AWATfit vehicle can help people with more than 800 different exercises. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Back in September, he met with the founder of AWATfit, Rich Decker, who encouraged him to become part of the new concept. On the truck itself are 25 pieces of exercise equipment and, by using them, a person can do between 800 and 900 different workouts, according to the new francisee. 

“At the end of the day you are the machine,” Psillos said. “As soon as someone tries it once, they love it. I’m a bodybuilder and I get a better workout on the vehicle than I do at the gym.”

Before getting involved with AWATfit, Psillos was a project engineer but lost his job during the height of COVID-19. Fitness has always been important to him, especially as a former competing bodybuilder. By bringing this franchise to the North Shore, he said he wanted other people to experience its benefits — especially during a time when people might not be entirely comfortable working out in an indoor gym. 

“I think it’s going to change the persona of fitness,” he said. “You don’t get the results you want from a cycle class or a Pilates class. This is different.”

Right now, for a few days during the week, he partnered with Miller Place’s Body Source store on Route 25A where he parks the truck in the parking lot, so clients can work out. 

Elizabeth Sagarin, co-owner of the vitamin supplement store, said that because of the COVID-19 crisis, her shop has seen a decline in customers, but by collaborating with Psillos, she hopes to bring more people in and help everyone get healthy.

“We paired with these guys in the hopes of just giving people a space to work out, feel good, get healthy and just build community,” Sagarin said. “He approached us, and it is a great fit.”

Sagarin, who often participates in the class, said she appreciates the facility. 

“It’s a great workout,” she said. “And it’s all ages, you don’t have to be at any level. It’s fun, you’re outside and he’s a great trainer.”

AWATfit’s workout stations attached to the truck address strength, flexibility, core, agility and cardiovascular matters, as well as the mind-body-spirit connection. 

Now that Psillos has been in business for about a month, he said his clientele is beginning to grow mostly by word of mouth. 

“It’s hard to get people since it’s a new concept,” he said. “But once anyone tries it, they’re hooked.”

He’s planning on bringing a workout truck to communities from Smithtown to Shoreham-Wading River. He’s also looking to bring the truck to retirement homes and senior centers so people can get fit safely.

“Gym facilities in senior citizen community centers are fully closed right now,” Psillos said. “We would love for us to come and provide them with an outdoor answer to meet their needs and by engaging them to be healthy.”

Rev. Demetrios Calogredes, a Greek Orthodox priest, above, blessed the lot during the ceremony as Supervisor Ed Wehrheim and Vincent Puleo, town clerk, look on. Photo by Julianne Mosher

A new 55-and-older rental apartment project has been in the works in Nesconset, and as of last week, ground has officially been broken with plans full speed ahead.

Town officials joined developers from Hauppauge-based The Northwind Group Oct. 15 to show their support for The Preserve at Smithtown. Alongside the recently cleared lot off of Smithtown Boulevard in Nesconset near Chestnut Street, several members from the We Are Smithtown civic group protested against the development. 

Protesters from the civic group We Are Smithtown, below, included James Bouklas and Phyllis Hart, president and vice president of the civic group. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“We saw data from the town about what people wanted in a master plan,” James Bouklas, president of the group said. “And it isn’t this project. The residents overwhelmingly want less development, not more, lower density, not higher, they want walkable communities and amenities, like a community center.”

“The town is interested in development for the sake of development,” he added. “Their mantra is, build, baby, build.”

The project is planned to cost about $47 million and should be completed within the next two years. But according to Town of Smithtown planning director, Peter Hans, there has been approval for the site since 1988, initially with another developer. That project called for 192 units, and now, under The Northwind Group development, there will be 180 units built on 20 vacant acres.

“It won’t be heavily visible from Smithtown Boulevard,” he said. “A lot of the wood will be preserved.”

And at last Thursday’s groundbreaking, the elected officials all agreed this new development, despite what the naysayers might think, will have a positive impact.

“Everything we’re doing here is to help our economy,” town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said at the groundbreaking. “Because of the high taxes, people are leaving. We want to keep our community thriving.”

Vincent Puleo, the town clerk and president of the Nesconset Chamber of Commerce, said residents of the project will bring $11 million in disposable income to the area. “Smithtown Boulevard will become downtown driven,” he said. “The positives outweigh the negatives 100%.”

“Smithtown Boulevard will become downtown driven. The positives outweigh the negatives 100%.”

—Vincent Puleo

Jim Tsunis, managing member of Northwind, said he and his team are looking forward to bringing the project to provide new housing for Smithtown seniors.

“They will move out of their houses, get an apartment here and spend their money downtown,” he said. 

“Turning that property into a senior-living development opens the door for Nesconset, which is a game changer,” town spokesperson Nicole Garguilo said. “Nesconset never had that centralized business district, but now Smithtown Boulevard will have that.”

But the peaceful protesters stood their ground.

“We are not against housing for seniors,” Bouklas said. “We are against density in our already dense neighborhoods, traffic on our congested roads and, most importantly, tax breaks for developers while the rest of us pay full price.”