Cassariano hits the “golden buzzer” in quality food and entertainment
At Cassariano Italian Eatery in Kimco’s Mineola Shopping Center in Mineola, New York, owner William Conte (Bill) and partner Giancarlo Di Maggio are cooking up fresh Italian classics for guests, family, and even Sal Valentinetti, frequent performer at Cassariano and a contestant who received the “golden buzzer” from Heidi Klum on this season of NBC’s America’s Got Talent. However, the draw to the restaurant goes beyond musical talent found at Cassariano on a nightly basis. It’s the ability of Cassariano’s staff to make guests feel as if they are a part of the family, and of course the delicious food, that makes this restaurant a local favorite.
We spoke to Bill about Cassariano’s live talent, fresh food, and its success, and caught a few thoughts from Sal Valentinetti before a recent performance at the restaurant.
How long have you been in the restaurant business?
Bill Conte: My whole life. My partner, Giancarlo, and I have always been doing this. I’ve been cooking since I was 12 years old and he’s probably been cooking since about the same age.
What has been the inspiration behind your dishes at Cassariano?
Conte: Everything we do here is made fresh. Nothing is precooked, we only use fresh pasta in the evenings, and our mozzarella is imported from Italy. We try to stay antibiotic free on all the meat – organic chicken, grass-fed veal, white marble pork – and we don’t use anything on the fish we bring in. We like to stay in front of the curve, so we try to make our food as healthy as possible.
What would you say your best-selling dish is and what makes it so good?
Conte: I would probably say a lot of the specials. We don’t make specials to sit on for the next day – we make them to sell out the night they are made. We have a pounded veal chop that gets breaded and baked. We throw Buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, and a balsamic glaze across the top of it so it’s almost like a non-American version of a veal parm. With the Buffalo mozzarella and the chopped marinated tomatoes, it really gives the veal such a clean crisp flavor. One of the most popular dishes we have is called, “chicken scamorza.” Our partner won a local Iron Chef award for it. All the pastas fly out of the building too.
It’s funny because we were going to look at the menu and evaluate what’s moving and what’s not. We’ve tried to do it a couple times, and we couldn’t determine what to take off the menu. We’ve only added things to the original menu.
How would you describe the dining experience at Cassariano?
Conte: First and foremost, when everyone comes to the door, we always try to make them feel like they’re at home. When we handpick the staff to come on the floor, we’re looking for them to extract that “you’re at home” feeling from the customer. It’s always important to make that person feel like they’re part of your family. Right away, all barriers are broken.
People coming in are extremely “guard down,” and when they start eating the food they’re pretty blown away. All of our presentations on every plate are something out of high-end restaurants in Manhattan. When customers see the food, taste the food, and enjoy the food, there is no reason why anyone should ever leave here unhappy. Which is why, basically, no one ever does.
In addition to the food, could you describe how the live entertainment draws a crowd?
Conte: On Wednesdays, we do an open mic with Mike Dorio for Ladies Night, where ladies get happy hour pricing all night long at the bar and at the table. Mike is a music teacher as well, so he brings in any talented artist that wants to be featured. We’ve had some people who have previously been featured on YouTube and are making their way up the charts. Joe Scollo does a 30’s nights with us. It’s all rock ‘n’ roll and it’s amazing. Jen and Lenny, another local group, come in and sing as well.
What has been the reaction of your customers since Sal Valentinetti’s debut on America’s Got Talent?
Conte: Sal has been with us for six or seven months and has always been a favorite here. I think being on America’s Got Talent raised awareness about his performances at Cassariano. Now, people are coming out and supporting him after seeing the gift he has. This has been big for him.
What has been the feedback from neighboring businesses since you opened this past August?
Conte: Everyone inside of the shopping center has been very kind to us. When we first opened, I went around and introduced myself to probably 40 percent of Mineola’s businesses. I told them who we were and where we were, how we got here and where we came from. There’s a little camaraderie with some of the other businesses, too. It’s really nice to have that because you know you can go to the other businesses as well and it’s a friendly environment.
Do you have any advice for people interested in opening their own restaurant?
Conte: I would say do your research – you need to know your product. Put it this way, you’re not going to want to go to a doctor that never studied; you want someone who knows their profession and understands the amount of work that goes into it. You also need to have a game plan and stick to it. If the game plan doesn’t work, you need to be able to have an open mind for a new course of action.
I would also say to make sure you’re always in the establishment. My partner and I are always here. This is something that we want to thrive, just as the first Cassariano location is thriving in Venice, Florida. Every single one of us really cares about everything that we’re doing here. In order to be successful, you have to work hard.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Conte: For anyone out there looking for an extremely good time and quality food, come check us out. Try it. A lot of people go out and eat the chicken parms and the veal of Long Island. We don’t even have that on our menu. This is contemporary Italian food at its best.
We also asked Sal Valentinetti his thoughts on Cassariano.
What do you like best about performing at Cassariano?
Sal Valentinetti: What I love best about performing here is the people, Billy and Giancarlo especially. They are great guys and they put their heart and soul into this business and it shows with the food and service. It’s fantastic.
What is your favorite dish at Cassariano?
Valentinetti: I love the pappardelle. The pappardelle is incredible. I can’t eat pasta anymore, so it’s a little tough. I’m heartbroken, but the pappardelle is definitely the best. Fresh pasta all the time. I mean how can you not love anything Giancarlo makes?
You can catch Sal performing at Cassariano in Mineola Thursday nights at 7 p.m. Like Cassariano on Facebook for more information about nightly specials and performances.
This has been an installment of StoreFront, an interview series with leaders of successful retail businesses. For more interviews, visit the StoreFront page. To learn how you can be featured, email us. We’d love to hear from you.