Wouldn’t it be great to have a restaurant in the neighborhood that could be a home away from home? Oyster Bay now has one, with the opening of Home Sweet Home, a café and deli at 19 Summit St., in the heart of town.
Owners Pat and Jennifer Constanzo opened the business on July 23, committed to offering homemade Latin favorites like empanadas and huevos con chorizo, but Home Sweet Home has an extensive menu of American offerings, too.
The couple, who are originally from Chile, moved to Oyster Bay 20 years ago. When they arrived, both were 19 and spoke no English. Undaunted, they enrolled at BOCES. Jennifer then went to school to become a nail technician, landing a job at Rainy Day Spa in Woodbury. She worked there for six years, but was forced to leave when it went out of business.
The couple have two daughters, so she couldn’t afford to stay unemployed for long. She started cleaning houses, but she never stopped dreaming of someday opening a restaurant.
Pat worked a series of jobs — at McDonalds and Mario’s in Oyster Bay, and at a Locust Valley gas station. At the same time, he took classes at BOCES to become an electrician, a trade that he turned into a 15-year-long career.
For years they had discussed opening a café. There is a large Chilean population in Oyster Bay, and Jennifer believed their fellow transplants would enjoy the home cooking she had perfected using her mother’s and grandmother’s recipes. But she wanted to go to cooking school to get even better. The cooking classes were in New York City, which didn’t work for her because she was caring for her daughters. So, she went to night school part time in Syosset, and continued cleaning houses during the day.
“We saved for many, many years for this — every single dime,” Jennifer said. “And we spent a long time looking for a place to open a restaurant.”
One day after a run, Pat stopped at Village Gourmet. He had passed it several times on other days, and noticed that it had been closing early. He spoke to the owner, and asked if she was interested in selling the restaurant. She was, explaining that business had been declining for years. That was in June. A month later, Home Sweet Home opened.
Using Facebook, the couple have worked to get the word out in the community that the café is not connected with the former establishment. Their efforts have paid off. Jennifer says customers tell her they love the food.
“Everything I make is from scratch,” she said, adding that she had made chicken and beef pot pies that day. “I make the dough and the sauce, and I make homemade bread every morning, too. I cook all day, and I love it.”
Pat is behind the counter cooking too — usually the breakfast options. He didn’t have any previous experience, but Jennifer said he’s good at it. “I’m the grill guy,” Pat said. “My goal is to make the customer happy.”
When a customer entered, Pat greeted him by name. “Most of the people I recognize from around town,” he said. “It’s word of mouth here.”
Jennifer said her husband is good at talking to customers. “We’re friendly people,” he said. “I try to talk to customers to find out what they want.”
One customer came in every day and asked for the same breakfast — an egg sandwich. “I told him, ‘Why not try my wife’s homemade bread instead of a roll today?’” Pat said. “Now that’s all he orders.”
Jennifer says people often come in near closing time to buy their dinner, especially single men. “I make empanadas every half hour,” she said. “And I don’t go cheap on my ingredients. I roast my own peppers, and the beef empanadas have raisins in them. It’s like a little party in your mouth.”
Home Sweet Home is truly a family business. Sometimes the Constanzo daughters, Amanda, 11, and Camila, 9, can be found stocking the soda and water. Pat will be deep in conversation with a customer, and the smell of baking cookies will waft through the air. Soon Jennifer will bring out samples for everyone to try.
“Every day the food is different here, and I enjoy that,” she said. “I have nothing, really, at home in my own refrigerator anymore except milk, cereal and yogurt for the kids. I brought all of my pots here, really everything. This is like my home sweet home.”
Home Sweet Home is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.