For more than 38 years, the iconic Vincent’s Clam Bar in Carle Place has been preserving the Italian American experience for scores of diners across Long Island, New York City, and beyond.
The original Vincent’s began life as a popular clam pushcart in Manhattan’s Little Italy neighborhood and later evolved into Vincent’s Clam Bar restaurant on Mott and Hester Streets in 1904. The Little Italy location is still open and continues to be a sister property to Vincent’s Carle Place.
“We both started out working at Vincent’s as waiters, while we were going to college,” recalls Bobby Marisi, who co-owns Vincent’s with his brother Tony. He says the restaurant went up for sale and they decided to buy it in 1983.
Bobby says that the restaurant started out with a small but loyal following. “At first, we thought the place would be like a Dunkin’ Donuts, where all we had to do was run it,” as he recalls that there was a commissary for the restaurant that prepared all the food and brothers would call in the orders they needed.
But he said that system broke down “within three months” and then they both had to scramble and basically learn how to run an Italian restaurant from scratch.
Fast forward to nearly four decades later and many obstacles along the way, and Vincent’s has seemingly perfected a simple concept that yields “consistently good cuisine,” according to regular customer and former Sopranos star Joe Gannascoli.
With the help of marketing director Anthony Gentile, who grew up in the same Ozone Park, Queens neighborhood as the Marisi brothers, Vincent’s has transcended the concept of just a memorable Italian restaurant to become a purpose-driven brand that emphasizes more than just a great dinner: giving people a great experience and giving back to the community.
Vincent’s concept of giving back takes many forms, such as its involvement in environmental efforts to help replenish oyster populations and keep Long Island’s waterways clean. One such project, Half Shells for Habitat, uses donated clam shells to hatch new oysters, which help to filter and clean the water.
In addition, the restaurant has made a regular practice of giveaways to diners.
“We always give back to diners, with something on the house for nearly every table that comes in, whether it’s a bottle of wine for a special event or an appetizer or dessert,” Bobby explains.
Tony adds that the practice reinforces Vincent’s place in the experience business, meaning that people come back when they’ve had a good experience. Bobby estimates Vincent’s gives away about $10,000 in food and other givebacks per week. “It helps form a bond with the customers.”
During the pandemic, Vincent’s worked with Gannascoli, who was already delivering food to first responders across Long Island and New York City. “Vincent’s was matching the dollar amounts I was spending on food,” said Gannascoli.
Bobby says that they had to “pivot hard,” to takeout, in order to keep the staff of nearly 100 working and the restaurant going despite the inside being closed for more than two months. “Like everyone else, we experienced staffing issues, and it was hard to get people to work.”
But, he says, they were well positioned for the adjustment since they already did a lot of takeout. “We already had a 40,000-name email list,” said Tony. “We had lines going almost out to Old Country Road.”
In the kitchen, several chefs oversee the preparation of time-honored, classic Vincent’s dishes including baked clams, shrimp Parmigiana, linguine with clam sauce, penne alla vodka, chicken Marsala, and eggplant.
And of course, Vincent’s continues to sell its now world-famous, 120-year-old recipe red sauces — mild, medium, or hot — in area supermarkets and online.
Desserts are also homemade, with favorites including creme brulee, apple pie, Napoleon, and cannoli.
Gentile says it’s all about making their customers “brand ambassadors.”
Some of those ambassadors include an impressive list of celebrities such as former Yankee greats Jim Leyritz and Don Mattingly as well as comedian Andrew Dice Clay and actor Chazz Palminteri.
Bobby adds, “We’re in the happiness business. Food is the vehicle, but happiness is the result.”
About the restaurant business, both brothers say it takes a lot of “perseverance.”
They want to franchise, but that has yet to happen. “There’s lots of people interested but no one has committed yet,” says Bobby. “It’s difficult to find the right people who really want to live the Vincent’s experience.”
He adds, “I don’t think there is a more difficult business today than the restaurant business.”
Tony says also that consumers are much more knowledgeable than ever, thanks to social media and the prevalence of celebrity chef cooking TV programs.
“Long Island and city residents are more worldly and intelligent, they travel all over, they’ve been to Italy, so they know how to compare the food they had there to what we might serve them here.”
Gentile says, though, that no matter how sophisticated the diner becomes, Vincent’s continues to “push the envelope,” adding, “We never rest on our laurels.”
Gannascoli adds, “The brothers are so on top of everything, they make every night special, like their first night in business.”
Vincent’s Clam Bar is located at 179 Old Country Rd. in Carle Place. It can be reached at 516-742-4577. Visit at www.vincentsclambar.com
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