“DRIVEN” TO CARRY ON HIS FAMILY’S LEGACY, A MIDDLESEX COUNTY HEAD BARTENDER CRAFTS HIS FUTURE LIKE HIS COCKTAILS
BY GILDA ROGERS • PHOTOS BY TOM ZAPCIC
At the Nuccio family owned Café Luna, the family friendly charm radiates throughout every corner of the contemporary Italian eatery. Owners Vincent and Josephine Nuccio are passing this successful combination on to their son, Vincent Nuccio Jr.
“At 16 years old, my parents told me, ‘If you go to work in the business, we’ll get you a car,’ ” laughed the younger Nuccio, who eagerly took them up on their offer. Driving his Honda Civic to the restaurant, he worked his way up from delivery boy to busboy to eventually server, and he is now the lead bartender.
The family takes pride in the longevity of their two restaurant locations. On Staten Island, Café Luna has been serving fresh, high quality authentic Sicilian cuisine, delectable desserts, and more for three decades. The second location, based in Old Bridge, has been in operation for nine fruitful years, resonating the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
“We always keep a family vibe in the restaurants,” said Nuccio. “The atmosphere is warm, and we know our customers by their names.” Nuccio, 28, spearheads the bar, working six days per week. The mixologist has no regrets forgoing the party life that most people his age are into in exchange for learning the restaurant business from top to bottom.
“I lost two cousins, and that changed my perspective on life,” said Nuccio, who strived to process the loss as a motivating factor for success as opposed to “sitting on the couch depressed and being sad.”
He meets with all his bartenders to create the cocktail menu together. The “Pink Kitty,” a potently smooth vanilla vodka-based libation, has been a staple on the cocktail menu for ten years. The restaurant’s extensive wine selection provides the ideal accompaniments to favored menu items like frittatas, specialty pizzas, and elevated pastas, plus meat, fish, and chicken dishes.
The affable lead bartender explained he enjoys engaging in conversations with his customers. His ethos is there are those who may have had a rough day at work, but good conversation paired with popular cocktails like an old fashioned, Manhattan, cosmo, or the tried-and-true dirty martini have a way of making life a little more mellow.
An avid reader, Nuccio may have bypassed college to work in the family business, but he didn’t negate an insatiable desire to advance his vernacular, which he attributes to reading.
“I got into a fight in high school,” he said. “I was given in-school suspension and a book to read, To Kill A Mockingbird, and that’s how I got into reading.”
He relishes mystery novels; the last book Nuccio read was The Buried Dagger by James Swallow.
With experience in nearly every facet of restaurant duties, the mixologist feels he has paid his dues over the years learning the day-to-day operation of managing the restaurant and bar, or what he refers to as the “outside” workings of the eatery. He has now set his sights on learning the “inside” – the kitchen.
“I am currently looking into attending culinary school,” he said, adding he wants to continue to grow within the business and one day carry out his parents’ wishes for him to take over.
3679 U.S. ROUTE 9, OLD BRIDGE / 732.965.5490 / cafelunanj.com