Marios Patatinis didn’t let COVID-19 stop him from expanding his businesses. In fact, it worked more in his favor.
The owner of Sweet Mama’s Family Restaurant in Northport and at Stony Brook Village Center recently bought The Bench in Stony Brook and the Country Corner in East Setauket.
“Nobody expected this,” he said of The Bench. “Coming into it, my motion was to buy this and just let it run normally. COVID I guess helped in the sense that we had to adapt quickly over the March to June period.”
Patatinis, who was born and raised in Cyprus, began his restaurant entrepreneurship in 2016 after working in maritime business and eventually telecom. He decided he no longer wanted to work for other people and be in control of his own career. That’s when he found Sweet Mama’s in Northport and took over the restaurant. Two years later he opened the brand’s second location in Stony Brook village. Now, in 2020, he has added two more North Shore spots to his growing list of endeavors: The Bench in Stony Brook, by the railroad station, and Country Corner in East Setauket.
Patatinis wanted to give both bars a facelift, clean them up and make them more upscale with specialty menu items and intriguing cocktails.
“They’re really complementing each other,” he said.
Sweet Mama’s is known for its breakfast, brunch and lunch, with Grandpa’s Shed inside the Stony Brook location — a speakeasy bar settled in the back. The Bench is a casual family sports bar, while Country Corner is a traditional pub with newly added, tasty menu items.
When the East Setauket resident decided to purchase The Bench, it was a rather long process. Patatinis signed the paperwork in November, with the goal to open in March. COVID-19 crept up on the business owner and his new location the first week it opened. “We took over, then they shut everything down,” he said.
Soon enough, the business was able to utilize the takeout dining options to get out its name and the change of ownership.
“The Bench was never known for its food,” he said. “So now you see I have a high-end chef, an upscale bar with an upgraded wine list. … We’re getting away from the stigma of the old college sports bar.”
During the pandemic, he and his team renovated the interior to make it more family friendly. They built a side room to host intimate luncheons and parties.
But it wasn’t always easy. He had to figure out how to adapt his first two locations under new state guidelines, all while planning the other new openings.
“I would say the first few months were tight, because what was coming through was actually going on just to cover the bills,” he said.
To cope with the pandemic and keep his businesses running smoothly, he restructured his priorities.
“And here we are now, six months open,” he said.
He said the community has been welcoming to The Bench’s new setup. Now, he’s looking forward to bringing a change to the Country Corner.
Located on the corner of Route 25A and Gnarled Hollow Road, the bar was known as a local pub. Patatinis said he’s planning the same upgrades he did to his former restaurants. Clean it up and add some more good food. Since taking over the spot just two weeks ago, he’s already begun small renovations, with plans for larger ones to the bar early next year.
“We want to give it an easy appeal, have people through the door, look at and go, ‘I can hang out here,’” he said.
Even though COVID-19 made things feel rushed and were hard sometimes, Patatinis is optimistic.
“We have to adapt, and it actually made us more efficient,” he said.