Written by Steve Mosco, firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 21 June 2013 00:00
Driving along one of the many main drags on Long Island’s south shore reveals a disturbing amount of fast food establishments – all using characters like clowns, redheads and octogenarian chicken mongers to promote their products.
But one burger joint relies on a different sort of character to draw in customers looking for a quick meal with a touch of nostalgia.
All American Burger sits at 4286 Merrick Rd. in the same spot it has occupied in Massapequa since 1963. Under continuous management by the Vultaggio family since its founding five decades ago, All American is a burger stand from a time before the fast food behemoths took over the industry.
Owner Phil Vultaggio runs the stand with multiple family members, including his brother William and a few sons, daughters, nieces and nephews. When he’s not working the business end of things, Vultaggio proudly assembles burgers in the back with his crew; a hands-on approach that starts at the roots of his family tree.
“This place is a part of me, it’s in my blood,” said Vultaggio, a Massapequa resident whose father Phillip opened the hamburger stand after first opening an ice cream shop next door 10 years earlier. “Family has always been involved here. There’s a comfort level to it. I really don’t want any outsiders coming in and managing the place.”
The benefit of having that level of ownership consistency is evident across All American’s menu board. Vultaggio keeps his prices well below that of his chain restaurant counterparts, with all burgers available for far less than standard prices.
And the menu also reveals another dimension to All American’s appeal: simplicity. Besides burgers, the eatery also offers franks, French fries, onion rings, grilled cheese, fish filet and thick shakes. But for its loyal customers, it always comes back to the burger.
Hamburgers come in four varieties at All American: the Single, the Double Header, the Double Double (A Double Header with cheese) and the Quarter Pound hamburger. Cheese is optional for a small additional charge.
“I always order a double-double, sometimes I’ll get two,” said Ben Rafner, a Massapequa resident whose been noshing at the stand since the early 1980s. “This place is an institution and I’m so grateful it hasn’t changed a bit since I was a kid.”
All American Burger remains a drive-up eatery with no indoor seating, a few tables outside and a customer base that does not mind eating in their car.
And while Vultaggio has no desire to change the beloved setup, rumors swirled for years that the owners planned to expand All American in order to add seating, while some gossipers even spread word that the owners wanted to franchise the business and open locations across the island and beyond.
“The way we’ve done things here has worked for us for 50 years,” he said. “We are not expanding, we are not changing anything. All we are going to do is keep offering fresh products at fair prices. People seem to like that and we’re sticking with it.”
People of all ages and from all over the island call All American their favorite burger joint, but the admiration goes beyond burgers as there seems to be a genuine affection for the food, the owners and the building itself.
Customers well into adulthood reminisce about bringing dates to All American, while the younger crowd ranks the restaurant as the go-to meeting place in Massapequa.
“It’s a special place,” said Nora Burman, a visitor from Valley Stream. “We used to drive here during lunch break at school and try to make it back in time for class. Somehow, we usually made it.”
All American crams customers into its ordering space even during that so-called “down time” between lunch and dinner. But the crowds should not be a deterrent to anyone looking for a quick burger fix – All American has perfected the art of getting the customer in and out in very short order.
“We have a great ordering system and extremely efficient staff members,” said Vultaggio. “No matter the line, we can have you out of here in five minutes.”