THE MARINA CAFÉ HAS BEEN A STAPLE AT THE GREAT KILLS MARINA; FOR 34 YEARS, PROPRIETORS SAM AND JOYCE CORIGLIANO HAVE WELCOMED THE COMMUNITY INTO “THEIR SECOND HOME” FOR MEALS, HOLIDAYS, AND OTHER SPECIAL OCCASIONS.
Last Thanksgiving, for example, the phone rang off the hook with clients desperate for the restaurant to be open for their traditional holiday celebrations.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards.
When Hurricane Sandy struck the area in October 2012, it left behind it devastation that most Staten Islanders had only heard about or seen on TV news. That kind of destruction just didn’t happen in New York City.
But it did. Quiet residential streets with single family homes were suddenly abandoned. Boats from the marina were tossed about on the shore. The Marina Café and the Richmond County Yacht Club—neighbors on Mansion Avenue—were simply destroyed.
At first look, Sam thought it was time to end that chapter in his life. After more than three decades years in the restaurant industry, to have the business he loved ruined was too much. “There I was, at 65 years old…thinking of not moving forward. I thought of getting out instead,” said Corigliano, from the office of his recently re-opened restaurant. “My grandson, who was 19 at the time—he doesn’t even work here, but he grew up here—he said, ‘You can’t walk away. It’s your legacy. You have too much goodwill to walk away. It’s a staple.’ With his inspiration, I moved forward.”
The road ahead would be a long one, but worthwhile. The restaurant had some structural damage, needed new electrical service and plumbing, as well as a complete interior redesign and redecoration. With all of the work that lay ahead, Sam and Joyce acknowledged that the process was akin to opening a new business entirely, with certain key differences.
“When I originally opened, I was in my 30s…the world was still in front of me. We didn’t know what we were building. We didn’t know if it would work,” recalled Corigliano. “After the storm, we knew what we’d lost. Not only did I feel bad for myself, I felt for the dozens of employees who lost jobs.”
But amid the heartbreak of this new reality, Corigliano powered forward, with his wife’s help. With the sheetrock removed and the interior gutted, it was time to get to broader work. They called on interior designer and decorator Alex Fernandez (who had done their renovation in 2004) to work on the new design. The ’04 renovation left the dining room open, with modern sail art hanging from the ceiling. “It was a very California look. I loved it,” Corigliano said. “Now it has a metropolitan feel.” While he would not have chosen to redecorate, he embraced this new opportunity. “Alex and Joyce collaborated on this,” the owner explained. “They came out with something beautiful. The place is gorgeous—it’s very New York.”
The 140-seat dining room’s windows, overlooking the marina, had caved in, so new ones were constructed—reinforced with steel and made stronger. A new bar was built—made deeper so that more clients could enjoy dinner there, and additional flat screen TVs were added.
The restaurant is now finished in metallics and grays. “I call it 50 shades of gray. I tease them,” Corigliano joked of the decoration. “To be honest, it’s not me, but they have the vision. The reality is that wives pick the restaurants to go to, and the response from women has been great.”
In addition to aesthetics, the rebuild took environmental factors into account, including the installation of energy-efficient heating and low voltage lighting. (The building and ALX Interiors will also be entered into the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce’s Building Awards in several categories, including decoration, design, and Sandy restoration.)
In hindsight, Corigliano, a Prince’s Bay resident, said that the storm made the place even better.
“Whatever happened, happened for the better,” he said, smiling.
In all, the renovation took 13 months, though the business was unable to open for the popular Thanksgiving feast.
“We were getting calls constantly, begging us to try to make Thanksgiving, but we couldn’t do it last year. We didn’t want to fall short of what we used to do,” noted Corigliano. The grand re-opening was on December 3, followed by several weeks of a soft re-launch. “It was like opening a completely new business.”
Fortunately, the vast majority of staffers are back (including the chef ), and the Marina Café is once again a go-to for Staten Islanders looking to enjoy a meal in a signature waterfront setting.
“The rest of the area seems to be back; the whole street, we’re all moving forward,” noted the owner. The space wasn’t the only element to receive an overhaul; the menu is also new and will be further changed for fall and winter to embrace seasonal ingredients.
“The menu has evolved with the times. The food industry is constantly changing,” Corigliano acknowledged. “We researched what was hot, what was not, reflecting what the customers like. We are not Manhattan. People on Staten Island want to come out to eat a good meal and go home full. They eat with their eyes and their stomach.”
He described the fare as Mediterranean eclectic—featuring staples like fried calamari, filet minion, and lobster. The offerings include pasta and a raw bar as well.
“We offer grilled warm octopus salad, brick over pizette, and we’re famous for the Italian eggroll,” Corigliano said. “We tried to create things not seen on any other menu. We’re trying to get out of the box…do something different.”
The restaurant’s lunch crowd is mostly retirees, while evenings are popular with couples, groups, and parties. Outside, the tiki bar serves a younger crowd lighter fare. Corigliano claims he’s “technically retired”—starting to step back a little and let his daughter, son, and son-in-law oversee the day-to-day operations. “I’m sort of their advisor. I haven’t relinquished responsibilities, though” he smiled.
154 Mansion Ave. / 718.967.3077 / marinacafesi.com