Tag Archive | "Arthur Avenue"

Better luck at next year’s Savor the Bronx


The legendary Mario's Restaurant served its regular fare for restaurant week (LINDSAY MINERVA/The Bronx Ink)

Holy cannoli.  No special prices at Mario’s for the Bronx’s first annual restaurant week?
Instead, customers looking for a deal at the iconic Arthur Avenue restaurant were offered a free glass of Montepulciano red wine and a complimentary crash course in all things Italy. Ionic columns and brick arches frame the dining room overflowing with Roman sculptures, portraits of Tuscany, Italian flags, and endless family photos.
Owner Joseph Migliucci said he could not offer a special prix fixe menu because his family-owned business in Belmont already offers the best food on Arthur Avenue at a great price as it is. “Being here 92 years, we feel we’re the best restaurant on Arthur Avenue,” said Migliucci, 73, who has been working at the restaurant named after his father since he was 13 years old.

Mario’s was one of 40 restaurants chosen to participate in “Savor the Bronx,” an event that offered customers a chance to explore the borough’s culinary diversity at a discount from Nov. 1 to Nov. 13. Migliucci believed the promotional two weeks did not bring in any more customers this year.

What started as a pizza parlor with six tables in 1919 now seats more than 100 in what is now one of the most famous Italian restaurants in the city’s “Real Little Italy.”  Migliucci’s father Mario, his uncle Clemente, and great grandmother Scolastia–all originally from Naples–opened the restaurant after they moved to the United States.

The cheesy penne-rigate sorrentina made with southern Italian sauce went for $13.50e with southern Italian sauces. The pasta was hidden beneath a layer of baked mozzarella. Ricotta cheese oozed out of the thick tomato sauce.

Another popular southern Italian dish is the stuffed eggplant for $9, also known as eggplant rollatini. Slightly under-cooked, it hid bits of beef and sausage not mentioned on the menu.

For these heavier dishes, the pleasantly crispy sesame bread with olive oil and butter soaked up the savory tomato sauce. It’s worth a trip to Adieo, where the bread is made everyday, just two stores down.

The clams oreganate at $9 for 5 were seasoned with oregano and baked with bread crumbs are somewhat lighter. The fresh clams–bought from the Cosenza’s fish market across the street–were served with squeezed lemon on top.

“Restaurant Week did not really help us, but it was the first year,” said Migliucci.  “Maybe next year it will catch on.”


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Cannoli and gorillas in the Bronx, Crain’s NY

Local merchants of the city’s largest Little Italy that rely on zoo crowds for business fight Bronx Zoo budget cuts.  Crain’s NY reports that the annual Boo at the Zoo Festival alone brings thousands of families to Arthur Avenue after the festival.  City Hall’s original budget proposal for fiscal 2012 called for a 53% funding cut for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages the zoo.  In protest, Bronx’s Cannoli King, Jerome Raguso, owner of Gino’s Pastry Shop, sent a few dozen empty pastry shells to City Council members. His message said, “This is what you get when you eliminate 53% of a cannoli.”



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Where to eat in the Bronx, Gothamist

From November 1 to 13, the Bronx will host its first ever Restaurant Week, reports Gothamist.  Savor the Bronx promotes many of the borough’s best restaurants on Arthur Avenue and elsewhere and highlights the various types of cuisines.  Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said, “The Bronx is your oyster!”






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DIGITAL BRONX: Milk, sugar, eggs, pixels

By Clara Martinez Turco

Customers order a birtday cake at Valencia Bakery (Photo credit: Clara Martinez Turco)

Inside Valencia Bakery in Mott Haven, the phone almost never stops ringing. Its manager Eddy quickly writes down orders for birthday cakes, detailing fillings and icing colors. “Yellow and black is possible,” he says over the phone to a woman who needs a cake for Sunday.

Meanwhile, customers enter the shop to peek at the glass cases filled with sample cakes. “I grew up eating Valencia cakes,” says a woman as she chose a 9-inch pineapple cake with white creamy frosting for her 10-year-old son’s birthday. Valencia Bakery is fixture of East 138th Street and has been the source for cakes in the neighborhood ever since it opened in 1948.

But six years ago, the bakery launched its website, and now 70 percent of the phone calls it receives are from customers who saw the website and want to either order cakes or inquire about them. “Having the website is the best thing I ever did,” says the store manager Eddy, who is so adamant about using only his first name publicly that it is the only name printed on his business cards.

As traditional stores in the Bronx look for ways to expand their businesses during the post-recession, many retailers have turned to the Internet as a way to build their clientele. Although bakeries and pastry shops, like Valencia and Artuso Pastry, cannot fully embrace online sales because of the perishable nature of their products, they still use online tools to go beyond the reach of the neighborhood’s and the borough’s boundaries.

Artuso's customers can order a mini-cannoli kit online

Unlike Valencia, which uses its website as a showcase for its cakes, Artuso Pastry, a family-owned shop that has been in Little Italy since 1946, has been selling a mini-cannoli kit for the past three years that customers can buy online. It is the only pastry shop in the area that offers this service. “We wanted to launch an e-commerce site to stay relevant and keep up with the times,” says Concetta Artuso Mangano, marketing coordinator at Artuso Pastry.

People who moved out of New York and want a taste of Arthur Avenue order most of the cannoli-kits; other customers buy them as gifts, says Artuso Mangano. Although e-commerce only represents a small part of the pastry shop’s sales, the company plans to expand its online business in the next couple of months by adding more signature items like tiramisu and sfogliatelle pastries.

Artuso Pastry also relies on Facebook to share pictures of its cake creations and to provide a space so customers can share their experiences at the store. “I can’t say how many comments we get where people say ‘I remember when my parents or grandparents used to bring me to your store and I can’t wait to come back to New York,’” says Artuso Mangano, pointing out that their biggest form of advertisement is word of mouth.

Conti's Pastry Shoppe has opened at Morris Park Avenue since 1921

Similarly, most of the new customers of Conti’s Pastry Shoppe, which has been on Morris Park Avenue since 1921, are people who see pictures of their intricate cakes on its Facebook page, its Twitter feed (@ContiConfection) or bakery television shows like Ace of Cakes and the Cake Boss. “They either want to duplicate a cake or do a recreation of a cake they saw, and we don’t say no to anything,” says Conti’s co-owner Sal Paljevic, explaining that one of their most elaborated cakes includes a motorcycle replica.

Conti’s co-owner Christina DiRusso believes the use of social media and Internet sites like Yelp.com and Citysearch.com, where users can rate the shop and leave comments, have also been beneficial because of the buzz they create. “Hearing it from peers and friends works better than the shop telling you ‘We’re great and this is what we do.’ It also feels more authentic,” she says. According to a recent Facebook statement published by The New York Times, customers are more likely to buy items online or visit stores if they see it mentioned on their friends’ Facebook profiles.

Both Conti’s owners agree that having an online presence has allowed them to expand their business in the last eight years, especially when it comes to cakes.

Back at Valencia Bakery, Eddy explains he normally gets calls from people who used to live in the neighborhood and have moved to other states. “But a couple of weeks ago, a gentleman called from Ireland because he had found us online and he wanted to order a birthday cake for his sister who lives in New York,” he says, pointing out they don’t ship cakes but do deliver in the city.

The bakery also has a Facebook account, but Eddy says the website by itself has given him better results. “These days, everyone is on the Internet,” he says, before the phone rings again.

Click here for more stories on the Digital Bronx.

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Take the cannoli — with a heavy dollop of family tradition

Anthony Artuso Sr. may have cannoli and entrepreneurship in his genes.

The Belmont native and one-time aspiring aeronautical engineer recalls scrubbing pots and pans at his father’s pastry shop when he was 13 years old. His father, Vincent Sr., bought the pastry shop for approximately $12,000 in 1946 after returning home from World War II.

Anthony Artuso Sr., in the back of his pastry shop, next to chocolate-dipped cannoli shells. Photo: Brent Ardaugh

Anthony Artuso Sr., in the back of his pastry shop, next to chocolate-dipped cannoli shells. Photo: Brent Ardaugh

Now Artuso, 63, and two of his children, Anthony Jr. and Concetta, have transformed the shop’s retail and wholesale locations into multi-million-dollar pastry powerhouses. According to Artuso, he sells over nine million cannoli a year, and in 2009, the wholesale location alone made nearly $6 million in sales.

His current clients include Whole Foods, Hyatt and the New York Yankees.

Artuso and his brother Joseph operate the retail store on the corner of Vincent F. Artuso Sr. Way and Cambreleng Avenue. Assemblyman José Rivera named a section of East 187th Street after Artuso’s father to honor his dedication and success in the pastry business, a legacy the Artuso family strives to continue every day.

When Artuso comes to work, he sports polished shoes, slacks with a crease, a cell phone above his right hip and an eye for detail.

“That tag on those cookies is falling down,” he said to one of his employees standing behind the glass display case. “See if you can straighten that out.”

Artuso may be meticulous, but he remains well-liked and respected by his employees, some of whom have worked for him for many years.

“He’s a good business man,” said Amanda Rivera, who works behind the counter at Artuso’s retail store. “He’s always telling us that we have to stay focused on the customers.”

Artuso’s interest in customer service is not new. Even as a teenager when he was working for his father, Artuso was interested in recruiting new customers, keeping existing ones and expanding the family business.

Artuso never really considered himself a first-class baker. He was always more of a helper, he said, an experience that he believes helped shape the man he is today.

“In those days when you worked with old-time Italian bakers, they were very rough especially if you were the boss’s son,” said Artuso of his teenage years at his father’s shop. “They [old-time bakers] used to say go to the hardware store and get a gallon of pigeon milk; tell me to go out and get a bucket of steam. I guess it made a man out of you. If you managed to survive, you became a better person.”

Years later, when Artuso became the boss, his children worked for him and also took away many life lessons.

“I’ve really learned a great sense of business from my father,” said Artuso’s daughter Concetta, who operates the wholesale location in Mount Vernon with her brother. “My father taught me how to think like a customer and how to be sensitive to their issues.”

Artuso did not acquire his clever business sense by accident. When he was growing up, Artuso would spend such long hours working that his mother would make Sunday dinner in the back of the pastry shop.

When Artuso was nine years old, he would go to the liquor store located across the street from the shop to buy beer and wine for dinner. The employees at the liquor store would sell him liquor, even though they knew he was underage, because they knew his father.

When Artuso returned to the shop, he and his family would sit down to eat macaroni and meatballs with tomato sauce, at the same marble table they used to prepare cakes on previous days. Today, if he had the choice to have one plate of any food in the world, Artuso said it would be his mother’s homemade bolognese gravy with rigatoni.

When customers enter Artuso’s pastry shop, they are treated like members of his family.

“The Artuso family is not only the finest bakery in the world but the finest family in New York City,” said Thomas Leigh, who stopped into the shop to show Artuso a picture of his son in the newspaper. “There’s no soup kitchen nearby; they come here and the Artusos feed them. We’re talking about the work of Jesus Christ.”

Over the years, Artuso has hired hundreds of employees from the local community in his attempt to help residents secure and maintain jobs. He has also donated gift certificates and cakes to charitable organizations and helped put underserved people in contact with landlords.

The Belmont community was not always like it is today, he explained. He says it hit rock bottom in the 1990s before a revival. Sales increased and crime in the neighborhood went down. He attributed the revival in part to local attractions like the Bronx Zoo, Fordham University and the New York Botanical Garden.

“We’re opening up another retail location and trying to expand the wholesale business,” said Artuso. “If my father knew about all this expansion, he would be smiling right now.”

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Burek: From the Balkans to the Bronx

Tony and Tina’s, a mom-and-pop joint tucked away on Arthur Avenue, has been making burek the Albanian way for more than 15 years. A story by Rania Zabaneh and Elif Ince.

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