Shame, Shame Parks Department


| vschneps@queenscourier.com |

We all have a lot to be proud of, seeing the many improvements in our Queens parks, but I must say, I believe we have been betrayed by the city’s Parks Department Franchise Division. It’s their responsibility to select the operators of the many facilities owned by the city, but leased to private companies.  One of these is the former Caffé on the Green at the foot of the Throgs Neck Bridge, on the service road of the Cross Island Parkway!
For years the property was successfully operated by Joe Franco and under his leadership it became one of the premier restaurants in the city – and of course in our borough. Let it be known that he was paying the city over half a million dollars a year in franchise fees.
For whatever reason, his contract to operate was not renewed and another operator was selected. Joe asked the city to let him operate until the new franchisee got his licenses in place, but they never responded and he was forced to close a year ago.
Caffé on the Green employed 88 people and was a huge source of tax revenue. Joe was a respected employer, giving many of his employees a pension profit sharing plan, to the tune of $600,000. His restaurant provided income to dozens of companies, from linen suppliers to meat and liquor wholesalers.
He was also a generous donor to hundreds of charities who held, at deep discounts, events at his restaurant. Sadly, it will be a year December 31 and we see only an empty shell standing silently, serving no one, generating no income to the city or to the community.
I met the Friendship Restaurant Group, comprised of three brothers – Giorgio, John and Paul Kolaj – and two non-related industry insiders, Andrew Pappas and Don Pintabona – owners of Famous Famiglia, a chain of pizzerias in airports and other food establishments around the country. I met them shortly after they won the franchise rights.  They decided to call the restaurant Valentino’s and redo the place from top to bottom. I even met the proposed chef, formerly of the Tribeca Grill, and the managers.  I did an article in our newspapers and had a photo taken of them in front of a photo of Rudolf Valentino who lived in the former house. 
I believed they would be proceeding – they were even talking about taking wedding reservations while the renovations were going on. Sadly, nothing is happening.  Calls to Paul, the lead brother involved in the project, were answered. He said he had been waiting for a Buildings Department permit to put in an elevator and the city’s Design Commission. We know he did finally get the approvals.
There is also the question of his getting a liquor license – does this mean that we will have to wait another year?
Shame, shame on the city bureaucracy for dragging its feet on many levels and allowing a prime location – and an important part of our community – to lay vacant and lose revenue. How long will we have to wait?!
Stay tuned!