For Gillis and George Poll, success has been a lifelong journey; one that has catapulted them to places they always imagined. The prolific brothers have taken Long Island by storm, and do not plan on stopping anytime soon. They are in the business of food, and have a knack of doing the common things uncommonly well.
There are no secrets to their success; only passion, determination and hard work. Growing up in Manhasset, Gillis and George, along with their brother Dean, were local boys raised within a family who loved to cook and entertain. The gregarious and entrepreneurial traits of their father, James, were already running through their veins from the beginning. It was at the age of 12 that Gillis started to work as a busboy at Pappas, his father’s restaurant in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. From here, Gillis’s love for the industry blossomed and his natural curiosity led him to the culinary metropolis of Manhattan. “I would sneak off, jump on the train and go to clubs and places that were happening,” he said. Years later, he chose Manhattan as his place of residence for 12 years. There, Gillis recognized the vast opportunities in the food and hospitality industry. “As I explored, I gained all the experience and knowledge that would, one day, serve me very well.”
George Poll is the youngest of the brothers and the last to enter the family business. A born leader, George had no doubt, even from a tender young age, that he was destined to be in the restaurant industry. “To be successful, states George, you have to put your heart into it.” His tenacity and innate business savvy led him to take on a position as a cashier in the family restaurant, before he worked his way into the city, helping his family run several other businesses.
This was the beginning of a journey that would take the brothers to new heights. At the age of 27, Gillis opened up a restaurant of his own, along with George and Dean. They named it Pappas Restaurant, after their father’s eatery, which later became the very popular Riverbay Seafood Bar & Grill. With the success of their first restaurant under their belt, the brothers started to conceptualize and plan a new venture. In an effort to reflect their local upbringing and service their community, they opened up Bryant & Cooper Steak House in 1985. Their vision was clear; to bring an urban style and city feel to the Long Island restaurant scene. “It’s all about building a culture. Each restaurant has its own energy,” explains Gillis. Located along Route 25A in Roslyn, Bryant & Cooper is considered to be the number one steakhouse on Long Island, serving up dry-aged prime steaks, chops, and jumbo Maine lobsters to local diners and A-list celebrities alike. This iconic spot exudes sophistication and effortlessly delivers first class service. An on-site retail market carries the same meats and homemade sauces for cooking at home.
Combining a family-friendly lifestyle with quality food, Gillis and George opened up Majors Steakhouse in East Meadow. Their goal was to offer a casual dining experience with more affordable options. The menu is rounded out with the best of the basics; fresh lobster, juicy burgers and sandwiches for every palate, attracting a unique mix of clientele ranging from young families to suited business people.
With their repertoire of restaurants growing, Gillis and George realized that with each new venture, a new story was unfolding. With a strong desire to open a place in their hometown of Manhasset, the brothers unveiled Cipollini Trattoria & Bar in 2005. Perfectly positioned in the Americana shopping center, their goal was to create a cosmopolitan dining destination that would suit all palates. “We grew up here, and we’re very proud of the area that raised us,” says Gillis. The inspiration for the casual upscale trattoria came from a desire to provide an all-encompassing experience. Families, couples, friends, shoppers and business associates flock here for lunch, dinner and cocktails. Cipollini has gained a reputation for its selection of contemporary Italian and Mediterranean-influenced dishes, including an array of enticing entrees, salads and freshly made brick-oven pizzas. With a resolve to offer a quick alternative to a sit-down meal, the brothers opened Cipollini Pronto. Located just around the corner from Cipollini, the European style café is the perfect place for shoppers to enjoy a light bite or beverage while they take the weight off their feet. In its first few months, Cipollini was awarded the Five Star Diamond Award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences, an honor extended to a few restaurants on Long Island including Bryant & Cooper.
With the success of Cipollini now in their repertoire, Gillis and George decided to try a new concept. Having already conquered Italian, seafood and steakhouse cuisine, it was a serendipitous encounter that led to the birth of Toku Modern Asian in 2007. Frank Castagna of Castagna Realty offered the brothers a location that was also at The Americana Manhasset; it seemed only logical to say yes. It was here, that Gillis and George initiated a project that would utilize all their skills and love for detail and design. They both worked diligently with expert designers to create a space that is “sleek and modern” while keeping its “warmth and character.” The equally impressive cuisine is predominantly Japanese with Chinese elements and touches of Thai. The brothers had a hand in crafting the Modern Asian menu, combining ingredients and international cooking techniques. Guests may enjoy traditional meals with an appetizer, entree and dessert, or dine exclusively on sushi. Others can order cocktails and a table full of appetizers and skewers to share. “We are sticklers for details," Gillis explains. "We only serve up excellent food and we never cut corners.”
Bar Frites Restaurant turned out to be their next exciting adventure. With the continued help of Frank Castagna, Gillis and George went on to open up the very popular French Bistro at the Wheatley Plaza. “For good reason, we tend to lean towards upscale shopping centers," states Gillis. "We have a captive audience here and a big lunch crowd.” The atmosphere, comfortable and inviting, evokes images of Northern France with its antique mirrors, wooden tables, white tiled walls and big globe lights hanging from the gold colored tin ceiling. The menu offers Gillis & George’s take on Bistro fare including great comfort food dishes and the classics. The burgers, steak frites, croque monsieur and steamed mussels served with pomme frites are also among the favorites.
Adaptation is essential to the success of any business. “Because our restaurants are in such close proximity to each other, we had to develop new concepts and ideas to keep up with the ever-changing tastes of our consumers,” explains Gillis. The brothers next venture would lead them to the historic village of Roslyn. Hendrick’s Tavern announced itself in 2012 with bold style, sophistication and enticing classic American cuisine, serving up steaks, chops, poultry and seafood, as well as pastas, pizzas and salads.
The stunning restaurant once belonged to the site of the George Washington Manor that was acquired by the brothers in 2008. It personifies the romance and history of New York’s golden era, revealing a blend of eclectic and modern interior styles with historic touches, evoking images of a Manhattan supper club. In addition to the three bars and dining areas, Hendricks also offers its original space for events, including a 150-seat ballroom overlooking a glistening pond and two private rooms upstairs.
Gillis and George have a very unique gift. In essence, everything they touch turns to gold. Some would say it is luck, others would say it is opportunity. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” Luck is what you have left over after you give 100 percent. When asked about his recipe for success, Gillis will tell you, “our ‘ethos’ is simple: consistency
is the key.
Both George and I are involved and continuously present in all of our restaurants. We believe in putting our time in.” George is a firm believer in living a passionate life and bringing that energy into the every day. Both of them agree a huge contributor to their success is the loyalty and professionalism of their staff. “Our crew is hand-picked," states Gillis. "They work behind the scenes diligently and understand the culture of what we do. After all, a great empire is only as good as the driving force behind it.”
A big part of what makes the Poll brothers so special is their desire to give back to the community. Over the years, they have been honored by numerous foundations, including St. Francis Hospital, The Mental Health Association of Nassau County, The Sass Foundation for Medical Research, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Children’s Medical Fund and the JCC Sid Jacobson Center. They also have supported over 50 charitable organizations in the Long Island community.
Gillis and George have always had a longing to expand outside of the Long Island area. With much anticipation, the brothers are opening a new restaurant at the Westchester Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers. The family-style Italian eatery named Angelo’s, will be open seven days for lunch and dinner. And so, the journey continues for the brothers with the Midas Touch, as they embark on another prosperous adventure. It certainly won’t be their last.