By Stephen J. Kotz
Every couple of years, Frank Venesina said, the rumors start to fly, as they have again this year, that Conca D’Oro, his family’s pizzeria and Italian restaurant on Sag Harbor’s Main Street, is going to close its doors.
“We have a lease with a few more years on it. We’re happy,” he said simply. The building’s owner, he added “has always been good to us. They’ve been renewing for close to 40 years. Rumors. What can you do?”
That’s surely good news to locals who think of Conca D’Oro, with its familiar checkered tablecloths, wood paneling and pizza ovens front and center, as a place they can call their own.
“This is a second home to everyone in Sag Harbor,” said Susan Peterson, who once worked as a waitress at the restaurant and had stopped by for a slice of pizza with her own kids on Friday afternoon. Her son Aubrey wants to work there too when he gets older. “He’s my busboy in training,” Mr. Venesina.
Scores of Sag Harbor kids have found their first jobs at Conca D’Oro, and some find they can’t live without its mouth-watering pizza when they leave town. “Some kids come in when they are going back to college and order three or four pies, and we wrap them up as individual slices so they can freeze them and have them for lunch back at school,” Mr. Venesina said.
Change comes slowly to Conca D’Oro, which was opened in 1976 by Mr. Venesina’s parents, Tony and Lina Venesina.
So, it was a bit unusual when the Venesinas did not close their doors for the month of February this year, instead closing for only a week in January.
Although “it’s the quiet time of the year,” Mr. Venesina pointed out that the restaurant had both enough staff and enough business, thanks to the influx of construction workers at Bulova and the general rebound in the economy, to stay open all winter.
A change this year, though, is that the kitchen, which is normally open seven days a week, will be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays this winter, although pizzas will still be available seven days a week.
During the quiet winter months, Mr. Venesina said he will offer a Sunday special, two pasta entrees for just $20. In addition, he is continuing a Wednesday night special of two large cheese pizzas for $23.
Being a restaurateur seems to run in the family. Lina Venesina’s brother, the late Celestino Gambino, used to run LaParmigiana, which you could say is the Conca D’Oro of Southampton Village. Two other brothers, John and Peter Gambino, who died this spring, ran Baby Moon in Westhampton Beach. Frank Venesina’s brother, John, runs the Edgewater restaurant in Hampton Bays.
“This is the only place I’ve ever worked,” said Mr. Venesina, whose parents still work their regular shifts, and whose wife, Jennifer, waits tables or works as hostess when things get busy.
Many of the restaurant’s workers have been at Conca D’Oro for so long, they might just as well be part of the family. Chef Franco Ligregni, for instance, worked for the Gambino brothers at Baby Moon from 1982 until 1991 when he came to Conca D’Oro. Well, technically, Mr. Ligregni is family, as he is married to Mr. Venesina’s cousin, a chef at LaParmigiana.
“These are beautiful people,” said Mr. Ligregni. “I’m at home here.”
He paused to joke around with Seve Martinez, who has worked for the Venesinas for 11 years. “I raised this kid. Nobody wanted him so I took him in,” Mr. Ligregni said as Mr. Martinez, came into the kitchen to pick up containers of pre-made pizza dough to be brought up front for the evening rush. Vicenta Ochoa, who works in the kitchen, has worked there for 15 years. Chris Cadger, nicknamed “the Captain,” has more than 10 years under his belt.
Although it’s quiet now, come summer, the line will once again snake out the door, as tourists, locals, and Little League baseball players, fresh off the diamond, stop in for a quick bite to eat. Behind the counter, workers will be scrambling to keep up with the demand. “On a busy day, we do at least 300 to 400 pies,” Mr. Venesina said matter-of-factly.
Conca D’Oro is located on Main Street in Sag Harbor and is open Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, or to place a take-out order, call 725-3167.