Nick Ciccone


Celebrity Chef Tom Colicchio Opens Small Batch in Garden City

Celebrity Chef Tom Colicchio recently opened his latest venture, Small Batch, in Garden City.

Comedians often say the longer a joke is discussed, the less funny it becomes. Chef Tom Colicchio feels the same way about food.

Seasoned restaurateur, author, and lead judge and executive producer on Bravo’s Top Chef, Colicchio has been in the business for more than two decades. His latest venture is Garden City’s rustic, 180-seat Small Batch, which opened on Dec. 11.

“We tend to purposely open slowly,” Colicchio says. “We don’t overbook the place. Our feeling is that I’d rather do fewer people and have everybody happy than jam the place up and half the people are not getting food or are getting the wrong drinks.”

Colicchio has launched dozens of restaurants over the years. He’s run a restaurant group called Crafted Hospitality since 2001, but the project that launched Colicchio’s career is The Gramercy Tavern, a luxe Manhattan hot spot.

In 1994, New York Magazine published a novelistic cover story about Colicchio and his copilot, Danny Meyer, as they navigated the planning stages for Gramercy Tavern before its opening. The article was an unprecedented, painstaking account of the behind-the-scenes questions restaurateurs must consider.

“It is easy to engage him in conversation on fly fishing and nearly impossible to get him to talk about food,” the author wrote of Colicchio.

Twenty-four years later, Colicchio agrees with that assessment.

“I prefer talking about fishing more than cooking,” he says with a laugh. “That is true.”

There are two possible reasons for his close-mouthed approach — neither of which is unfriendliness. In retrospect, he says, he may have been reluctant to talk about a restaurant that hadn’t opened yet. He and Meyer were hopeful, but they weren’t sure what they were doing.

Some say it’s bad luck to talk about a process that hasn’t yet unfolded. Colicchio had concerns about the number of seats Meyer wanted, and eventually suggested shrinking their covers and focusing on driving up check averages — which proved effective — but that was an insight gained through experience.

The other reason Colicchio doesn’t like talking about food is, well, because he doesn’t like talking about food.

“How do you explain what I do?” he asks with genuine confoundedness and zero pretension.

Most restaurants, he says, can be easily categorized — Italian, French, Asian, etc. — but the logical label for his style is “Contemporary American,” which doesn’t quite fit.

“People think American, they think burgers and meatloaf,” he says. “So, it’s hard to explain what I do, and it’s like, after a while I don’t want to talk about it. I want to do it.”

Just what is he doing? With Small Batch, he says it’s a new take on contemporary eating. The space is casual and as open as open-concept gets. It’s not fine dining. And yet, there’s some fine local fare listed on the dinner menu: Grilled Spanish octopus with chorizo, Fresno chilies and cranberry beans; grilled sea bream with braised fennel, green olives, grilled red onion, and salsa verde; Long Island duck with honeynut squash, Swiss chard, fig syrup and black garlic.

Colicchio is as invested in hiring quality staff as he is in the menu.

“We’re going to teach you how wait tables, but I can’t teach you to be a good person,” he says. “You’re never going to get fired in this restaurant for making a mistake …. You’ll get fired for making a sexist comment, or a racist comment.”

He is unrelenting about that last point. In his Twitter bio, he refers to himself as a “food activist,” and for his photo he dons a T-shirt that reads: “Immigrants feed America.”

It’s all very 2019. But the celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, the politically active Twitter dad, is just one side of him. He says he’s mellowed over the years. He says he isn’t ready to retire from food, but when the time comes, it certainly seems like he’ll have plenty of other things to do.

You might find him spending time with his wife, filmmaker Lori Silverbush, and their three sons, or watching YouTube fingerpicking lessons by his favorite guitarist, Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna fame, or — of course — fishing, or dining out on the North Fork, or gardening, or cooking a quiet, elaborate meal at home.

Just don’t ask him to tell you about it.

Small Batch is located at 630 Old Country Road in Garden City. It can be reached at 516-548-8162 or smallbatchrestaurant.com

LL Cool J: The Best Is Yet To Come

LL Cool J. Getty Images.

A short distance takes a long time for LL Cool J.

We’re on our way to a private room at Hirshleifers, a high-end retailer wedged between many other high-end retailers at Americana Manhasset mall, where LL has just held a fundraiser benefitting his Queens-based youth basketball camp, Jump & Ball. Once we find a quiet space to talk, he will trade the Instagram-worthy LL swagger for a different charisma.

He will sit and sip water in a chair next to his mother, Ondrea Smith, and talk about the art and craft of hip-hop with exasperated, childlike joy. He will explain why he thinks it’s incumbent upon him to return to the neighborhood he grew up in — St. Albans — and foster a sense of community and stability among young children. He will dismiss his impressive and meandering career by saying that he simply does “whatever’s on LL Cool J’s schedule,” as if he’s talking about someone else.

But we’re not there yet. We’re still swimming in a sea of his adoring fans who want to shake his hand and hug him and take photos with him.

“This is going to be a process,” a member of LL’s team jokes.  

Without hesitation, LL stops and greets every last one. The birds-eye view of the situation must look like a human blood clot, as we float toward a comfortable spot to sit and talk.

The annual shopping benefit at Americana Manhasset has participating stores donate 25 percent of each customer’s purchase to a chosen charity. LL and his wife, Simone Smith, appeared at Hirshleifers on Dec. 1 to encourage people to patronize the store and host an auction of luxury clothing items to benefit Jump & Ball. Smith, a cancer survivor and a self-proclaimed hoop-earring connoisseur, also sold pieces from her custom jewelry line to benefit the American Cancer Society.

Despite the palpable excitement of fans and other local celebrities (Long Island Medium Theresa Caputo was also in attendance, casting spells on auction items like Vanna White with taller hair) the evening seemed pretty run-of-the-mill for Manhasset’s hip-hop power couple. Smith conceded that their family’s lifestyle can seem pretty hectic, but she stressed that downtime is downtime for them.

She and LL have four children together and have been married since 1995. They watch movies, she bounces creative ideas off her husband (whom she refers to as simply, “Todd”) and they toggle between New York and Los Angeles, surfing between business ventures.

“We raised our children here in Manhasset,” Smith says before adding, “New York is always home.”

The only thing perhaps as mesmerizing as LL’s wide-ranging career is the coolness with which his family seems to handle it all. Born in Bay Shore but raised in Queens, LL Cool J’s official music career began when he was 16, with the release of 1985’s single “I Need A Beat,” on Def Jam Recordings, and has continued to evolve in the decades since. He went on to become rap music’s first-ever mainstream icon and sex symbol.

Now 50, the multiplatinum musician’s work transcends categories. LL has grown into an all-out media mogul. He has starred in the hit CBS crime series NCIS: Los Angeles for 10 seasons now, and is also the host of Lip Sync Battle on the Paramount Network (formerly Spike), which debuted in 2015. He’s hosted the Grammy Awards five consecutive times, and famously delivered a touching tribute to Whitney Houston at the 2012 ceremony less than 24 hours after the news broke of her death.

In December 2017, LL became the first rapper to be honored at the Kennedy Center — the highest achievement a performer can receive. Earlier this year, Sirius XM Radio announced LL would helm his own station — Rock the Bells Radio — curating classic hip-hop and deep cuts for fans of the genre.

Just trying to recount his decades-long career is exhausting. But if he’s at all tired of his life in the public eye, it doesn’t show. He seems right at home in the center of the room at this fundraiser — backing a cause he cares about — twirling a basketball and smiling for people.

What made you want to start Jump & Ball? It all started from just being a little kid and I remember guys in the neighborhood used to throw a basketball tournament. I always said to myself, if I was ever in a position to be able to provide that kind of an opportunity for the kids I would, and I’ll tell you why. You know, my grandmother used to always say the idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Just walking around the neighborhood with nothing to do, you just end up in trouble. It’s just a weird kind of byproduct of being in Queens and just being in that area. Even, there’s parts of Long Island like that. So, I decided that I wanted to give these kids an opportunity to learn about teamwork, to really just keep them out of trouble and maybe teach them some sports, and just improve the lives of the kids in the community.

Have you thought about offering the camp in other areas? I really would rather just deepen the roots first. I mean, yes, there’s always thoughts of maybe doing it in other neighborhoods and replicating the idea and the concept and growing it out. That’s always a beautiful thing.

What do you consider to be your main gig right now? I can think of about 10 different possibilities. Whatever’s on LL Cool J’s schedule. I’m an entertainer, man. I entertain the world, you know. And I do it in a lot of different ways.

It seems like your Sirius XM station, Rock the Bells Radio, is a passion project for you. It’s definitely a passion project. I’m putting classic hip-hop at the forefront of pop culture again — and in a cool way. It’s designed strictly for the fans that really love the music, you know what I’m saying? And then everybody else, you know, they can sneak in if they want, but we’re not concerned with them.

How has your own career shaped what the station has become? It’s enjoyable because I 100 percent believe in myself and what I can do and what I’ve done in my career, but at the same time I’m able to move that out of the way and allow it to be a platform for all of the classic artists. So, it’s not like a glorified LL Cool J fan station. I really do my best to make it as authentic as possible and true to the experience that the fans should have. It’s really selfless in that regard. And I started it in 2018… I’m giving you vintage vibes by design.

What artists have you been listening to lately? Last night [Ice Cube] sent me his new album, which was really exciting. Some of the stuff that he’s talking about I think is gonna really shake things up. He definitely has a very specific point of view and he comes at it from an O.G. [original ganster] perspective. In terms of a newer artists, I was listening to Meek Mill’s album last night and I was enjoying that as well. So that was a day in the life right there.

Can we expect new music from you in the future? You know, it’s possible, man. Artists don’t retire. That’s a myth. We’re not athletes. Just because your knee is sore doesn’t mean you can’t get in the booth. Picasso was how old painting? Doing great work? Like, stop it. So, we’ll see. We’ll see.

Chef Guy Reuge Gives LI A Taste of France

Guy Reuge, Mirabelle Tavern's five-star chef.

Chef Guy Reuge bashfully claims that he used to lose his temper in the kitchen, but it’s hard to believe.

Reuge, 66, the bespectacled executive chef of the Lessing’s Hospitality Group and one of Long Island’s most storied cooks, has a pristine French accent and a boyish, slender frame. Despite a long, impressive and very French resume, he’s incredibly humble. The man once cooked for Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (before he was president of France, but still) and yet Reuge doesn’t mind occasionally washing dishes.

He’s also not above an intermittent trip to Dunkin’ Donuts for a custard-filled confection, though he protests: “I don’t abuse them, because it’s not good for me.”

That he has ever been angry with anyone seems impossible. But he’s only human, and one day, back in the ’70s while he was forging a career as a Manhattan chef, he says he brazenly confronted a complaining customer.

“I take a fork and a knife, and I go to the table and I say to the customer, ‘Excuse me sir, but is there something wrong with the salmon I cooked for you?’” he recalls. The customer alleged the salmon was undercooked. Reuge chopped the fish in half and inspected its insides.

“I said, ‘Sir. This salmon is perfect!’ and he said, ‘OK.’” He bursts out laughing as he recounts the customer’s nervous reaction. “I don’t do that anymore.”

Nowadays, he splits his time between Mirabelle Tavern at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook and the Sandbar in Cold Spring Harbor.

Reuge was born in Saint Lô, France, but grew up in Orléans (the old one). From a young age, he was intrigued by the American way of life, he says. In 1973, a 21-year-old Reuge came to New York, where a bustling blend of culture and cuisine was happening all over Manhattan.

He cooked his way around the city, occupying different functions in several restaurants. He assisted with the opening of a quaint bistro called La Tulipe, on West 13th Street, which enjoyed much success from 1979 until its closure in 1991. He also got his hands dirty in the kitchens of Le Plaisir and the iconic Tavern on the Green in Central Park. He was in it now, all the while fantasizing about opening his own “resto.”

In 1983 he did just that, and for 25 years, Restaurant Mirabelle in St. James was the successful embodiment of Reuge’s culinary mastery. In 2008, the Lessing’s group approached Reuge and asked him to merge businesses and move his restaurant a few miles north to historic Stony Brook.

“Years ago, we were looking to make a change at the Three Village Inn — a sort of revolution. Or, in this case, a French revolution,” says Mark Lessing, executive vice president of restaurants at Lessing’s. “Guy Reuge’s talent, passion and culinary pedigree seemed the perfect fit. Today, this award-winning executive chef is still the hardest-working guy in the kitchen, bar none.”

The menu at Mirabelle, which is seasonally altered by Reuge, boasts the freshest ingredients he can source locally. This winter, guests can expect earthy, high-end French dishes like choucroute garnie (cabbage with sausages and other salted meats) and cassoulet with duck confit (a rich casserole with baked beans). Other items of note, Reuge says, are the tavern burger (an 8-ounce custom blend of meat with Reuge’s bacon-onion marmalade and cheddar cheese) and oysters from Fishers Island, which Reuge contests are among the best in the U.S.

Reuge insists on constantly reinventing his menu, and himself. Putting in 60 to 70 hours a week, it’s easy to understand why someone in his position might start eyeing retirement, though he has no interest.

“As long as you are healthy, I don’t see why you would retire,” he says. “I don’t get it.”

Asked if he ever opts to spoil himself and cook an elaborate meal for one, he says: Nope, never.

“The pleasure of cooking is for other people,” he simply says. “It’s like drinking wine. You know, I love wine, I belong to a wine group where we meet every month and we taste wine and we talk about it. Wine is sharing. Food is the same.”

Mirabelle Tavern is located at 150 Main St., Stony Brook. It can be reached at 631-751-0555 or lessings.com

Josh Lafazan: The New Kid in Nassau Legislature

Nassau County Legis. Joshua Lafazan (D-Syosset), the county's youngest county legislator ever, is encouraging more young people to get civically involved. (Photo by Nick Ciccone)

It wasn’t enough for Josh Lafazan, 24, of Syosset, to become the youngest Nassau County legislator in history in November. Now, he’s bringing his contemporaries with him into local government at an unprecedented rate.

The gregarious, fast-talking young politico, who first made headlines when he was elected to the Syosset Central School District Board of Education at 18 and who now represents Nassau’s 18th Legislative District, says he doesn’t mind being the “young guy.” The questioning perks him up — even if he sometimes finds himself being condescended to.

“I’m the only legislator who lives in mom’s basement,” he jokes.

Lafazan’s age gives him a rapport with his interns, he says, and about 40 of them will gradually take over the Franklin Avenue legislative building before July, well above the about five interns that lawmakers typically have. When dozens of young people volunteered to work on his campaign a little more than a year ago, he got the idea to create a bona fide government internship program — one where students would be able to do a whole lot more than fetch coffee.

“No matter how young they were, no matter whether they were a political science major or never watched a minute of C-SPAN in their life, I promised myself I would give them the opportunity to dive headfirst into the world of politics,” Lafazan says.

Diving headfirst into something new seems to be a popular refrain for the freshman lawmaker, who is a registered independent but caucuses with Democrats. He eagerly rattles off a list of rehearsed 100-days-in-office accomplishments, and although there’s something admittedly politician-like about it, Lafazan has undoubtedly had a front-loaded year.

He drafted a bill to require American Sign Language interpreters at every county emergency press conference — one that received bipartisan support at the legislature and that County Executive Laura Curran ultimately signed. He appointed a council of representatives to act as liaisons to the Nassau County Police Department in the 18th District. He voted to strengthen county policies on sexual harassment and to expand social host laws to include language about opioids. He’s proposed a package of bills to address the opioid crisis in concert, including provisions that would create 24-hour addiction assessment centers, an addiction crisis hotline and stricter enforcement of substance-free dormitories at Nassau colleges.

With the workload Lafazan describes, his team of interns sound more like junior staffers — young people who mirror his enthusiasm.

“Many of them have no interest in politics,” he says, referring to some interns who are studying criminal justice, “but they have an interest in me because I treat them like an equal.”

As Lafazan made the jump from aspiring politician to elected official, he says, the internship program became more governmental than political. To start with, the summer interns work together conducting a deep dive of the Nassau County Charter, to both familiarize themselves with local government and also to try to spot potential areas for revamped legislation. Lafazan says the interns are polled on their interests and skill sets, and he and his team try to make it as individualized as possible.

Those interested in lawmaking would be placed on a “policy team,” which focuses on poring over Nassau County laws and proposed bills throughout the tri-state area, and “actually will recommend policies for our office to introduce as bills, which again, is so substantive and you don’t find in other internships.”

One of Lafazan’s interns, Victoria Edwards, 21, of Hempstead, said that her first week on the job has “made politics come alive” for her.

“I was honestly inspired because he’s the youngest legislator,” Edwards says. “He’s so close to me in age, so I just wanted to see what it was that he was doing, and I wanted to be a part of that in some way.”

It’s jarring to see Lafazan’s zest for public office at a time when Americans are increasingly divided on how government should function — but he’s aware of that contrast. What’s refreshing about Lafazan is that he doesn’t seem to entertain the idea of political opponents or partisanship, often touting his registered independence.

He hopes his optimism can infect some of his jaded colleagues at the infamously combative legislature, and “open up their minds to a new way of doing business,” he says, “the millennial way of doing business.”

Tweezerman Tweezers: A Plucky Success

Dal LaMagna founded Tweezerman.

Dal LaMagna bent over — stark naked — in front of a mirror in 1980 and discovered the pain in his butt that would go on to make him a millionaire.

“I was nude sunbathing, and I got  a splinter in my butt,” LaMagna recalled in a speech in 2001, according to The New York Times.

The tweezers he’d bought from a local drugstore didn’t work, which prompted him to start thinking about what would make them better. This was the start of Tweezerman, now an international personal-care-tool brand launched on the North Shore.

LaMagna burst into the business world with tremendous entrepreneurial spirit. That zest was tested when he moved to Los Angeles to become a filmmaker but was initially unsuccessful. He had other ideas before selling tweezers, such as trying to engineer a baking pan specifically for lasagna — another failure.

The splinter in his rear end was both his rock bottom and his saving grace. He teamed up with a Swiss cosmetics company, Dumont, which eventually became the multimillion-dollar Tweezerman brand — but not before LaMagna practically exhausted his life’s savings. His early struggles ignited his lasting intrigue in American capitalism, about which he’s authored a few books.

Racking up debt in the process of building his tweezer empire, he realized, “You can’t get capital if you don’t have capital. It’s a closed club, and that’s a problem.”

At the peak of the business’s success in 2004, averaging between $25 and $30 million in annual revenues, LaMagna sold Tweezerman to a German company, Zwilling J.A. Henckels. Tweezerman is still a Long Island-based company, headquartered in Port Washington, and its products are sold virtually everywhere.

His relentless work ethic also led him to finance several of his own political campaigns — he twice tried to unseat U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) in 1996 and 2000; and he ran against ex-Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto in 1997.

LaMagna, now 71, is still an entrepreneur. He is president and CEO of IceStone, a company that makes countertops out of recycled glass and cement in Brooklyn. Even today, LaMagna is known for his dedication to the business world, and for the quirky story of that summer afternoon in his birthday suit when he realized he was sitting on a gold mine.

Belmont Racetrack’s Triple Crown Chef

Chef Drew Revella is racing to prepare for Triple Crown crowds at the June 9 Belmont Stakes. (Photo by Nick Ciccone).

The June 9 Belmont Stakes will be Chef Drew Revella’s fifteenth at Centerplate Inc., which coordinates the racetrack’s restaurants and catering. But this year he is racing to prepare for a bigger crowd than usual.

Even with that cushion of experience and his yearlong preparations now coming to a close, there’s no telling what challenges 90,000 hungry guests might bring on the day of the event.

“There’s a love of that chaos,” Revella says. “It’s not like every other job.”

The third and final leg of the American Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes is the longest of them all at 1 1⁄2 miles. That, coupled with the fact that front-runner Justify, the horse that won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness in May, has the potential to become the thirteenth-ever Triple Crown winner, makes it likely that the crowd at Belmont Park’s Elmont arena will be full.

Triple Crown years have a markedly different feel, Revella says, adding that he is not generally a horse racing fan. He said it was incredible when, in 2015, he saw American Pharoah cross the finish line and win the Triple Crown.

“I had one manager who worked with me over 10 years, she was literally crying in my arms because it was such an emotional experience to be part of something that exciting,” Revella recalls. “When you’re down on the track and you feel the horses run by, there’s a feeling you get that — it’s very hard to put words to it — but people know it who watch it.”

Such moments are rare, though. Catering executives and employees rarely catch a glimpse of the events they work.

“I’ve been [at the Belmont Stakes] for two years — haven’t seen it,” says Robert DiChiaro, regional vice president of Centerplate Inc., the event’s caterer. “I’ve worked Super Bowls, World Series, Stanley Cups, Final Fours — very rare that I’ve seen anything.”

He shrugs it off and catches the highlights the next day.

Revella describes working the event as a “near-death experience.” In a similar fashion to the horses’ circuit, Revella moves in circles around more than a dozen satellite kitchen stations, making sure everything is going according to plan. Food preparation begins about nine days before the event, but the bulk of the work can be done only in the hours before race day to preserve freshness.

Revella, 47, of Staten Island, might clock in as early as 2 a.m. during those last few days of preparations, coordinating with hired vendors to execute the menu he crafted specially for this year’s 150th anniversary. His primary focus will be catering to a VIP echelon of guests (nearly 6,000) who have paid as much as $1,200 for a premium experience.

“We have a very New York-centric theme this year,” Revella says. “We’re taking some old subway signs and displaying food on that, and there’s pictures of Old World New York.”

Some of the new menu items this year include Brooklyn-cured GMO-free pastrami, hot dogs, sausages and an array of other charcuterie. Revella aimed to source food as locally as possible, tapping Brooklyn-based Gotham Greens, which produces urban rooftop-grown lettuces that Revella will hand pick ahead of the event.

Revella, who attended culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., says he started cooking at age 6, helping out with the family business — a catering hall. He says he was “bouncing around in the kitchen throwing ingredients in soup kettles.”

Now, as a regional executive chef for Centerplate, he says he channels that fun-loving creativity into how he leads his kitchen staff. In a high-stress role such as preparing for the Belmont Stakes, he urges his staff to stay calm.

“Never panic,” he tells them. “There’s always a solution. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

After thousands flood Belmont Park for the big day, Revella says he will likely “fall down,” but come 8 p.m. he’ll start tweaking his ideas for next year’s event. And June 10 is a regular racing day at Belmont Park, which means the Centerplate team has to be ready to go the next day.

“We still gotta open for another normal day on Sunday,” DiChiaro says. “It’s organized chaos.”

Rev. Todd Bishop Delivers Church Unleashed

P.T. Bishop: Rev. Todd Bishop of Commack’s Church Unleashed evokes The Greatest Showman. (Photo by Nick Ciccone)

It’s 9 a.m. on Easter Sunday, and a few hundred people are talking amongst themselves while a pair of enormous speakers pumps a raucous electronic drumbeat into the main room of Church Unleashed’s Commack campus — a not-so-typical-Sunday at a not-your-typical-church.

While the smoke machines and colored lights are being tested, Rev. Todd Bishop, 45, who co-founded the congregation with his wife, Mary, in 2008, tells me in his office that he’s nervous, which is unusual for him.

“There’s a lot of technical components,” he says, referring to the production he is about to pull off — an Easter spin on The Greatest Showman, with Bishop playing a priestly version of P.T. Barnum.

The church is part of the Assemblies of God, under the Protestant umbrella, which touts more than 13,000 affiliated churches nationwide.

A few dozen young volunteers adapted portions of the musical to mesh with Bishop’s Easter sermon. He is technically in costume from the waist up — wearing a red trench coat with gold lace and a top hat, resting his hands on a cane.

His jeans are ripped at the knee and are part of his regular attire. Bishop, who was raised in Buffalo, says he felt disconnected from church as a child. His parents divorced when he was 2, and he is endearingly quick to reveal that, at times, he is still trying to please his absent father. The youngest of three boys, he says his relationship with God made him feel less alone.

“I would literally be downstairs with my G.I. Joe guys, and be preachin’ to ’em,” he says with a laugh.

Perched on top of a wooded hill in a residential neighborhood, with almost no front facing windows, the former site of Commack Jewish Center looks more like an abandoned warehouse from the outside. Nonetheless, people come from all over Long Island to hear Bishop preach.

“When they walk in, they’re going to get an experience,” he says. “It’s gonna feel like they’re at a concert on a Friday night.”

Liz Sartorio, a congregant and volunteer from Melville, says Church Unleashed is “the best-kept secret on Long Island.”

Others describe it as a place to connect with other Christians — a close-knit community that is somewhat removed from the chaos of day jobs, schoolwork and traditional friendships.

“It’s different than any other church I’ve ever been to, in my entire life. It’s more of a place — not only is it Bible-based — but it’s a place where you can find out who you are,” says Alex Coutrier, of Deer Park. “We’re all looking for something in life, we’re all looking to fulfill our purpose. And I feel like, here, I found out who I was.”

The first church was planted in Hicksville 10 years ago. The second, in Commack, was formed two years ago, and the Bishops just announced a third, planned for Garden City. Not only is that growth unheard of for the area, but so too is the church’s popularity with young people.

Part of the reason for that could be Bishop’s willingness to unpack current events occasionally during his sermons. After the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., for
example, he told the congregaion something to the effect of, “People have the right to bear arms, not arsenals.”

The turnout is a testament to how much the sermons resonate with congregants.

“People today are looking for spiritual leadership on some of these issues that they’re not getting,” he says.

That sentiment resurfaces in his Easter opener — a pre-taped video monologue in character as “P.T. Bishop” — in which he speaks candidly about feeling inadequate, but assuring the audience that God will always satiate. The hopelessness of the times, his insecurity, his fear of failure — it is present in Bishop’s sermon, but he is sure to speak warmly to everyone, as if they’re all in on his little secret.

“It’s a place to belong, much more than you have to believe,” he says of his creation. “Belief comes later.”