Borrelli’s restaurant in East Meadow, a relative stone’s throw from the Nassau Coliseum, is a hot spot for New York Islanders fans. The restaurant, open since 1955, is packed with fans whenever there’s a game at the “ol’ barn” in Uniondale. Now, amid the NHL playoffs, the restaurant has been more crowded than ever.
The Italian restaurant has televisions set up in multiple locations to make it easy for patrons to watch the action on the ice while they eat.
“I come here for the atmosphere, I come here for the food, the entertainment, and the fans,” diner Owen Pacifico said. “This place is alive.”
Fans come from all over to enjoy the food, the proximity to the Coliseum and the company of other Islanders fans. “This is my first time here,” said Kirk Beddoe, who lives in Connecticut. “We’re big Islanders fans, and we heard all the hype about Borrelli’s. It was too pricey to go to the game, so we thought going to Borrelli’s was the second-best thing.”
Frank Borelli said that people come to his restaurant because it’s comfortable. “We can fill up the restaurant at 5 or 6 o’clock and still get them to the game on time, so people have always had the confidence in that,” he said. “We’ve always been the hot spot for Coliseum events in general.”
Borrelli said he is a dedicated Islanders fan himself. “I’ve been to all four Stanley Cups, and this year people are coming to support the team more than ever,” he said. “We’ve become the destination to watch the game. People watch the game here while the Coliseum is full.”
Borrelli’s has come a long way since the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Last year Borelli actually considered closing, because he was running out of options when it came to paying his employees and staying in business.
Luckily, David Portnoy, founder of the digital media company Barstool Sports, created the Barstool Fund to help save struggling businesses during the pandemic. Portnoy announced the fund last December. Businesses could participate by emailing their stories to Barstool. Borrelli’s son, Frankie Borrelli, is a friend of Portnoy’s and the cameraman for Portnoy’s well-known pizza reviews, called “One Bite,” that he puts on YouTube.
“We are going to donate half a million dollars and we have come up with a plan,” Portnoy said on Twitter on Dec. 17, when he officially launched the Barstool Fund.
Borrelli’s was its first recipient.
According to the fund’s website, it has raised more than $30 million and helped 411 businesses. One of the main ways it raised funds was by selling merchandise from the businesses it supported. And 100 percent of the proceeds from those sales went to saving other businesses.
“My son showed me the video on Twitter, that Dave was announcing the Barstool Fund and that Borrelli’s was going to be the first recipient,” Frank said. “Dave used to always ask Frankie how the restaurant was, and he would tell him that we shut down and we couldn’t sit anybody.”
Beth Borrelli, Frank’s wife, said he was shocked when he received the money from the fund. “We had no idea we were going to receive it,” she said. “We would’ve been closed if it wasn’t for Dave Portnoy.”
One of the fund’s stipulations was that a benefiting business was paying its employees. In the video announcing the fund, Portnoy said that this requirement for restaurants was inspired by Frank Borrelli. Portnoy was inspired by how Borelli had kept people on his payroll during tough times.
“The fund saved my employees by not putting them on unemployment,” Frank said. “It kept us going with payroll for four months, and we were able to reinvent ourselves with catering and outgoing orders and doing pizza kits.”
With the Barstool Fund’s help, Frank said, the restaurant was able to help out locally as well. Borrelli’s donated food to outreach programs such as the Mary Brennan INN, and sent food to hospitals.
The fund has certainly raised the restaurant’s profile. “For the last 40-something years we’ve been a hot spot for Islanders fans, but we’ve gotten more popular now,” Borrelli said. “We get recognized nationwide now. People all over the country are flying in just because of Dave and the Barstool Fund coming to try Borrelli’s pizza. There’s not a day that goes by that someone will come in looking for my son Frankie or myself.”
County Executive Laura Curran described Borrelli’s as “a Nassau County institution.” Its history, she said, has become intertwined with the Islanders.
“Countless families have stories of their hockey night either starting or ending at Borrelli’s,” Curran said. “It’s a warm and inviting hangout that is uniquely Long Island. I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Frank, his wife, Beth, and their son, Frankie, for all the work they have put into the restaurant and all the happiness they have provided to our community over the years.”
“I’ve been working here since I was 10 years old,” Frank said. “I just enjoy working here in general. It’s not a problem to get up and go to work. It’s a fun atmosphere once everything is going right. It’s a reward to put smiles on people’s faces and do the right thing.”