Italian restaurant owner approaches 10 years of delicious success
Exposed brick walls, stained glass windows, rich, dark wood and a charming accordion player. No, you’re not in Italy. You’re at Absolutely Mario.
The quaint Italian restaurant is located just off the beaten path at 10 Allen Blvd. in Farmingdale and owned by an Italian-Colombian man by the name of, you guessed it, Mario Garcia. Absolutely Mario has successfully brought traditional home-cooked Italian food and love to local residents.
“I started in the restaurant business when I came over from Colombia 27 years ago as a bus boy in an Italian restaurant,” said Garcia, who is a native of Levittown but currently resides in Dix Hills. “One of the few words I knew back then was ‘absolutely,’ so when waiters would ask me to bring water or bread and butter to a table, I would say ‘absolutely’ and run. People started calling me Absolutely Mario.”
Garcia recalled a time when he was a waiter and was taking care of a group that always requested him.
“Before I could say the word, they knew what was going to come out of my mouth, so the customer took out a sign that said ‘Absolutely!’” said Garcia, adding that if he ever opened his own restaurant, he would call it Absolutely Mario.
About 10 years ago, a customer told Garcia of a location that he thought would be perfect for a new business opportunity. Garcia went to the then German restaurant Jaegerhaus, to check out his potential new venue.
“I didn’t know the area so I didn’t know what to expect, so I went alone first and then came back with my wife, Consuela, and son, Alexander,” said Garcia, who hoped to see movement, but the restaurant was empty. “I saw the potential, the time was right and I was capable of doing it.”
Although he was born in Colombia, Garcia’s grandmother—whose dream it was for her grandson to one day own his own restaurant—was from northern Rome and moved to Argentina at a young age. When Garcia’s mother married a Colombian candy exporter, Garcia gained the other half of his nationality. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know authentic Italian food.
“Authentic Italian cuisine to me means Italian dishes that were prepared in Italy a long time ago, but naturally and from scratch. It’s like the home-cooked meal I remember,” he said.
Garcia operates on word of mouth. He has dozens of regular customers, but whenever he sees someone new, he always introduces himself and offers them a complimentary after dinner drink.
“For me, it’s an honor when people step in the door,” he said. “When I see a young kid I say to the parents, ‘thank you for bringing the future of my restaurant.’ My goal is to fill up the place and make everyone happy, young and old alike.”
When Garcia worked in a restaurant, he considered it his own and that mentality and dedication is exactly what he expects of his staff as well.
“When I hire somebody, I try to look for a reflection of what I am: courteous, attentive, friendly. I took care of people for 17 years with a smile and I tell my staff, if your cheeks hurt it’s because you’re doing a good job,” said Garcia. “My business is a family business and the community of Farmingdale has been absolutely wonderful. There’s a lot of restaurants and people are very selective, but I have I don’t want people to feel like a number,” added Garcia of his customers, some of which even have their names on his booths.
The warm atmosphere of the restaurant, cozy décor and sway of accordion music transport customers to the streets of Florence. Menu options like stuffed veal rollatini, rigatoni filletto (gluten-free pasta is also available) and shrimp oreganatta also give customers a taste of Italy.
“My favorite dishes are the signature dishes, the ones that say ‘absolutely’ next to them,” said Garcia of the ‘Absolutely Salad,’ which is composed of baby greens, radicchio, walnuts, dried cranberries and gorgonzola cheese in a raspberry dressing. “I love the Absolutely Seafood with calamari, clams, mussels and shrimp too.”
Garcia’s grandmother visited Absolutely Mario several times before she passed away and was amazed at her grandson’s success.
“She always put me as the symbol of perseverance. I treat every day like I opened the door for the first time and I don’t take things for granted,” said Garcia. “I tell my customers that I still have a long way to go because you never know where you’re going to end up.”
Can you go to Italy anytime you want? Probably not. But can you get delicious, authentic Italian cuisine made with tradition and family in mind? Absolutely.