Louie’s is a place where everybody knows your name.
Though the longstanding Manhasset eatery isn’t quite the iconic Boston bar with Ted Danson pouring out drinks with a side of sage advice, Louie’s co-owner Tom Pagonis said everyone in the restaurant knows when a new face walks through the door. From there, he said, he knows it will be the first of many trips back to the restaurant celebrating 60 years in business.
“Because we have the same help and the same customers, right away everyone knows it’s a new customer,” Pagonis told Blank Slate Media. “Just like that. And that means we’ll do everything we can to keep them coming back for life.”
Not every restaurant has the same ability to attract and retain customers. Then again, not every restaurant is comparable to Louie’s.
Walking in and seeing an array of countertop seating and booths can give off the impression that Louie’s is simply another Long Island diner with storied Greek roots. From word of mouth, Pagonis said, people could assume that it is one of the area’s family-style eateries.
Louie’s, he said, somehow found its niche classification along the way.
“We try to say it’s just a family restaurant,” Pagonis said. “It’s a very unique place.”
“Family” would be an apt word to describe not just Louie’s management history, but also how the staff views their relationship with customers.
Louie Pagonis came over from Greece in the early 1960s and worked at the site formerly home to Andy’s Luncheonette. Louie purchased Andy’s Luncheonette in 1963 and named it after himself, officially launching Louie’s of Manhasset.
Louie’s lease on the property ended and he chose to set up shop right across the street at the restaurant’s current home, 339 Plandome Road in 1972. Tom and his brother Peter began working at the restaurant as teenagers, setting a precedence of a family-owned business that still rings true today.
“My brother and I took over in 1998 and now our kids are involved, so we’re going three generations of working here,” Pagonis said. “It’s pretty amazing. Once you’re a Louie’s, you’re a lifer.”
Pagonis said he always wanted to emulate his father, but had initial thoughts of working with stocks. With Louie operating a successful business mixed with a personal passion for cooking, Tom decided to enroll in culinary school and become more involved in the restaurant.
Though Louie’s has all the makings of a well-oiled machine and an outlier of warnings of mixing blood and business, Pagonis said his family had to adapt to a management style that worked for them.
“I don’t know if it would have worked if we kept it running the way it was when we worked for my dad,” Pagonis admitted. “We would all work on top of each other and that’s when you start questioning why is he or isn’t he doing it this way?”
Once Louie loosened the reins and let his kids take over, he said, the day-to-day operations shifted. Pagonis lauded the work each family member brings to the table and now teaches his own children and his brother’s children how to work the restaurant.
“It’s impossible to do by yourself,” Pagonis said. “You need everybody to make a business like that run so smoothly and make the kind of money we do to support these families. The key thing is to keep everybody responsible and feel important.
Aside from the immediate Pagonis family, Tom said, the regular customers and patrons of Louie’s have become their version of an extended family. Night-time service, he said, was started much like how certain dishes are included: listening to the loyal clientele.
“We changed from a breakfast to a lunch place because our customers are so great and we listened to what they want,” Pagonis said. “Everything we have from steaks, salmon, fish is all top notch and it’s because it’s what the customers wanted.”
Whether it is parmesan-encrusted halibut, a traditional greek salad, a chicken cutlet hero with avocado and bacon, or the classic cowboy steak, Pagonis said their menu has a little something for everyone, and thanked the customers of Louie’s for helping create it.
One of the most rewarding parts of developing a timeless wonder in the heart of Manhasset, Pagonis said, is seeing the younger generations of returning customers come through the doors.
Having a business simultaneously grow with the Manhasset community, he said, has been a welcome experience for the entire family.
“It’s really amazing to see the loyalty with our customers,” Pagonis said. “We’re not like one of those city restaurants where you see tourists all the time, we have the same people coming in and always have some new faces join and extend it more.”
While patrons have clamored for a new Louie’s location in other areas such as Garden City, where Tom and his family reside, a new location wouldn’t truly be a Louie’s, he said.
“You wouldn’t have those same people coming in and making Louie’s what it really is,” Pagonis said.