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The Common Good

Susan Lunny Keag A- A A+

This restaurants motto of ‘eat good, do good’ – and its tasty fare- keeps customers coming

Looking for a place to get a bite to eat while giving back to your community?

While dining out may feel like a guilty pleasure, that’s not the case at one local quick-service restaurant. At COMMONS Café, 100 percent of the profits go to charity, an idea of Richard and Lois Nicotra’s that came to fruition in December, and the Bloomfield eatery is nestled near two of the Nicotras most recently developed office buildings at the Teleport.

“You’re providing jobs for people. You’re providing a service for tenants in the Corporate Park and the neighbors (on Staten Island), and you’re able to help charity on Staten Island. That’s a great business model,” said Nicotra, whose philanthropic investment of $1 million has led others to compare him to famed philanthropist Paul Newman.

“I’ve always been an admirer of Paul Newman,” said Nicotra, of the late actor whose business venture Newman’s Own is still thriving today. “He created a business that was totally about profits going to charity.”

While Nicotra jokes that he may not have Newman’s blue eyes, he does have a similar business model. At COMMONS café, the motto “Eat Good. Do Good” is clear to patrons as they enter the quick-service eatery. A bright large yellow sign stating, “Together We Do Good” as one enters lets customers know how much has been raised since the eatery opened (almost $42,000). The sign also tells visitors the organizations and individuals its profits have helped, including the Art Lab, the American Cancer Society-Relay for Life, the St. George Theater, Staten Island Zoo, the Unity Games, the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum, Cooley’s Anemia, Sandy Ground Historical Society, and a host of schools and students.

While people stand on line to order their food, it’s not uncommon to hear, “Does the money made really go to charity?”  “It’s really hard to believe, but they’re [the Nicotras] doing it,” said café manager Chris Wolff, on a quick break from his busy lunch crowd which is non-stop from 1:00 to 3 p.m. “Staten Island is really near and dear to the Nicotras’ heart.”

Nicotra created and franchised the successful Everything Yogurt chain in the 70s, and opened the successful Lorenzo’s Restaurant, Bar & Cabaret and Nicotra’s Ballroom in 2001. COMMONS Café, however, marks the first time he’s connecting his interest in philanthropy with a business model.

The menu, according to Nicotra, is a throwback to his days at Everything Yogurt. There are sandwiches, salads and yes, even yogurt. Nicotra’s favorite dishes on the menu are the black bean veggie burger and the turkey and brie sandwich. Wolff notes that other popular selections are the turkey cheddar club sandwich, a create-your-own salad and of course, the COMMONS burger, featuring the famed “un-common sauce.”

While the concept may seem simple, there’s nothing simple about Nicotra’s hopes for the business for its first year. “We hope to do—in our first year—close to a million dollars,” he said, adding that the café will soon begin hosting regular fund-raising events for specific organizations. Other plans for the business—which features an outside seating area for 60—include providing entertainment for patrons.

“We built a beautiful stage for summer lunches and dinners,” added Nicotra.  Live music—slated for Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.—will not only entertain customers but give young musicians a chance to showcase their talents, said Wolff. Nicotra also has plans to expand in the near future.

“We plan to have at least three total on Staten Island,” he said, adding that the other locations for the businesses will be at both North and South Shores. “After all, the more business we do, the more money we can give out!”

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RICHARD HARDT

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