Hailed as a “hidden gem” among Long Island’s competitive restaurant scene by their many ecstatic customers, Juniper at the Vanderbilt is a newer entry to the local eatery scene, but is already making a name for itself with its combination of delicious cuisine and fine décor, nestled in the center of the Vanderbilt By Beechwood Homes apartment complex in Westbury, New York.
One of the four restaurants and event space venues under the umbrella of the Civetta Hospitality group – which also includes Amali in New York City, Calissa of Water Mill, and Bar Marseille of Rockaway Beach – Juniper at the Vanderbilt is the company’s newest venue, having opened their doors for business just over one year ago on May 20 of 2021…smack dab in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Opening during the worst of the pandemic presented a unique set of challenges amid the various restrictions and lockdown measures that were in place at the time. However, Juniper not only managed to stay afloat during those very troubling times, but according to General Manager John Nicoletti, business has consistently increased month-to-month ever since they first opened.
“It was definitely a war of attrition, surviving the spikes around the holidays,” he said. “Where we were and where we are, we’ve shown steady growth, and secretly, we’ve become a great destination for events that are under 100 people. We really do a fair number of events on the weekends, such as smaller weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, retirement parties.”
“I love when I read the reviews and I see the words ‘hidden gem’ and ‘secret spot,’” Nicoletti continued, referring to Juniper’s off-the-beaten-path location within the Vanderbilt. “The biggest hurdle we really face is getting people up the driveway at the Vanderbilt. We’re in the middle of the building so we don’t really have street frontage, so it’s become more of a place for those that know about us. We rely on the buzz of people spreading the word.”
Executive Chef Chris D’Ambrosio – trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Poughkeepsie – categorizes Juniper as an American grill, but one diversely influenced by his many personal experiences while traveling abroad for a number of years.
“We have a lot of different steaks and seafood, but I come from an Italian-American household and I’ve traveled the world, and what is America but a melting pot of ethnicities and cuisines? So I like to include those experiences in the menu as well,” he said. “So we have influences from Asia, Europe, and all the different places that I’ve visited. So our menu is sort of the story of my past, if you will.”
D’Ambrosio noted that the restaurant offers a chef’s seasonal menu, highlighting different products throughout the course of the year based on a lot of locally-sourced meats, fish, and vegetables.
“From the East Coast here we get oysters, halibut, sardines, and a lot of other local items that are very fresh and delicious,” he said.
Juniper at the Vanderbilt is deceptively spacious, Nicoletti said, able to accommodate up to 176 patrons if need be, and offering both indoor seating and an outdoor patio overlooking the Vanderbilt’s pool, if weather permits.
“The restaurant has a very natural resort-style feel to it, with lots of glass facing the outside, very high vaulted ceilings, good usage of natural light, and a lot of things that essentially highlight the space itself,” he said. “We use a lot of white marble, and it’s a very beautiful space, it truly is. And the building itself…Beechwood Homes, the developer, always does a magnificent job, and they spare no expense. The quality of craftsmanship is second to none, and it really has helped us with wedding bookings as a venue.”
Nicoletti boasts an extensive history in the restaurant business, having worked in it since the tender young age of 13; as time went by, his reputation grew and he began to hold a number of high profile gigs.
“As a Northport native, I started as a prep cook at the Shipwreck Diner in Northport, and later went to college while moonlighting as a bartender. But I started really getting into fine dining when I was working for the Bohlsen Restaurant group,” he said. “I was a long-time head bartender at Tellers Chophouse in Islip, and then became the corporate head bartender for them for many years.”
From there, Nicoletti went on to Anthony Scotto Restaurants, initially hired to be the Director of Bar Operations. However, when the COVID-19 hit, things changed significantly, but while many employers laid off many of their workers during the worst of things, Nicoletti noted that he was treated about as well as could possibly be.
“They were great to me, and they ensured that I would have a position,” he said. “So when they rebranded One North to Opus Steakhouse, they made me Assistant General Manager. Then I met the partners at Civetta Hospitality, and it was almost an instant connection. That’s when I went over to be the General Manager at Juniper. It was just a no-brainer.”
The decisively kind and empathic treatment he has experienced while employed by Civetta, he said, was outside of the norm of his involvement in the restaurant business throughout the years.
“It should be noted that for an industry that typically tends to be pretty thankless, the way that Civetta operates is really impressive. They treat their employees very well…we have every major holiday off, and they try to focus on kindness and understanding in a way that I’ve never experienced in this business,” he said. “Ultimately, the hospitality industry as a whole doesn’t really offer good quality-of-life, but Civetta really focuses on it and it’s hard not to appreciate that.”
Ultimately, Nicoletti said that he’s found his time heading up Juniper at the Vanderbilt to be incredibly rewarding, and he relishes the opportunity he’s had to continue build it from the ground-up into one of Long Island’s premier eateries, combining ambiance, atmosphere, fine accommodations, and a unique take on popular American cuisine.
“There are definitely more gray hairs on top of my head than when I started, but I wouldn’t change a thing about it,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to work with Chef Chris, and we have a small staff here that are incredibly hard-working, and a lot of them have been with me through multiple restaurants. I love to note that, because the success of this restaurant really has nothing to do with anybody but them. That’s the truth.”
To find out more about Juniper at the Vanderbilt, please call 516-820-1200 or visit https://www.juniperlongisland.com.