Steve Salazar worked on Wall Street for years and also inked people as a tattoo artist, but it’s the restaurant business that keeps calling his name.
Dining out has been a part of his family’s life for decades, since his father, Raul, arrived in the U.S. close to 60 years ago and began playing guitar in New York City restaurants.
“Eventually, he saw how restaurants worked, how they functioned, so he decided to try it out from the business end,” said Salazar, 56, the co-owner of Bonita Mexican Steakhouse & Latin Inspired Grill. “I remember being like eight years old walking around the restaurant thinking I worked there.”
The Rocky Point steakhouse, which Salazar hopes to open at 49 N. County Road this month, is his re-entry into the restaurant world after briefly stepping away in mid-July. That’s when La Bonita Tacos & Tequila closed in Coram after nearly nine years, when his partners in the business retired.
“It was a little stressful to sit around the house not doing much when you’re used to running around 14 or 15 hours a day,” he said.
Now, with new partner Adam Bianchino — a customer-turned-business partner — Salazar is back at a steakhouse whose menu will extend well beyond Mexican cuisine.
Bonita Mexican Steakhouse & Latin Inspired Grill
“We’re going to have an influence from Argentina, Brazil and Cuba — that’s the ‘Latin Inspired Grill’ part of the name,” he said. “We’re going to use dishes from everywhere, because that is what our chefs know.”
Bonita’s nearly 3,000-square-foot space, which will have room for close to 100 diners, has been undergoing a colorful transformation that’s been chronicled on its Facebook, Tik Tok and Instagram feeds. The previous tenant had painted much of the space black, Salazar said, so there has been a concerted effort to brighten the space and showcase it online.
“Got the floors done today!!!” an October 27 post read. “See you soon amigos!!!”
Another key piece of progress came Monday, when Bonita secured its liquor license. Restaurant management has also been busy hiring staff for the new place.
Salazar said he’s also kept the windows unobscured so potential customers can peek in and see the restaurant taking shape.
“I want people to come by, see what we’re doing and all the progress,” he said.
While longtime customers at the old Coram location were sad to see it close, Salazar said he expects many will return once Bonita opens in Rocky Point.
“A lot of people in this area, in Rocky Point, in Miller Place, they were customers of ours over there in Coram,” he said. “And it’s still only 10-15 minutes away, so we’re really thankful to have that community and a new community.”
For Salazar, the lure of restaurants has spanned his whole life. Even in his days as a Wall Street auditor, he said he enjoyed the travel that came with that career because of the restaurants he dined at while on the road.
“I would check out the menus, the design, the decor, the service, the food,” he said. “It was like a secondary education I was taking in without even realizing it.”
Now he is looking forward to putting that lifelong restaurant education to use alongside his partner Bianchino and Bonita’s staff.
“You can’t let it go, I guess,” Salazar said. “It’s something I know how to do, I’m good at it, I’ve been doing it for 30-40 years and we can’t wait to get going.”
Below are photos taken by GLI‘s Nicholas Esposito.