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The Bench

The team behind Icon Cares Inc. at their Hope Hops Around LI fundraiser in Stony Brook on March 25. Photo by Julianne Mosher

A local business wanted to give back, and through fundraising was able to make children at Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York, based in Wading River, smile for Easter. 

Raquel Fernandez, owner of Icon Properties in Port Jefferson and member of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, said that she always wanted to create a charity after opening her agency in 2004. 

But like everything in early 2020, COVID-19 halted their plans. 

In what was supposed to be their first fundraising event to create and donate Easter baskets to three nonprofits across Long Island, they had to postpone it. 

That didn’t stop Fernandez, she said. Right before the shutdown in March, she with her own children, brought over 300 baskets to Little Flower’s Wading River campus for kids ages 2 to 14.

“It was such a great feeling,” she said. “This was the last thing we were approved to do before nothing was allowed in. It gave a sense of normalcy.”

Fernandez said she wasn’t going to let the continuing pandemic stop her from helping again this year. 

Icon Cares Inc. — the charitable part of Icon Properties, and a 501c3 nonprofit — was able to fundraise a bit with its second annual Hope Hops Around LI Campaign, that included hosting an event at Stony Brook’s The Bench on March 25. 

The four-hour event sold out, Fernandez said, which had a guest list of 70 people. All the funds gathered were donated to Little Flower.

“We’re just trying to do something good,” she said. “It feels good to help out.”

Icon Cares joined by the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Julianne Mosher

During the event, there was a 50/50 draw, a silent basket auction and The Bench donated a portion of the proceeds when supporters bought The Blue Bunny — a specialty drink created for the event made of Stoli blueberry vodka, soda, lemonade and blue Curaçao liqueur.

“We’re really excited and hope this event becomes a staple,” Fernandez said.Her fundraising efforts raised more than $1,600.

Right before the event, 100 baskets were created and dropped off at Little Flower, which Taressa Harry, Little Flower’s director of communications, said would be gifted to the kids on Easter morning.

“Last year they reached out to us and we were really happy,” she said. “We love getting support especially when it’s from our local community.”

Little Flower is a 90-year-old nonprofit organization founded originally in Brooklyn, with its main campus in Wading River. 

According to its website, the group has been committed to improving the lives and well-being of children by providing foster boarding home care, residential treatment care and, where appropriate, adoption. Their work focuses on strengthening the family so that they can provide a safe nurturing environment for raising children and to overcome a myriad of obstacles that threaten a child’s safety.

Harry said that donations like Icon Cares baskets goes a long way. 

Kids at Little Flower in Wading River receiving their Easter baskets last year. Photo from Little Flower

“The kids love any special treat they can get,” she said. “It shows them that there really are people who are pushing for them and cheering them on. It makes their day a little brighter, especially during the holidays where they can’t be home.”

Fernandez said the fundraising this year was a success and she looks forward to her next donation. 

“We’re grateful to God that we can do something that helps out others,” she said.

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Marios Patatinis stands in front of The Bench in Stony Brook which he bought before the pandemic hit. Photo by Julianne Mosher

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.

Visitors to a Stony Brook bar and restaurant were looking for more than food and drink March 15, they were aiming to help out a good cause.

The Bench hosted a St. Baldrick’s Day fundraiser Sunday where participants got their heads shaved to raise funds for childhood cancer research. Lead organizer Christopher Pollina said with donations and a company match, participants surpassed the total event goal of $20,000.

According to the organizer the nonprofit group Three Village Dads raised more than half of that amount, and its foundation donated an additional $1,000.

Rob Meo raised the highest amount of the day with $5,000. During the event, Boy Scout troops 70 and 427, both from Setauket, stopped by to have their heads shaved by Amanda Bellavance of Dapper Cuts Barbershop and donate funds. Music was provided by Mike Rutowitcz of Sound’s Alive Entertainment.

Pollina and co-organizer Scott Montekew were pleased with the results from the second annual event at The Bench.

“We topped last year’s $12,500 raised, even during this trying time of COVID-19,” Pollina said.

The owner of The Bench Bar & Grill in Stony Brook is bringing his experience and menu items to the Port Jefferson Country Club beginning in April. Photo by Alex Petroski

Members of the Port Jefferson Country Club and village residents alike may soon have a new favorite local spot to grab breakfast and lunch.

Port Jeff Village’s country club has reached an agreement with the owner of Stony Brook bar and restaurant The Bench Bar & Grill, located on Route 25A. He will take control of the operation of the club’s grill room beginning in the spring. The village has been searching for a proprietor for the vacant restaurant for several months, and after a thorough vetting process, according to village trustee and liaison to the country club Stan Loucks, The Bench’s owner Jeff Capri was the ultimate choice. The grill room will be called The Turn at PJCC after its grand opening, which Loucks said is expected to be April 15.

“He’s got a very successful background,” Loucks said of Capri in a phone interview. “I’m very confident … we’re pretty excited to have this guy on board.”

Loucks said the grill room has been renovated to get the partnership off on the right foot, as new flooring at a cost of about $7,900; tables and other furnishings for about $6,300 and new kitchen equipment have been installed. The village board also approved the purchase of a new bar top for about $4,000 and about $2,600 in electrical upgrades, during a meeting Jan. 24. General carpentry at a cost not to exceed $17,600 and plumbing improvements not to exceed $5,300 were approved Dec. 19.

“It’s the first time we’ve had this kind of a facility upgrade to make it more attractive and comfortable for the membership,” Loucks said. He said the agreement between the village and Capri is a three-year contract, which includes a minimal rental charge to be collected by the village that can go up based on success of the establishment in year one, but allows Capri to collect all of the proceeds from food sales. Loucks said the arrangement is meant to establish a service for members and village residents, not as a means to gain revenue for the club or village.

“We’re not looking to make money on this, we’re just looking to provide a good experience for membership — it’s not a revenue stream for us,” he said.

The menu has not yet been finalized, but Loucks said the plan is to serve burgers, sandwiches, French fries, wraps and more on what he referred to as an “extensive lunch menu,” available from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. most days. Traditional breakfast items will be served from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. He said he and a committee had lunch at The Bench to sample some of their best items during the vetting process, and he’s looking forward to having the food regularly available at
the club.

Loucks called Capri and his wife Barbara “true professionals,” and said they have been involved in the renovations and setup of The Turn at PJCC every step of the way.

“He and his wife Barbara have been dynamite,” Loucks said.

Loucks added Capri is in the process of getting a liquor license approved for the location, and happy hour deals a couple of days per week are being discussed. The grill room will not be open for dinner, because the club already has a contract established with Lombardi’s on the Sound for evenings.

Capri did not respond to a request for comment.