By Amy Nicole Tangel
Patio Pizza of St. James, NY, has been a family-owned and operated staple in this Long Island community feeding people for the past 43 years, and recently owner, Guy Caligiuri has been thrust into the public eye making national news after receiving a recent tweet of support for his business from the nation’s President.
A little over two weeks ago his whole world was turned around when a customer came into Patio Pizza restaurant and told one of his employees she would boycott and put an end to Guy’s business by spreading the word on social media if he did not take down a Trump 2020 flag hanging outside the back entrance to the pizza place. Having been in the food industry for a long time and after years of dealing with customers, he said he didn’t think too much of it, but within a very short time Guy began receiving notifications from people that in fact his name and business were being attacked on social media.
“It’s just hanging out in the back there. You really have to go out of your way to see it,” he said.
In a sign of the times, Guy said he had decided to hang his flag discreetly in the back of his establishment after his wife expressed concerns about having it hanging at their home due to the possibility of it causing conflict on their block. He said he did not want any trouble, but as an American citizen and a human being, he said he felt he had a right to express his opinion in a respectful manner and exercised his right to do so.
The next day, Guy said an impromptu rally of support formed in front of his restaurant leaving him feeling “blown away by the response and outpouring” from his community. People from all sides of the spectrum showed up to support the business. Guy said he is just a person who loves his family and his community, and he wasn’t trying to offend anyone. The following day he wrote a post on Facebook sharing his story of what had transpired and what it meant to him, and his post spread like fire.
“This was all in response to her post. It was the community that got together to say, ‘hey, this is wrong, and we’ve got your back.’ I have a lot of friends in this town after 43 years,” he said.
Still in disbelief at how fast it all happened, Guy said before he knew it, he was on the phone with Fox News and was asked to be a guest on Varney & Co. to share his story. On July 30, 2020, the pizza proprietor was interviewed by Stuart Varney during the Fox Business segment and within minutes of the interview a tweet came from President Trump’s Twitter account expressing his support of the establishment.
“Support Patio Pizza and its wonderful owner, Guy Caligiuri, in St. James, Long Island (N.Y.). Great Pizza!!!” tweeted the President.
Thanks to the tweet, “People are coming from all over Long Island. From Montauk to Brooklyn,” he said.
In an ironic twist of fate, what started out as an attempt to bully and defame a person and their business, because of a difference in opinion, turned into an example of kindness and compassion from not only Guy’s community, but from across the country. Guy said his initial reaction to the boycott attempt against his business on Facebook was disbelief. He said he could not believe all of his years of service to the community was being threatened by someone who didn’t even know him, his family or any of the things he has done to help people in St. James. Through it all, the Smithtown native said he is grateful most of all for the customers and his staff. In the kitchen, Guy takes great pride in his cooks and said they have been dedicated to their careers with their lengths of employment starting at 17 years, topping out at 35 years and counting. Patio Pizza was opened by Guy’s father in 1977 a few steps down the road from their current location on Lake Avenue, and throughout all the years, Guy said he has been dedicated to making sure he takes care of his employees and his customers. On any given day you can find him stopping by seemingly every table to say hello and chatting with his customers while busing tables and doing whatever is needed to help his staff.
“They are at work and they are happy. They are happy to be here. If I prosper, they prosper,” he said.
Whether it’s hurricanes, blizzards, blackouts or floods, Guy said he is open through it all. When Hurricane Sandy hit, he walked from his house a mile and a half away and climbed over downed trees to open, and said with his two generators running, he had power and began feeding people. He said it is important to him to make sure he is there for his community when they are in need. Throughout the pandemic, Patio Pizza has contributed to nursing homes, Stony Brook ER, Long Island State Veterans Home and has supported many organizations in St. James throughout the years such as sporting events at Smithtown High School.
“If they can’t cook, I’ll cook for them,” he said.
Aside from the pizza, Guy said the signature dish of Patio Pizza is his Chicken Cisco, an entrée of chicken, spinach and fresh mushrooms served over rigatoni in a pink sauce, but his eggplant is a quick second, followed by other customer favorites like their chicken parmigiana hero and turkey melt. While you dine at Patio Pizza during the summer months, you can enjoy your meal at one of the many spacious and socially distanced outside patio tables with full-service waitstaff and a relaxed and uplifting atmosphere of the live music currently provided daily.
Family is at the root of everything to the father of five and grandfather of six. As inspiration, Patio Pizza regularly hosts annual events such as “Cinderella Night” and “Superhero Night,” where the staff dresses in theme and families can bring their children dressed in costume for a family-filled time of pony rides, live music, and face painting. Guy said it’s all about making kids happy and even though he is disappointed it cannot happen this year due to COVID, he is looking forward to next year. Hanging on the wall in the restaurant is a mural of photos of countless people–family, friends, and customers who have touched Guy’s heart. He said he is just a friendly guy who tries to be kind to others.
For more information about Patio Pizza you can visit them on Facebook or at http://www.patiopizzastjames.com.
Photo credit: Amy Nicole Tangel and Kate Fox