Sal Scognamillo Takes Patsy’s Beyond Midtown

041508 sitdown web Sal Scognamillo Takes Patsy’s Beyond MidtownLocation: After more than 60 years as a stand-alone midtown Manhattan restaurant, you’re opening a second Patsy’s Italian Restaurant in … Atlantic City?

Mr. Scognamillo: We can’t be more excited, and the partner that we’ve found at the Hilton Casino, they are just as excited as we are.

This was so important to us, because, really, it’s our little baby; I mean, we have our little baby here and we want someone to be taking care of it and nurturing it and treating it the right way.

The Patsy’s brand name has been in the news a lot lately, what with the recent trademark lawsuit against Patsy’s Pizzeria on Long Island. If the term “Patsy’s” is so sacred to this specific site at 236 West 56th Street in Manhattan, does it undermine the brand to now stick one in New Jersey?

This was done with more than what I’d call careful thought. We’ve talked about this on and off for 5 or 10 years. When we do something, we try to do it the right way, like when we decided to bottle our sauce for distribution in supermarkets. We must have gone to 30 or 40 co-packers. Most of the time, they would say, ‘Well, we’re making an Italian sauce already, why don’t you just give us the label and we’ll slap it on the bottle?’ That’s the wrong idea. Eventually, we found someone to do it the right way.

How did this deal come about?

They approached us. Originally we talked about Las Vegas. And Vegas was too far away for us to control it—at least for the first one. Atlantic City, I can hop in a car and be there in two hours. I don’t have to worry about a plane ticket. It was an element of trust [at the Hilton]. When my father, Joe, who is 75 years old, was talking to [hotel management] about this, you had that sense of comfort that—even though we have to do everything on paper now because there are lawyers involved in everything—that this could have been done on a handshake and we all would’ve been comfortable with it.

We had another opportunity in Las Vegas that we turned down two years ago. It was in the Paris Hotel. We didn’t feel comfortable with the people running it.

The business that we’re taking over [in Atlantic City] has been there for 30 years: Caruso’s Italian Restaurant.

I’m proud to say that when I went there three or four times incognito, I got excellent service from the staff. It’s a major plus to have a competent staff to start out with.

So it’s a good fit?

The hotel used to be called the Golden Nugget. How appropriate is that, the Golden Nugget, where Frank Sinatra performed, for us to be there?

Would Sinatra approve of your opening in Atlantic City?

There never was a greater cheerleader.

There seems to be a lot of reinvestment in Atlantic City these days. What excites you about that location?

I see Atlantic City being like Vegas was maybe 15 years ago, where they had this whole resurgence. Vegas is arguably one of the food capitals of the world now. I think Atlantic City appreciates that and is trying to upgrade itself to that point. And it’s really wonderful for us to be getting in on the ground floor.

Will the new restaurant be bigger?

It’s probably about the same amount of square footage, but it’s all on one level. [The original] Patsy’s has two dining rooms [upstairs and downstairs]. Here, we seat around 165. Over there, you’re looking at about 180.

Better rent?

That’s fortunately something we don’t have to worry about. We own the building [in Manhattan]. Thank God.

Same décor?

As best as possible we’ve matched everything. We’ve pre-approved the fabrics, pre-approved the flooring, pre-approved the paintings. They’re using the same dishes as us, the same glassware. Almost down to the salt and pepper shakers.

But what’s interesting is, they didn’t have a bar. So they’re going to put in a really nice bar. It’s going to match the mahogany that we have here at Patsy’s.

Same menu?