An antique picture of Luigi Riso sits in his grandson Raymond’s office in Bayside. The mustached Riso is well-dressed in the fading photo. Riso, an Italian immigrant who came to New York by way of Argentina, was working as a carpenter when he started L. Riso & Sons Co. Inc. in 1912.
His sons, Vincent and Dominic, took over the company in the late 1920s and built a housing development in Jackson Heights which still stands today.
A 1927 photo of the building, with Vincent and Dominic standing in front, hangs in the conference room at the Briarwood Organization’s office – the company that grew from L. Riso & Sons – among pictures and drawings of the buildings that have come since.
The Briarwood Organization is celebrating 100 years in business that includes a storied past and still has the family dynamic it did when Luigi Riso started the company in the early 1900s.
Today the company is run by four partners: Luigi’s grandsons and Vincent’s sons, Vincent L. and Raymond Riso; Raymond’s son James; and Howard Goodman, who is regarded as a brother by the Riso brothers. The company not only does general contracting, but consults, manages, develops and does joint ventures.
The walls of the office, located in Bayside at 36-35 Bell Boulevard, can tell a story of the company alone. There are plaques for various awards and photos of buildings that the partners have tried to make affordable to residents of communities throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and most of all, Queens.
Like many other companies, the organization bloomed in the 1920s, including the housing development in Jackson Heights. “They did quite well,” said Vincent L. Riso.
And like countless others, the company took a hit during the Great Depression, but bounced back after World War II.
When the current generation took over in the late 1960s, buildings began to spring up like the company had never seen before – many of which are now fixtures on Bell Boulevard in Bayside, where Vincent L. and Raymond Riso grew up.
These buildings include The Atrium at 38-46, which was constructed in the late 1960s – a second floor added a few years later – and is now home to Tiger Schulman karate and several other businesses.
In total, according to the company’s web site, the Briarwood Organization has received 16 awards from the Queens Chamber of Commerce — the most recent in 2001.
The mortar that keeps the bricks of the company together is more than just cement and a good work ethic — it’s family.
The Riso brothers said they’ve known and worked with Goodman for close to 45 years and he currently works as a designer and planner for the company. His buildings, they said, are not only aesthetically appealing, but are managed well for space.
“We’ve worked together so long, he’s like family,” Vincent L. Riso said.
The legacy of the company is not, however, just laid out in the foundation of its buildings across most of New York City. The partners are actively involved in many community organizations, including St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children, where Vincent L. Riso sits on the Board of Directors.
Raymond Riso said his son started out volunteering in the kitchen at St. Mary’s while he was a student at Holy Cross High School. He said his son became so popular with the children there that, “Everytime he came in they would crowd around him,” said the father of four and grandfather of nine.
Jeff Frerichs, president and CEO of St. Mary’s, complimented the company’s service to the community and particularly the hospital.
“With a business philosophy that fosters community-minded development and involvement, The Briarwood Organization and its principals, Vincent, Raymond and James Riso, [and Howard Goodman] are long-time supporters of St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children and are strong advocates for children with special needs,” he said. “St. Mary’s is privileged to have the Riso family as part of our family.”
Other times, Briarwood members have mixed their dedication to the public with its construction of more than 3,500 housing units. Many housing units they have constructed, the Riso brothers said, were designed to be affordable housing for people to continue to live in New York City.
These efforts, they said, have tried to raise more depressed areas back up and recreate once-thriving communities.
Vincent L. Riso said giving back to the community was one of the most rewarding things about being in business. “If feels good to give something back,” he said. “You get back 10 times what you give. Just the satisfaction alone is most of it.”
Today Briarwood is still building up areas, and has a keen eye on the future.
They are currently working on Briarwood Plaza II at 36-29 Bell Boulevard. The project is expected to be completed by the spring of 2013, Vincent L. Riso said, and will house businesses and medical offices.
James Riso is working on two projects in Brooklyn — one will be for the Brooklyn Diocese.
Overall, they said they would like to continue to grow and develop homes that people can afford, and are great places to live.
“I hope to see us expand our operations and go into the future with more and more rental properties, especially for lower-income people,” Vincent L. Riso said.
The key to staying strong, the partners believe, is staying positive no matter how hard or trying the economic times.
“In order to be a developer, you have to be an optimist,” said Vincent L. Riso. “We are optimists.”