The long road to short-order artistry

Artisans Eatery founder Donna Trapani.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

It’s your typical career trajectory.

Start in the hospitality industry, busing tables and supporting kitchens and tending bar and whatever, at age 13. Skyrocket through the commercial-division ranks at Hicksville home-security specialist Slomins until you decide suddenly, at age 22, to purchase a building and open a bar. Sell the bar three years later, keep the building, manage Capital One Bank’s executive dining services for a while, and then, about a decade after you bought it, gut your now-vacant building and fulfill a lifelong restaurateur ambition.

OK, maybe not so typical.

But for entrepreneur Donna Trapani, it’s worked, and two decades since she bused her first table, the hospitality – and sometimes security – veteran is now smiling behind the counter at Artisans Eatery, an Islip lunch spot with an innovative pedigree and an artistic bent.

Designed by Trapani and mastered by chef Adam Russo, late of the Harbor Mist in Cold Spring Harbor, Artisans spins traditional lunch fare into an international journey, from Russo’s Killer Meatloaf Sandwich (on herb-roasted focaccia) to the Krispina Italiano, a muffaletta stuffed with everything, it appears, Italy can provide.

There are equally exotic takes on more familiar midday meals: the roast beef sandwich comes with whiskey sugar bacon, for example, the Rueben with Gruyere and the tuna melt with capers and toasted marble rye.

Artisans Eatery Lucy Maccarone SaladThe high-end menu – which also includes shrimp parmigiana sandwiches, a BLT on a pretzel roll and an assortment of often healthy, always hardy salads – is not Artisans Eatery’s only innovation. The name itself is no mistake: From extensive contracting work by Trapani’s husband, Cliff Bruszewski, to the custom-built butcher-board countertops, “everything in here was made by somebody,” Trapani noted.

“My husband built almost everything, down to the furniture,” she said. “The rest we sourced from American artisans. For the countertops, we went to a gentleman in South Carolina who designed walnut-engrained butcher blocks.

“We really wanted to reference a time when people who worked with their hands were appreciated.”

Having Bruszewski, an experienced carpenter, handle most of the rustic stone-and-wood redesign also helped the entrepreneurs control expenses. After The Full Martini closed in 2013, Trapani tried to sell the building, “but it wasn’t the best market at the time,” she noted, “and the numbers weren’t where we wanted them to be.”

That’s when Trapani – who in 2010 launched the Long Island Dining Alliance, a networking organization for regional restaurant owners and suppliers – struck on the notion of fulfilling that hospitality dream.

The 2002 SUNY Oneonta graduate (she studied political science and business) started with a feasibility study to see if her sandwich-shop visions would actually work. With her contractor husband handling the lion’s share of the construction, the “numbers were all on point,” Trapani said.

But even self-renovating the 3,000-square-foot space (including 700 square feet of basement storage) wouldn’t be cheap. The building had to be completely gutted, and between materials costs, licensing, equipment purchases, menu development and other expenses, Trapani estimated a $400,000 buy-in.

Still, the southwest corner of Islip Avenue and Moffit Boulevard was a goldmine location for a classy lunch spot, according to the Islip native, “so we went for it.”

“I love the location,” Trapani said. “Our target demographic is business folks who are looking for better lunch options, and there are a lot of people who live and work around here.”

Not only are Islip Avenue and other nearby thoroughfares choked with professional and retail workers, but there are several moderate employment centers within a five-minute drive, including multiple medical centers, Islip Town Hall and the Suffolk County District Court complex.

Location bonus: ample meter-free street parking, plus two on-site parking lots that can accommodate up to 10 vehicles.

And then there’s Islip’s Long Island Rail Road station, located just around the corner. Trapani has long-term visions for the station, which she thinks will pay off when Artisans Eatery expands operation into dinner hours, but the station is already a benefit, she noted.

“It gives us lots of exposure,” Trapani said. “People driving to and from the train know what we’re about.”

That expansion into dinner hours is coming fast. Despite marking just two months in business, Artisans Eatery this week extended its Friday hours of operation to 7 p.m. and may soon follow suit on other days. It’s open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday now, with weekend hours for catering pick-ups only.

The long-term plan is to open for non-catering business on weekends, too. The exact pace of the expansion depends on demand, and so far, demand has been strong.

Trapani credits a combination of the location, pricing – most menu items hover around $9 – and the food. She may have developed the menu, and she’s “happy to jump into the kitchen whenever I can,” but it’s been Russo who’s made the food fly, according to the owner.

“He’s taken everything I wanted and elevated,” Trapani said.

The expansion into dinner hours will occur perhaps as soon as this spring “if everything goes as planned,” she added, “and we have no reason to think it won’t.”

“If the Friday expansion works out, we’ll expand into dinner on the other days, then go to six days and then seven,” Trapani said. “We’re listening to our customers. They told us they wanted coffee, so today a coffee station is going in. If they want dinner, they’ll get dinner.”

Artisans Eatery

What’s It? Gourmet sandwich shop in Islip

Brought To You By: Early-achieving entrepreneur Donna Trapani and her talented contractor husband, Cliff Bruszewski

All In: $400,000 self-invested by the couple, to cover renovations, equipment, menu development, staffing and related expenses

Status: Try the eggplant and zucchini goat cheese parmigiana on a pesto-infused sandwich wedge


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