LaGuardia construction is boon to local restaurant
If you’re traveling out of or into LaGuardia Airport, chances are you’ll spot a man with long, curly hair, sporting a tattoo on his right arm and wearing an orange safety vest and a white hard hat.
Resembling a rockstar from the 80s, he will likely be transporting trays of food to the workers of the hangars and trailers behind the airport.
That man is Michael Demetrious, a delivery man for Antonio’s Kitchen, a restaurant and wine bar just a stone’s throw away from the airport in East Elmhurst.
Demetrious goes by “Mikey” or “Mikey D.” Sometimes people call him Robert Plant, who is the lead singer and lyricist of the rock band Led Zeppelin.
More often than not, his appearance, particularly his hair, is compared to Sammy Hagar, a musician and vocalist who replaced David Lee Roth as the lead singer of Van Halen.
“They call me the Red Rocker,” Demetrious said, “because that’s what they called him.”
Demetrious delivers for Antonio’s Kitchen, which opened nine years ago as a pizzeria. Several years ago, the pizzeria merged with Tommy’s Delicious Gourmet, the deli next door.
Today, Antonio’s has four owners, three of whom are Italian-American and the other is Spanish-American.
“That’s why you’ll see paella on the menu, but you’ll also see chicken parmigiana,” said Susanne Roselli, the restaurant’s office manager and wife of one of the co-owners.
Since LaGuardia Airport began its $8 billion redevelopment in 2016, Roselli said the eatery has seen an increase in business. That’s due in large part to Demetrious, who helped secure an accounts through his friendly demeanor, outspoken nature and colorful appearance.
Demetrious has delivered to the airport before. Specifically, around Christmas 2016, he dropped off 500 sandwiches for Delta Airlines when they were having a safety meeting.
However, his relationship with the airport redevelopment workers really began in 2017. One day, he said, an engineer came into Antonio’s Kitchen and asked him if he knew his way around the airport. Demetrious responded in the affirmative.
After delivering pizza a couple of times and giving out some menus –– he noted that the engineers loved the food –– the offices began ordering 10 pizzas at a time for the construction crews.
The office managers then opened up a house account with Antonio’s Kitchen to pay for their frequent orders.
Demetrious, who describes himself as “a little bit outspoken,” once saw the office workers ordering sandwiches from another spot. He said to them, “Hey, we do sandwiches, too.”
So he brought a sample platter for them to try.
“That was it,” he said. “Now, it’s not dominated by pizza. It’s sandwiches, wraps, trays of hot food.”
Demetrious delivers everyday to LaGuardia Airport. All of the office managers at each of the hangar and trailers have his phone number, and they place their orders directly with him.
They even gave him a safety vest and hard hat so that he wouldn’t have trouble getting inside the airport. Even the Port Authority police officers recognize him, and wave him in when he delivers.
“Being the way I look, everyone remembers me in the airport,” he said.
Navigating the backroads of the airport can be challenging, especially because the roads leading into the trailers change when the project reaches another part of the airport. But Demetrious, who is also a drummer, is good with patterns and usually finds a way to deliver on time.
Roselli believes that’s why the workers continue to order from Antonio’s.
“Because you’re so reliable, I think that’s why they keep calling,” said Roselli, who called Demetrious a “people-person.”
“I definitely am,” he responded, “meeting everyone and forging the relationships.”
Both agree that it’s also the food. Demetrious credits the cooks in the kitchen and the unsung heroes behind the counter who all help out.
On a normal day, Roselli said the average order at the airport comes out to about $400. They deliver to four or five different places within the airport, so Antonio’s makes up to $2,000 per day just from the LaGuardia workers alone.
Their biggest orders, Demetrious said, consist of 500 sandwiches and a large box of chips for the airport’s quarterly safety meetings. To get ready for those orders, the cooks typically begin prep work the day before.
Roselli said they start slicing tomatoes and putting them in the fridge in the afternoon. They also call the bakery to have extra bread delivered.
The kitchen staff then comes in at midnight or 1 a.m. to finish the large order, which is wrapped up and labeled for delivery.
“It can be taxing on the cooks,” Demetrious said.
By the Port Authority’s projections, the LaGuardia Airport overhaul will be complete by 2021. But Roselli and Demetrious aren’t afraid of losing the account.
Demetrious said even if the trailers are gone, the headquarters and hangars will still be there, as well as offices at the Bulova Corporate Center. And they still have a personal relationship with the eccentric delivery guy.
“They can go anywhere else too, but they know that I’ll be there,” he said.
Although Antonio’s Kitchen is located far from Astoria, where foot traffic is stronger, they have house accounts with Rikers Island, Steinway Piano, Vaughn College and even the United States Tennis Association (USTA).
Even when the LaGuardia Airport construction ends, the restaurant will still be thriving.
“We want them to stay forever, but honestly, we want the traffic gone,” Roselli said. “When it’s over, it’s over.
“But we appreciate their business,” she added. “And they’re good people.”