Getting grilled over hot rumor
BY SHAWNA VANNESS
SPECIAL TO NEWSDAY
March 19, 2006
All-out burger panic has flipped out Long Islanders near and far the past few weeks as word spread that Massapequa's beloved All American Hamburger Drive-In is shutting down - with the longtime family business supposedly being sold to a fast-food giant.
"We're not going anywhere," said a somewhat exasperated Phil Vultaggio, 51, who owns the old-fashioned burger joint on Merrick Road with his brother, Bill. "We've been in business for 43 years and we'll be here another 43 years."
Wendy's, McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken ... the Vultaggios have heard a host of buyout scenarios being spun on the rumor mill. So have a lot of other people.
Hundreds of patrons crammed their cars into All American's crowded lot yesterday and dutifully waited in line to order $2.10 "double double" burgers, thick shakes and homemade French fries. As the heavy aroma of grilled beef and toasted sesame buns wafted through the air, many said they feared this order would be their last.
"I heard it from kids in the neighborhood," said Jay McCorry, 50, who lives in Massapequa. The tree serviceman remembered savoring his first foil-wrapped All American hamburger for 10 cents on the day Phil and Bill's father opened the place in 1963.
"I heard it an hour ago," said Dave Pope, 23, a student from West Islip.
Other rumors of All American shutting down have surfaced over the years, the Vultaggios said, but none has been as widespread as this one. They suspect the story began brewing last summer when their sister changed the name of the family's ice cream business - located right next door - from Carvel to Marshall's Ice Cream Bar. That Carvel was one of the Island's first.
Then, beginning a few years ago, the family started closing both businesses between Christmas and New Year's to vacation in Florida.
All of a sudden, "Schools are calling, kids are crying ... people are talking about starting petitions," said Bill Vultaggio, 56, as workers lined the grill with fat beef patties before the lunchtime rush. "People are calling from all over the country."
Barraged by panicked questions from patrons at the counter a month ago, the Vultaggios posted signs on all the windows dispelling the myth. Shortly after, a calming message was posted on their Web site, www.allamericanhamburger.us.
But nothing silenced the talk.
"It's a big distraction," Phil said of an estimated 100-plus daily phone calls and questions from customers.
"I couldn't believe it," said Pat Mammes, 51, who's been a twice-a-month patron for 35 years. A supplier at his mechanic shop in Rockaway Beach dropped the news (the Wendy's version) on him last week.
"We were so upset," said Eileen Lishansky, 48, of Oneonta, as she snapped photos of the packed waiting area. Lishansky heard the rumors upstate and rushed back to her hometown to visit daughter Katie, 19, at Hofstra University and stock up on what she thought would be her family's last stash of All American burgers for the freezer.
"This is way out of hand," said Phil, who met his wife, Brema, in high school when his father hired her as a cashier. Now their four children work the counter. "You pour your heart and soul into the business and all the sudden people are saying you sold out."
Yesterday, the assurance that the rumors are just that - rumors - seemed to settle avid All American fans' nervous stomachs.
"It's a legend," a relieved Lishansky said after reading the posted signs. "A Long Island legend."
Copyright (c) 2006, Newsday, Inc.