Many ways to bring home the bacon

Patrick Gaeta: A radiologist by trade who dabbles in bacon and drone-mounted photography.

By GREGORY ZELLER // It may be the most unique professional trifecta in Long Island history.

Radiological technologist Patrick Gaeta, an X-ray technician at Port Jefferson’s Long Island Bone and Joint, is also co-owner of Wading River barbecue joint North Fork Bacon & Smokehouse. And last month, the ever-entrepreneurial Gaeta launched a second private business: an aerial photography enterprise using an imported Chinese drone.

Combining healthcare, high-tech gadgetry and finger-licking gastronomy is the perfect amalgam of industrious appetites for the work-a-day Gaeta.

“I have passion in the kitchen,” the entrepreneur noted, “I have passion for my X-ray patients, and technology just blows me away.”

This unique career path began while Gaeta was studying at Suffolk County Community College. He toiled in several restaurants and knew culinary work would factor in somehow, but he “wanted to make sure I’d have a job when I got out of school” – and for the son of a longtime X-ray technician, health care “made the most sense.”

That led him to the former Central Suffolk School of Radiologic Technology, now part of the Peconic Bay Medical Center. Since graduating in 2004, he’s spent his entire career working for Long Island Bone and Joint, a Mather Hospital-affiliated orthopedic practice.

Following in his father’s footsteps has “afforded me the chance to live my life the way I’d like to live it,” Gaeta noted – specifically, it’s allowed the Wading River resident to pursue other interests, including the first of his primary preoccupations, bacon.

Gaeta was curing and smoking pork bellies inside Wading River meat shop My Butcher, where he shared space in 2013, when he decided to strike out on his own. Together with business partner Michael Troyan, he a physician’s assistant by trade, Gaeta leased a corner shop near the Wading River Duck Pond, a former pizzeria Gaeta had worked in before developing his X-ray vision.

“I knew the space,” he said. “I knew it was always a successful restaurant. And I knew the area was really lacking in food diversity. We have the typical sports bar, the typical three pizzerias and the typical Chinese place, and that’s about it.”

As of April 2014, Wading River also has an authentic southern BBQ joint, serving burgers, pulled pork and a variety of other meaty munchies. The co-owner and pitmaster has long been a regular on Long Island’s competition-barbecue circuit – including the Long Island Barbecue Championship Festival and the LI Kosher BBQ Championship – and his 10 years of competition experience has infused “a little bit of culinary life into this community.”

North Fork Bacon did take a while to start sizzling, mostly because it’s only open three days a week. But the Friday-Sunday schedule is a necessary evil: Not only do Gaeta and Troyan both have full-time jobs outside the eatery, but running a southern-style BBQ bistro isn’t like running any other restaurant, according to Gaeta.

“You can’t run smokers seven days a week,” he said. “You need to take them down a couple of days and clean them. We produce over 55 gallons of grease over the weekend.

“There’s a lot of maintenance in running a business like this.”

While the limited hours of operation did present a hurdle out of the gate, “people have finally caught on to the concept,” Gaeta added. “It took our customers a little while to grasp it, but now they look forward to coming down on the weekends. Business is great.”

Great enough to allow the entrepreneur to pursue yet another longtime hobby/business interest. In May, Gaeta’s Long Island Aerial Photo took flight, combining his love of photography and his “obsession with remote-controlled anything.”

“Radio-controlled cars, radio-controlled helicopters … you name it,” he said. “But as far as photography, the technology was always kind of not-quite-there.”

Not even when Chinese manufacturer DJI introduced The Phantom, the first commercially available “quad top” radio-controlled drone, in 2013. People rushed to attach their GoPro cameras to the mini-drones, Gaeta noted, but “the technology was still pretty juvenile.”

That changed last year, when DJI unveiled the Inspire 1 – a next-generation quadcopter with an advanced 360-degree camera, a three-axis gimbal stabilizer, carbon-fiber landing gear and a host of other gadgets sure to delight the aerial photographer. When the Inspire 1 became commercially available in the United States in January, Gaeta pounced.

“Nobody on Long Island was pushing this,” he noted. “A few people are doing it for fun, but I sensed a real need that could be filled.”

Gaeta’s big picture: Professional aerial photography for realtors, lawyers, business owners, homeowners and others who might require a bird’s-eye view. He’s invested about $10,000 in his Inspire 1 and some related equipment, and while Long Island Aerial Photography only took off a month ago, business is already picking up, thanks mostly to the many contacts Gaeta’s made through his other professional endeavors.

“It used to cost $3,000 to $5,000 to get a picture of your house,” he noted. “You had to hire a photographer and put him in a helicopter or a plane, and the results were questionable – you really can’t guarantee the work when you’re flying at 4,000 feet.

“But the height limit with the Inspire 1 is 400 feet,” Gaeta added. “So the images we get are a lot closer.”

The veteran of two different Long Island industries, now dabbling in a third, is confident his photography business will soar – not only because of the growing interest in sky-based imagery, but because it so perfectly fits the Island’s entrepreneurial mode.

“Most of the businesses around here are 100 percent owner-operator,” he said. “When you go to a vineyard or a farm stand or walk into a restaurant, you’re probably going to be greeted by the owner.

“Around here, there are a lot of young people, a lot of hungry people, a lot of hard-working people,” Gaeta added. “You’re not dealing with absentee owners here. It’s one of the reasons I love Long Island so much.”