“Family.” That’s what Tom Brigagliano considered the loyal diners he has served over the past 25 years as a partner and then owner of the Cork n’ Board in Malverne.
As the restaurant closed its doors this Sunday after over three decades of doing business in the village, Brigagliano said it’s these people he will miss the most.
Brigagliano, a resident of West Hempstead and father of two, started working at the Cork n’Board when he was only 20. By the mid-1980s he was elevated to the position of partner and then took over the business in 1995 when the original owner moved to Arizona.
During this time, he’s watched his own children grow up as well as those in the community.
He’s hosted baby showers, baptisms, communions, wedding receptions and retirement parties in the rustic restaurant, many times for the same local families.
Still, he was hoping to avoid any fuss or festivities over the past week when he quietly announced the restaurant was going out of business and he prepared to close on Feb. 20.
When he spoke with Patch only days before the closing he explained his reasons for trying to operate business as usual in the restaurant’s final days.
“It’s emotional for the people who work here. They’ve been here for 15 to 20 years,” he said.
While business has been slower than usual lately, Brigagliano said the breaking point was when his landlord, who also owns Nordon Drugs and Difference Chinese restaurant on the same block, raised his rent. According to Brigagliano, the landlord nearly tripled the Cork n’ Board’s rent. He says he had a month to decide whether to stay and pay the higher price tag or leave.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “We would have liked to go out on our own terms.”
Upon hearing about the landlord’s demands, some residents have speculated whether or not his intent was to push out the Cork n’ Board and are now wondering what will take it’s place. (The landlord was not available for comment.)
Brigagliano thinks at the rate he was presented, he expects the building to sit vacant for quite a while. Still, he prefers to focus on the positives, mainly the memories he will take away with him from his many years serving his loyal patrons in Malverne.
“I don’t consider them customers,” he said. “They’re friends, part of the family.”
Looking back, he recalls some of the wonderful events the restaurant hosted including three years of holding a “Dinner in the Dark” for the Coalition for the Blind and various dinners for the Town of Hempstead’s ANCHOR (Answering the Needs of Citizens with Handicaps through Organized Recreation) program, where participants received awards for bowling.
“To see those kids’ faces when they were handed their trophies meant a lot,” he said.
Over the years, he also supported local groups by donating gift certificates for raffles and hosting many community organizations. In fact, on Thursday, the Malverne Civic Association held one of its “Meet & Greet” events at the restaurant’s pub., where Mayor Patricia Norris McDonald stopped by to present Brigagliano with a village citation. (Click here for photos from the event.)
“The merchants are the pillars of the community,” he said, stressing the need for residents to remember to patronize these businesses. “You really need to shop local.”
So what’s next for Brigagliano? When asked if he plans to open another restaurant elsewhere, he said for now, he’s focusing on taking some time off to relax.
Between the restaurant and his day job in finance, he was putting in 80 to 90 work weeks.
“A place like this – where you see the owner standing at the front door – is a thing of the past,” he said. “I just want to thank all of our loyal customers. It was a privilege to serve the Cork n’ Board family.”