Stone Street Wood Fired Grill Serves American Classics Done Right
As the owner and driving force behind the new Stone Street Wood Fired Grill in Garden City, native Long Island chef and restaurateur Art Gustafson is no stranger to the restaurant business.
“I started cooking in the early 1980s and I’ve been working in restaurants, mostly on the South Shore, since around the age of 15,” he recalls, adding, “I just got the bug to cook.”
Gustafson says that while growing up in Setauket, he spent his formative years working at several restaurants in Bay Shore and Islip in addition to working and training with several chefs from Italy. “I had the good fortune of working under some very talented chefs from Europe,” he says.
In addition to some intensive hands-on experience in various kitchens, Gustafson also trained at the New York Restaurant School in his early 20s, but says that at the time it was “redundant” as he’d already been working at various venues as a full-time chef.
Gustafson explains that while he’s been involved in opening dozens of restaurants throughout his career — he opened his first restaurant at just 26 — he took a break for eight years to work as a corporate chef.
However, he couldn’t escape his entrepreneurial spirit for long. In 2012, he was working as the chef at Chadwicks American Chop House & Bar in Rockville Centre when he decided to buy the restaurant. “I love to be involved in all aspects of the business, from design to completion,” he says.
He opened Salsa Mexicana Kitchen & Cocktails, also in Rockville Centre, in 2015, followed by the upscale Primehouse Steak & Sushi in Garden City about three years ago.
Most restaurateurs might think that owning three venues is enough, but not Gustafson, who saw an unfilled niche between some of the chain restaurants and pricier small-plate establishments. That paved the way for him to open Stone Street Wood Fired Grill in Garden City, which opened in mid-February.
Gustafson describes Stone Street, named for the historic cobblestone street in Manhattan, as a place that does “American classics right, using smoke and fire.”
“The theme is heavily Americana, rock ‘n’ roll, 1950s era, backlit guitars on the walls,” he says, adding that the restaurant features a “show-stopping” 1,200-foot live fire kitchen with a vast wood-burning grill and huge rotisserie surrounded by marquee lighting, to give guests a “bird’s-eye view” of their favorite dishes as they’re prepared.
Other unique design elements include a 62-inch food tattoo table, a 26-seat, U-shaped and fire-torched epoxy bar.
He says that many of Stone Street’s interior designs are “Instagram-worthy,” including a giant graphic near the entrance that says, “Life is short, eat everything.”
In the kitchen is Executive Chef John Brill who previously was the lead chef at nearby Primehouse and prior to that at Salted on the Harbor in Northport and 7 Gerard in Huntington.
With the help of Brill, Gustafson says, he created Stone Street’s American classics-focused menu featuring signature dishes such as uncommonly tender rotisserie chicken, prime rib, and wood-fired grill specials such as dinosaur ribs, reimagined pizza, spicy tuna nachos, stacked burgers, full- and half-size salads, salmon and even a grilled Hawaiian ribeye steak.
A special dessert is the not set-in-stone special for three or four people that includes an assortment of brownies, cakes, pretzels and cotton candy. “It lends itself well to our whimsical, over-the-top decor,” Gustafson says.
“I’m still involved in the kitchen,” he says, adding that getting the food out is a collaborative effort. “Chefs have plenty of freedom to create.”
Commenting on the restaurant industry overall, Gustafson says that things have improved for chefs.
“Today, there is much more opportunity for chefs…”it used to be a real grind.”
He says that kitchens are brighter and cleaner and that chefs are treated better now than they were.
“I noticed a sea change in the industry when the Food Network debuted in 1993 and transformed some chefs into celebrities… it changed things, in a good way.”
And he says that while some chefs may have lost cooking chops focusing on trying to be popular, “You can’t begrudge someone for wanting to make it and be successful.”
Gustafson himself has done a few local cooking programs including on News 12 Long Island as well as numerous YouTube and TikTok videos.
Asked about the economics of the restaurant business, Gustafson says it’s tough and getting tougher.
“When I opened my first restaurant in 1991, profit margins on food were about 18-20%. So, if something cost me $10, I could make a profit of $2 on that item.” He says, though, that along with increased credit card fees and rising food and labor costs, profit margins are now down to around 9-12%.
He adds that some of his restaurant colleagues joke that the business has almost become like a hobby that gives you a couple of dollars.
Overall, he says that most entrepreneurs need about three or more restaurants to make the same money they used to make with a single venue.
“Owning more venues is almost necessary to maintain a good bottom line…. No one wants to own multiple restaurants but it’s almost a must today.”
He also notes that on Long Island, it’s necessary to have larger venues as opposed to smaller ones. Stone Street has 150 indoor seats and another 45 outdoors.
But he still maintains that he enjoys the design and creative process. “I maintain relationships with various general contractors, builders, electricians, and plumbers. I’m very hands-on.”
Gustafson also hopes that Stone Street will come to be known as not merely a great place to eat but also an interesting destination.
“I want people to be wowed and transported when they come here to dine.”
“If nothing else,” he says, “I want people to say Stone Street was delicious and it wasn’t boring.”
Stone Street is located at 630 Stewart Ave. in Garden City. They can be contacted at 516-280-9414. Visit at stonestreetgrill.com.