Rediscovering New York

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

2020/06/09 - Little Neck, Queens

[EPISODE] Little Neck, Queens

On this week’s show we will travel to Northeastern Queens, when we visit Little Neck. 

My guests will be historian Jason Antos, President of the
Queens Historical Society, and longtime Little Neck business owners Joseph and Lisa Torrisi of Marathon Food Shop and catering.


Segment 1

Jeff introduces his first guest for the night, historian and author, Jason Antos. Jason was first interested in Queens’ history while working on a project in high school about the home owned by Houdini’s protege, Sidney Radner. Jason became involved with Queens Historical Society while working on his first book, Whitestone. He then explains how Little Neck first got its name, as opposed to Great Neck. Both areas became the inspiration for the fictional setting of Scott Fitzgerald’s book The Great Gatsby, West Egg and East Egg. Jeff and Jason then go into the origin of the clamming industry prevalent in Little Neck, which goes back to the time of slavery. This segways into the relationships and trading between the area’s Native Americans and the Europeans who first settled there in the 1650s. Jason describes how Europeans first settled in Little Neck through Little Neck Bay. 

Segment 2

Jason explains how his first book, Whitestone, came to be and why he chose to write about this area. While most of Jason’s books are focused on the Queens area, Jason goes into why his second book was about Shea Stadium and also delves into the book’s continued success. Jeff and Jason return to the topic of Little Neck, particularly on the armed conflict and tense relations between the Lenape and European settlers centuries ago. They fast-forward to focus on the Douglaston Hill historic district. Jason talks of its architectural design, architectural restrictions, historical significance, and how old the homes within the district date back. Little Neck once had a significant farming industry, seeing the last of its farms by the 1930s, at the beginning of The Great Depression. Still on the topic of this time frame, Jason notes the Native American cemetery near the area.

Segment 3

Jeff introduces his next guests Little Neck business owners, Joseph and Lisa Torrisi, owners of Marathon Food Shop and Catering. To break the ice, Jeff asks Lisa if she knew anyone who were particularly connected to the 1970s punk band, The Ramones. Joseph describes his time studying at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde park. He then talks about his early experiences in the food industry, joining his family’s business, and how he developed his family’s business further. Lisa talks about her professional history and when she decided to join Joseph in his family business despite not having a culinary background. This segment ends on how, while much of the original menu remains, Joseph notes the additions placed since taking over the business.

Segment 4

Joseph and Lisa describe what they like the best about Little Neck, focusing on the tight knit sense of community between themselves and customers. They find that the uniqueness of Little Neck comes from its small, humble size and how the descendants of families in Little Neck stay in Little Neck. On the topic of how things have changed over the years, Joseph and Lisa find that Little Neck has become more diverse and public schooling has expanded. The couple delve into the nature of the catering side of their business, having established a big reputation across the borough. Some of Joseph and Lisa’s dishes include their eggplant parmesan, penne vodka, chicken franchise, coconut shrimp, and heroes. They note very little difficulties working in Little Neck, but are reluctant to the idea of opening an additional store. The segment ends with Joseph and Lisa sharing advice on opening a business in Little Neck and how to get in touch with them.