THIS ICONIC BAKERY TURNED ITALIAN CAFÉ CELEBRATES ITS NEWEST HOME IN THE GARDEN STATE
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN PHOTOS BY AMANDA DOMENECH & ERIC COLEMAN
At his celebrated 13th Avenue bakery in Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights, Frank Santo has a reputation among Kings County residents for serving legendary desserts. Pumping out mousse cake, cheesecake, and an infamously decadent caramel cone, Santo put his smallish, family owned Aunt Butchie’s bake shop on the map by providing an array of mouth-watering sweets for consumers and restaurants alike. In early 2011, the partners saw an opportunity to bring their home away from home concept to the other side of the Verrazzano, and seven years later, they expanded again.
“We opened up as a small bakery and café on what was then this quiet strip of Arthur Kill Road, and people thought we were crazy,” noted Joe Pernice, one of the restaurant’s partners, describing Aunt Butchie’s quiet Staten Island start. “But in the past ten years, we have expanded at that location two times and recently opened another outpost in New Jersey. So I guess you could say the concept was on point.”
The success and massive growth of the Staten Island location laid the groundwork for the Marlboro expansion, the former beginning on the ground level of a strip mall with a small counter service lunch menu in addition to Santo’s famed confections. Eventually the menu transitioned from sandwiches, soups, and salads to scratch made Italian specialities like baked spaghetti and fritto misto.
“We started experimenting with the food,” noted partner Pete Marcolini, a former distributor of Italian specialty foods who worked routes in both Brooklyn and Staten Island. “Meatballs and pasta were the next natural step. Then, as the store expanded, I started making some of my old world family recipes like osso buco and tripe.”
Marcolini, who Pernice and Santo refer to as the “unschooled chef,” discovered his passion for cooking while delivering fresh mozzarella.
“I was always in and out of these kitchens, and I used to watch them cook,” Marcolini said, referring to his daily trips to delis, hotels, and specialty stores. “I had also cooked for years with my grandfather, so I’ve always had a passion for food.”
In 2018, after recognizing a need for their type of restaurant in New Jersey, the partners decided to expand again.
“We made the progression from Brooklyn to Staten Island, so the next natural step was to go to Jersey,” Pernice explained of Aunt Butchie’s newest location, on Route 9 in Marlboro. “We purchased the property and renovated the whole building.”
“It was a raw space,” continued Allyson Tozzo, managing partner who oversees operations at the Marlboro location. “We knew it needed a complete gut. My vision was to renovate the space and incorporate fresh elements into it. The concept is definitely the same home away from home, friendly neighborhood restaurant, but a little more upscale. I wanted to keep it fresh with a neutral, distressed, rustic feel. That’s timeless and will never go away. When people walk in, they are blown away by the 120 year old barnwood.”
Focusing on the same demographic, the New Jersey location features a similar menu – Italian eggrolls, entrées like chicken limoncello and pork chop scarpiello, and artisan pizza are stars, as is the soft ball sized meatball, made from 100% beef. And, of course, there are those famous desserts – deep fried cheesecake, cannoli dip, and Nutella pie are among the most popular offerings.
Private events have become another rapid area of growth for the eatery, and this is where Tozzo explained she is really in her element. She joined the Aunt Butchie’s operation when the Staten Island location first opened, starting as a server while pursuing a degree in event planning before becoming a partner.
“I was able to take my experience with the restaurant industry tied with event coordinating, and I started planning all of the on-site and off premise events. It eventually became another division of the company.”
The Marlboro outpost has two separate party rooms and hosts a panoply of different affairs, from small, casual soirées to formal celebrations of up to 100 people. Aunt Butchie’s has been the site for countless rehearsal dinners, baby showers, bridal showers, engagement dinners, company dinners, and more. Tozzo has even planned several weddings for couples who had to cancel their ceremonies amid the pandemic. “We were able to do something a little more intimate for them,” explained the event planner.
“I love planning these milestones for people,” she continued. “I take a lot of time to sit with my clients to help plan events; we customize things down to the menu, napkins, cakes, centerpieces, decorations, etc. I like to keep everything under one roof.”
And as the iconic nameplate continues to evolve and flourish with a refined menu, classic chic décor, and a thriving event business, the partners explained the atmosphere and warmth will never change.
“This is a true family friendly place,” concluded Tozzo. “You feel welcomed. You can come in straight from the beach or to celebrate a milestone.”
Aunt Butchie’s of Brooklyn
4864 Arthur Kill Road, Staten Island / 718.227.0002
430 Route 9 North, Marlboro, NJ / 732.851.6626
Aunt Butchie’s Desserts
6901 13th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY / 718.256.2933