Frank Bono of Brightwaters is just 27, but has enough experience opening and running restaurants to last a few lifetimes.
Bono was part of the team that oversaw the rapid expansion of the immensely popular Doppio restaurant in Greenwich, Conn., into six different cities over just a few years — including the one in Huntington Village.
The partners sold off the restaurant group last September and within a month Bono had zeroed in on a location for a new place that would be all his own.
And it’s just minutes from where he grew up in Brightwaters.
Primi Italian Steakhouse opened its doors earlier this year in West Islip.
“I have a very good understanding of the restaurant business and wanted to come back down to the South Shore, where I’m from,” Bono said. “I was looking to get engaged and this was where we wanted to settle down, Right away I was looking for a restaurant space that was ready to go.”
Then he noticed the sign outside Nonnina — an Italian restaurant that was open for eight years — had come down. Just west of Robert Moses Causeway in West Islip, Bono said he had liked the scene at Nonnina, which he knew for its gorgeous bar and “slamming Margaritas.”
With the go-ahead from his partner and investor, Mike Weber, also of Brightwaters, Bono was signing a lease and getting to work on his Italian Steakhouse as soon as October.
He had a soft opening in late December, and has since brought in a ringer for the kitchen.
Bono’s still-close friend Louis Barresi, the chef who opened (and still owns) the original Doppio in Greenwich eight years ago with his brother, Joe, has committed to overseeing the kitchen.
“He had helped me with the concept as soon as I got the keys,” Bono said, “and about a month and a half in, I asked if he could stay and be the executive chef. We worked very well together. And I had helped him; I ran his six restaurants. Now he’s helping me.”
The renovations that started last fall were cosmetic, for the most part, with Bono and Barresi teaming up on the design concepts that modernized the old Nonnina.
The place was fully opened in January.
Construction is still to come, with a new bar and lounge area to be built within the coming days, as well as outside improvements.
As for the food, Bono said he had first thought about casual Italian, but changed his mind as soon as he started walking around the 4,000-square-foot space and its upstairs catering loft.
“I was thinking, this place screams high end,” he said. “I couldn’t just put a burn-and-turn kind of restaurant in here. We’re not on Main Street; we’re more of a destination. I would equate it to a Blackstone or an Insignia. People can plan on coming here for a big night.”
But Bono took care to keep a variety of price points available on the menu, for that flexibility to keep couples and families coming on a regular basis.
Bono expects to be getting to know many of those people — if he doesn’t know them already.
“It’s great to be back in this neck of the woods,” said Bono, whose grandmother was an owner of Tre Amici in Babylon Village from 1987 to 1994, before she moved back to Italy.
So Bono grew up not only in the Bay Shore area, but in restaurants.
“I love it here. I already know a lot of the people and now I’m just putting down roots,” he added, noting his fiancé, Meghan Smith, is also from Brightwaters.
As for the restaurant, “It’s all about just trying to maximize this place’s potential,” he said.
Click here for the full dinner menu.
WHAT WE WOULD ORDER:
Grilled Octopus (18) and *Arancini (13) rice croquettes with bolognese ragu, fontina.
Pappardelle (26) in a braised lamb ragu
Steaks and Chops
Dry-aged New York Strip (47)
Creamed Spinach (12) and Tuscan Fries (10)
Photos of Frank Bono and Primi Italian Steakhouse by Michael White