Monroe’s in Westbury claims connections to Hollywood in more ways than one.
Not only is the restaurant itself inspired by the legendary film career of actress Marilyn Monroe, but it is backed by part-time actor/restaurateur Tony Vitucci, who has also owned the venerable Tesoro Ristorante, also in Westbury, since 1981.
“I was always a big fan of Marilyn Monroe and I wanted to make this restaurant a tribute of sorts to her,” Vitucci said about the venue on Post Avenue that took the place of Benny’s Ristorante, an Italian American spot that closed in 2019 after more than 30 years.
Monroe’s, which opened last July, features a sculpture of the actress along with prints, photos, memorabilia, and a full bar featuring Monroe movie-inspired cocktails such as monkey business and the bombshell mule.
Vitucci, now 65, originally studied dentistry but ended up in the restaurant business “by accident,” he said, and spent more than four decades in the business. “I didn’t mean to get into the restaurant business, it just kind of happened.”
He said he learned “all facets of the restaurant business” while he worked as a waiter captain at the now-defunct Villa Parma in Hicksville.
“I also got involved with cooking during this time, but I was mostly working in front,” he says. Vitucci recalled liking cooking but “didn’t care about the pressure,” saying, “You have to deal with the owner, he’s under pressure, the kitchen is hot.” He added that any business that deals with the public is tough, as you need to navigate people’s moods.
He also said that promoting restaurants is much tougher today with the hypercritical world of online reviews, where anyone can take to social media and give a bad review that can affect your business.
“Things used to be much simpler,” he said, recalling that a good review from former Newsday reviewer Barbara Rader helped Tesoro become an overnight success.
“We never looked back,” he said.
But when it came to acting, he said, “I really took a liking to acting,” and it became a passion that would end up coexisting with his career in the restaurant business. He started out while attending college in Stony Brook, landing parts in soap operas including One Life to Live and continuing with small parts on the TV series Law & Order. His movie credits include Analyze That, Laugh Killer Laugh, and Dreamland. Most recently he played Joe Pesci’s bodyguard in the 2019 movie The Irishman.
And, while Vitucci is involved in much of the behind-the-scenes work with Monroe’s, his daughter Danyella Vitucci will be the driving force and co-owner to propel the restaurant forward. Brothers Hoss Fahmy and Joe Fahmy are also partners at Monroe’s; both also have connections to Tesoro.
“I pretty much did everything except cook at the place [Tesoro],” said Vitucci’s daughter, who also worked as a videographer for Verizon’s former Fios1 cable channel.
She added, “The experience I had there, no school education can teach you. Being around different people constantly, different personalities, I learned about people at an early age.
“Watching my dad work a room was always inspiring. He always had a charm about him, and people loved him, even when they came in, and they were in a bad mood, he just had this way of calming people down, making them laugh and making sure that at his place they were going to have a good time. To me it was like the entertainment business, which was my passion, anything related to the entertainment business, really.” Vitucci said when she learned her father was going to open another restaurant and she was going to be a part of it, she was “very excited.”
In the kitchen is executive chef Milton Romero, who came to Monroe’s by way of assistance from Michelin-rated chef Richie Riley, whom Vitucci met while on the set of The Irishman. Vitucci said Riley, who was a former private chef for director Martin Scorsese, helped design Monroe’s menu and helped hire the restaurant’s entire kitchen staff.
The restaurant’s menu is an eclectic mix of American classics and continental fare. Specials include marinated skirt steak, potato-crusted Atlantic salmon, heritage pork chop, tuna poke, branzino, roasted chicken, baby back ribs, and Italian classics such as lasagna Bolognese and chicken Parmigiana.
Vitucci added that while the effects of the pandemic have been lessening in recent months, skyrocketing food prices and supply-chain issues are still a reality.
“Certain things such as take-out containers and specific brands of liquor are still hard to get,” he said.
Overall, he estimated that prices are up about 35 percent across the board.
“And you can’t keep raising prices. We’re hoping that doing a better volume will make up the difference.”
Monroe’s Restaurant is located at 199 Post Ave. in Westbury. It can be reached at 516-416-4181 or monroeswestbury.com.
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