West End Cafe: From Hobby to Career For Chef Luis Rey

West End Cafe

West End Cafe: From Hobby to Career For Chef Luis Rey

Chef Luis Rey, the chef/owner of West End Cafe in Carle Place, thought he would be helping people to talk through their problems. But instead, he’s been helping diners solve the age-old problem of what’s for dinner  for the last 25 years. 

“For me, getting into the restaurant business was really a fluke,” says “ChefLou” Rey, 50, who grew up in Malverne.  

He explains that he had worked in a local pizzeria since age 14, and then throughout high school. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do career-wise. So I went to Nassau Community College and was going to major in psychology.”

Looking back, he recalls that both his grandmother and mother always cooked and that “food always brought the family together.”

Along with his major in psychology, Rey says, he took two courses in restaurant management in college because he had always liked to cook and experiment by making new dishes when he worked at the pizzeria. “I always liked to see the look on people’s faces when they tried something new.” 

But he admits that cooking had always just been a hobby and nothing he was really thinking about for a career until an instructor at college noticed something that would change the trajectory of Rey’s career path. 

“It was an instructor at Nassau that convinced me to go into the restaurant business; he said I looked ‘comfortable and natural’ in the kitchen and that it seemed like my second home.” 


So Rey headed to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and graduated in 1995. 

“I then took a job at Middle Bay Country Club from April 1996-October 1998 and worked with a chef there who just happened to be a CIA graduate, and he helped to shape my culinary education.” 

After his third season at the club, the chef told Rey he knew he needed to move on and told him to go to the West End Cafe in Carle Place. 

Rey started working at West End in 1998 and he felt an immediate connection with the venue, from its look and feel to its menu. 

Fast-forward 25 years of working his way through the ranks from a line cook to a sous chef and then a chef de cuisine, and Rey is not only still at West End but became the owner in 2019. 

West End Cafe

Ironically, he recalls, he was only supposed to stay at West End for three years.

But he says that one thing led to another and “they treated me well. It was a great place to work.” 

The venue’s cafe menu, he says, is flexible; where they can do anything from burgers to rack of lamb and Asian to French cuisine. “The menu isn’t laminated, so if we see something’s not selling, we change it.” 

Rey says he relies on locally sourced Long Island produce which changes with the seasons along with the evolving menu. 

As for West End’s signature dishes, Rey says their rack of lamb is a favorite along with their popular red wine braised short ribs, Atlantic salmon, cast-iron skillet organic chicken and grilled Angus shell steak. “We’re also known for seasonal raviolis, such as asparagus, squash and corn. Most of our dishes are seasonal and very farm-to-table during peak season.” 

“I love cooking and creating new dishes,” he says, adding that they braise their own short ribs and make their own soups and all their own dressings. 

Desserts include key lime pie, apple crisp, and carrot cake. 

West End also features a full drink menu with specialty cocktails, wine and select IPAs as well as beer born out of a collaboration with the Long Beach Brewing Company.  

As other restaurateurs have noted, dining times have been shifting earlier since the pandemic. “6:30 p.m. is now the new 8:30 p.m.,” he says. “There are many more diners coming in earlier and very few after 7:00 p.m.,” he says. 

Rey believes the pandemic caused a shift to early dining because of people’s altered work schedules and working from home caused many to adopt much earlier dinnertimes.

In addition, he explains that it’s still difficult to find employees due to many career restaurant workers who were displaced and were forced to find new careers during the pandemic. “Restaurant workers, many who relied mainly on tips, were hurt more than most other workers during the pandemic.” 

He also adds that food costs have remained high and rising credit card fees have continued to plague the industry.

Asked what he likes best about the restaurant business, Rey answers that he doesn’t see it so much as a business but more as a hobby and a passion. 

“You have to be passionate about what you do, otherwise you’ll just burn out from the long hours in the kitchen during the summer months. You have to have fun with it… I literally love what I do,” he says, noting that even on his days off, Sundays and Mondays, he stresses about what he will make his own family for dinner. 

For those contemplating the culinary arts as a career, Rey has some advice. 

“Go to your local restaurant and tell them you’re thinking about the industry and going to culinary school and ask them to work there…they’ll start you out peeling potatoes, carrots and veggies but you get a sense of what it’s like to be in the kitchen.” 

He adds, “You’ll be on your feet for 10 hours or so. You’re not sitting behind a desk and just working on menu ideas.”

He also says that “passion is a must-have…You have to know what you’re getting yourself into…I’m often the first guy in and the last guy to leave at night.” 

But he says that people who want to work in the industry will always be able to find work. 

“The industry will always have your back.” 

The West End Cafe is located at 187 Glen Cove Rd. in Carle Place. They can be reached at 516-294-5608. Visit at https://www.westendli.com/

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