Thanksgiving dinner sealed it.
That was when Mary DeBonis realized just how talented in the kitchen her son-in-law Hirbin Manzanares really was.
Perhaps it was the steak and avocado bruschetta. Or maybe the barbecued short ribs with homemade barbecue sauce. There was turkey, too, of course — a choice of oven roasted or fried.
It wasn’t long after the meal that DeBonis, a business consultant, and the rest of the family were huddling up, talking about the possibility of opening a restaurant that would showcase Manzanares’ cooking.
Just four months later, they were playing host to the grand opening of South Ocean Grill in Patchogue, near Shorefront Park. With summer now fully underway, and with that, outdoor dining at the restaurant, they say business has grown every week since.
DeBonis described that late March event as the family’s “oops’ night,” designed to iron out any kinks in front of friends and family.
Her daughter, Jackie Manzanares, who hostesses, serves food and pours drinks, said the evening went off without a hitch. But for Hirbin Manzanares — also a combat veteran with the U.S. Army — things were a bit more stressful. He was running a kitchen for the first time after leaving his job as a sous chef at Houston’s in Garden City.
“I was still trying to get used to everything,” he said.
Two days later, they opened the new American-style restaurant to the general public.
The family effort, which includes DeBonis’s husband, Tim Solimine, involved choosing a space — the locations were narrowed down to between Huntington and Patchogue — gutting and renovating the pizza/wings/everything else eatery that had been in the South Ocean building before them, and developing a menu.
“This was the first place that we saw and we just fell in love with it,” Hirbin Manzanares said. “It was right by the water. We had heard such nice things about the community. Even when we were doing construction, we had people coming by to say hello. They were just so excited that something new was going to come here.”
Jackie Manzanares, who also works for a restaurant management company in Huntington, said much of South Ocean Grill’s early success has to do with her husband’s work ethic and prowess in the kitchen.
“He’s here from the time we open to the time we close,” she said. “He makes the bread every day, by himself. He cuts the french fries, by himself. All of the food is prepared daily, fresh. He’s here from early morning to late at night, six days a week.”
The couple has three kids: daughter Dezarae, 9, and twins Troy and Mason, who were just 7 months old when it was decided in December they’d all be launching their own business.
“The boys were babies,” Hirbin Manzanares said. “And we were just looking to do something for the family.”
Photos by Michael White
1. Jackie and Hirbin Manzanares at South Ocean Grill.
2. Hirbin Manzanares says he can turn anyone into a kale fan.