Joe Alayon is as Staten Island as they come.
Before Basil Cucina, Joe was working his way up to manager of Towne Deli, a local pizzeria and deli in neighboring Tottenville. The infrastructure and the quality of food were there, but it took someone like Joe to channel its potential into something bigger. By refocusing efforts on greater operational organization, sales and accounts, and a catering line, Joe’s business savvy and handling over the next twelve years paid off. Towne Deli grew from a small mom and pop store to a credible local institution.
But Joe had hit the ceiling. Seeing his friends open their own stores and having consulted for years, he wanted to create his own venture. Coincidentally, his co-worker Tony Marzook, who once worked at Faicco’s Italian Specialties in the West Village, was also looking for the next step. With his urging, Joe decided to embark on his next journey with his newfound business partner. It was a natural meeting of the minds.
Joe, the robust front-of-the-house lays his hand on the wood paneling affixed to the wall mural painted with basil leaves. “Me and Tony went to Amish Town. We spent 15 hours there,” he reminisces. They cut the wood themselves. The more reserved Tony will literally beam as he shows you to the crisping porchetta that will be sliced for one of their specialty sandwiches and the crunchy candied walnuts to top off a salad. Their attention to detail is not something they take lightly, rather it’s a well of immense pride.
Together, they envisioned Basil Cucina to be a casual one-stop shop for people, a place where families can see their dollar valued. A reliable neighborhood place that offers a varied menu with top-restaurant quality food. This is important to two family men whose morning involves prepping breakfast for the kids and prepping the pizza dough. Making their aiolis, mozzarella cheese, and bread in-house requires more effort and greater costs. But this is non-negotiable.
“If people are spending their money, they deserve fresh food,” Joe explains. He recalls growing up in an Italian household where the matriarchs operated their own catering hustle out of the home. An experience that roots Basil Cucina’s menu and commitment to fresh and quality ingredients–so much so that it’s in the restaurant’s slogan “fresh takes thyme.”
And the response has been incredible. The Staten Island community has been a pillar of support since opening weekend, almost a year ago. “We opened on a Friday, April 13th,” Joe remembers with light superstition, the abrupt slump during the first week. But eventually, they gained enough recognition and community support that the rise has since been steady.
About 80 – 90% of the business comes from deliveries, which is why they looked to partnering with Slice. Joe motions to George, our sales manager, who is coincidentally there, “Slice gives you the one to one customer service that everybody wants.” The support has been invaluable for Joe and Tony who undoubtedly work more than 40 hours a week. But family is still the priority: the restaurant is closed on Sundays for church, family, and the occasional sports game.
The rest of the time is dedicated to Basil Cucina, which includes the day-to-day grind of owning a small business. But being your own boss means you have more freedom of choice. A luxury that is reflected in the substantial menu. The fried calamari is made with bright cherry peppers, the porchetta sandwich is paired with a green jalapeno sauce, and the warm garlic knots are as big as a basketball player’s fist. As for the pizzas, which are made with artisan dough, there’s an obvious balance between thought and playfulness. The Yucan Deli (think baked potato as a pizza) and Pineapple Express (their version of a Hawaiian pie) are the results of long brainstorming sessions. “We eat all day long and argue all day long on how we can make the food better,” Joe explains, scrolling through his phone to find a picture of their latest calzone experiment, “Everything is trial and error.”
— Amanda Yam