Marty Greenstein and his wife Dianna opened their first restaurant, the Hungry Haven, inside long-gone Baron’s Department Store in Smithtown, but in 1980 the couple got out of the restaurant business and continued doing catering and special events under the name Uncle Marty’s. As their clientele grew more corporate, the Greensteins renamed their business Event Pros Group and expanded to a larger building in Ronkonkoma a decade later. Today, Event Pros Group handles a select list of event clients, while Mr. Greenstein concentrates on public speaking, sales training, and his book published in 2015, How to Sell the Brooklyn Bridge… And Other Stuff. He continues to perform as a strolling magician, using tricks he learned watching the magicians he hired work the crowds. We caught up with “Uncle Marty” at Watermill Caterers in Smithtown.
Long Island Press: Were your parents role models as entrepreneurs?
Marty Greenstein: My father was named Aaron. Everybody called him Archie. He was born in a small village in Russia. Never knew his father. Left school after third grade. My dad was a tough guy. He worked for years as a salesman for the Restful Mattress Company. He’d go to customers’ homes who called him to have their old mattresses fixed. My dad would take a knife and slice their mattresses open. He’d show they didn’t have the original horsehair stuffing. Then they’d have to hire him to repair it. They loved him anyway. He was a bit of a bandit.
LIP: Did your mother work as a homemaker or in business?
MG: My mother’s name was Phyllis. She was a hard worker too. She was always working at her mother’s corset shop in East Flatbush near where we lived. In later years, she worked at the restaurant my father eventually opened in Borough Park.
LIP: How did your career begin?
MG: I didn’t finish school. After working at my dad’s restaurant, I bought a taxi medallion and drove a cab in the city. WPIX used to call me when they did stories about cab drivers. Then a guy who cast commercials hailed my cab. After that I got work doing movies and commercials. I still get calls. About four years ago I was the Aleve Santa Claus.
LIP: How did the catering and eventing get started?
MG: Customers’ kids used to call me Uncle Marty. One day a little girl asked .me, “Uncle Marty, can I have my birthday party in your restaurant?” What do you think I said, No? I said, “Of course, sweetheart. What day is your birthday?” I asked Dianna how to create a kid’s birthday party. Then an adult asked me if I’d cater his company’s picnic. I said, “Of course.” I had never been to a corporate picnic myself. So I learned.
LIP: How did your business grow?
MG: In the early ’80s I started creating events around team-building. It offered a solid business reason to get out of the office. We needed tons of costumes for the exercises. At one point we had over 800 costumes.
LIP: Are all your events successful?
MG: Yes, of course. Well, maybe one in a million isn’t. Do you know I keep a mouse in my pocket for magic? We were working a wedding, I took out the mouse and said very quietly, “Eek.” Maybe not so quietly. The mother of the bride sees it and starts screaming at us to leave. So we left. Another time we filled a 6,500-foot tunnel in Grand Central Station with several thousand balloons. Later everyone started popping them – Pop! Pop Pop! The cops ran in thinking someone had a machine gun. God forbid.
LIP: Do you have an eventing philosophy?
MG: I do. I believe eventing is all about passion. It can be stressful, but I believe in letting the stress become a springboard for success. I grew up watching my parents work hard but not letting themselves grow. So I say: Never stagnate. Let your imagination lift you to where you can see far into the distance. Rather than letting your restrictions hold you back, let what you see guide you.