When Maury Soares, the new owner of Groppelo’s Restaurant at 55 Shore Road, first came to this country from Brazil in 1999, he had no idea that he would wind up owning his own restaurant. But his late grandfather knew, long before Soares emigrated from South America.
“My grandfather owned an Italian restaurant for 40 years about 45 minutes away from Rio De Janeiro,” Soares explained, standing behind the bar of his own Italian restaurant that was known as Sisina for 10 years. He changed the name in April and formally took over ownership in September.
“I worked for my grandfather at his restaurant for six years and that’s where I learned so much,” he continued. “He was sick. But before he died he took my hand and told me that when you open up a restaurant of your own put the name ‘Groppelo’s on it. It’s a variety of grapes in Italy.”
Soares never thought he would open a restaurant because his father had a drugstore and Soares had worked for him there. He never thought of going into the restaurant business because it’s a difficult business.
“I told my grandfather I would do what he asked even though I never really thought that I would,” Soares said. “I wanted to be kind.” Soares actually studied to be a pharmacist for a year.
Soares’ first job in the United States was in a shoe store in Manhattan. But a friend of his was working at the restaurant in Port Washington when it featured a Brazilian menu and asked Soares to help out. “My friend told me that they needed help for about six months only,” he said.
His six months of service wound up being extended for two more months (and eventually 10 years) when owner Michael Tizzano, impressed by Soares’ work, asked him to stay on while Tizzano traveled. It was about at that time that the menu changed to Italian.
About a year ago, Tizzano told his longtime employee that he wanted to sell the restaurant and Soares agreed to begin the process of taking over and fulfilling his grandfather’s request. Tizzano, who currently owns Pepe Rosso in Manorhaven, recently took out an ad in The Port News thanking Soares for his hard work and his loyalty and wishing him well.
“My grandfather taught me that the most important thing was to take care of the customers,” said Soares. “He told me that it was the most important thing and that nothing is as important.”
Apparently, Soares, whose family originally came from Venezia in Italy, listened well. Since taking over, business has improved dramatically. “We’re so busy I’ve had to hire an additional chef,” he said. Carlos Cambi is the supervising chef and has been at Groppelo’s location for 12 years.
Soares has redecorated the room and expanded the menu greatly, featuring seafood specials veal, chicken and pasta dishes and his own special beverage that he calls “Maury’s Sangria.” Soares is somewhat secretive about his sangria recipe but serves it year round. Outdoor dining with a view of the bay is still an option when the weather is agreeable. He’s also proud of the freshness of his seafood, which he buys twice a week, and of his homemade pasta.
When Soares first came to the U.S., he knew no English, but quickly learned it in adult education classes. He also speaks fluent Spanish and Portuguese. Though he commutes from Astoria, he enjoys working in Port. Obviously encouraged by the reception area patrons have already given Groppelo’s, the new owner adds, “I love the people of Port Washington. They’re so friendly.”