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Two Brooklyn boys, Anthony "Tony" Scotto and Mario Sbarro (yes, that Sbarro, of the 950-restaurants-and-growing pizza chain) will open the borough’s first Boulder Creek Steakhouse in early November.

The men met 15 years ago through a mutual friend and in 1995 formed Boulder Creek Ventures based in Melville, NY. Yet both Scotto and Sbarro immigrated to the United States from Naples, Italy, as teenagers and settled with their families in Brooklyn. Scotto’s family settled in Bay Ridge and Sbarro in neighboring Bensonhurst.

Their company now owns five Boulder Creek Steakhouses on Long Island, one in Queens and two in northern New Jersey. By 2003, the company plans to expand into Yonkers, Staten Island, and add up to four locations in New Jersey.

During a recent conversation, Scotto and Sbarro told GO Brooklyn their renditions of the evolution of the Boulder Creek Steakhouses and their own rise in the restaurant world.

"Well, we started on Long Island because we were able to find the space we needed for the restaurants," Scotto said matter-of-factly.

Each restaurant seats 210 to 260 diners and needs approximately 7,000 square feet of floor space in addition to 150 parking units. Besides the large-scale format, the men have made their steakhouses known by expanding the chain within small geographic areas.

"If you build five or six restaurants in one area, you can advertise properly, watch them, nurture them and build public awareness," Scotto explained. "We finally found the space we needed with the right visibility in Brooklyn," he says of their first Brooklyn location at exit 15 off the Belt Parkway near Starrett City.

Scotto, who developed the concept for the steakhouses, commented, "I wanted a change from the usual clubby men’s steakhouses where women and children don’t always feel welcome." (Scotto, under a separate company, Scotto Brothers Enterprises, owns three upscale steakhouses - Burton & Doyle’s on Long Island, and two Rothman’s steakhouses, one on Long Island and one in Manhattan - that would fall under the "clubby men’s steakhouse" category.)

The restaurants’ Colorado lodge theme provides "a very warm and colorful" family atmosphere. The exterior of each restaurant features stone siding, and the interior decor is ski lodge friendly with a four-sided fireplace warming the room; comfortable wooden booths and tables to accommodate family groups; wood-paneled walls adorned with vintage ski gear; and murals of snowcapped mountains.

"There’s something for everyone," Scotto says of the steakhouse’s reasonably priced menu. That includes a selection of USDA, grain-fed, aged steaks that are priced from $12.95 for the Kit Carson Sirloin, a 10-ounce, center-cut top sirloin steak, to $20.50 for the Mountaineer, a 20-ounce porterhouse. Many of the items associated with a mid-priced steakhouse are offered: the Boulder blossom, a breaded, deep-fried onion; cheese fries; a Caesar salad or the Grande chicken Caesar; chicken tenders and several pasta selections.

For red meat-phobics, Scotto has added several fish choices: a shrimp scampi over fettuccini; the Blue Lake catch of the day, a grilled fresh fish filet; and Up The Creek salmon, a grilled filet with a garlic crust.

How did two local boys make it big in the restaurant business? Both men agree that a strong work ethic runs second to passion.

"I loved working in my uncle’s restaurant, Romano’s - it’s still in Bay Ridge, still very good," says Scotto, who at 18 began as a dish washer, then worked his way up through the restaurant ranks. "I loved it then and I still love what I do. I have a passion for the restaurant business."

In 1959, Sbarro’s family opened the first Sbarro’s on 65th Street and 17th Avenue in Bensonhurst. He describes the store as an "Italian deli" offering house-made sausages and mozzarella.

"We developed a large following for our delicacies and my mother’s catering. The business just kept growing," Sbarro said. At 81, Sbarro’s mother Carmela Sbarro still works behind the counter. Just back from Milan, where he oversaw the opening of Italy’s first Sbarro pizzeria and restaurant, he commented, "They love our pizza. We have a great product, and we’ll do well there."

But why expand into steakhouses, when the pizza-plus formula has been so successful?

"We’ve been in the quick-service, casual-dining arena for a long time," Sbarro said. "With our knowledge of the market, and the broad spectrum of consumers - families to seniors - who enjoy a good steak, I knew it was the right venture."

How does it feel to be back in Brooklyn?

Both men laughed.

"Well, we never really left. My mother’s still in our first store," Sbarro said.

Scotto added, "We think our Boulder Creek restaurant will be a great addition to Brooklyn. Opening this restaurant is a tremendous feeling. This restaurant feels very special to me."


Boulder Creek Steakhouse at 355 Gateway Center Drive at Erskine Street in the Gateway Plaza Mall in Spring Creek is scheduled to open Nov. 4. The restaurant will accept all major credit cards. For further information, call (718) 277-0222. Entree range: $12.95-$20.50.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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