Knishes from Gabila’s Knish in Copiague.
Pasta from Bruno’s Specialty Foods in West Sayville.
Even mixers from The Murph’s Famous Bloody Mary Mix in Melville.
Those are just some of the food items that are grown, raised, baked, battered or otherwise sourced from Long Island.
And they end up in restaurants from Maine to Virginia.
It’s all through DiCarlo Food Service, one of the largest privately owned wholesale food distributors in the nation. So, how does a guy who calls himself “The Murph” get into business with a food distributor like DiCarlo?
“He just called me up one day,” said Vincent DiCarlo, Jr., whose father and uncle started the company in 1963.
After 60 years, that’s how this family-run business still does things: hands on.
In a wholesale food distribution industry that has changed mightily over the last five years alone — with as many as 10 Long Island distributors either selling or going out of business — DiCarlo Food Service has managed to not only survive, but thrive.
The company attributes this to a loyal staff, local producers, white glove service, and customers who become friends.
The fact that anyone can easily get a DiCarlo on the phone helps, too.
“This company was built on the support of family-owned restaurants and local manufacturers,” said Michael DiCarlo, VP of Sales at DiCarlo. “Some have been buying from us for 30, 40, 50 years, and now the original owners’ grandchildren are buying from us.
“It’s just an amazing thing to see and experience.”
Growing and evolving
Whether a restaurant was established in 1976 or 2022, evolving with the ever-changing dining landscape is key, the DiCarlo family has found.
That means DiCarlo Food Service has to evolve, too.
“The Food Network has really helped expand people’s palates in more gastronomical ways,” said Michael DiCarlo. “So we’re always trying to bring in more products so our customers can expand their menus and their businesses.”
Also, in the past 10 years especially, the team says, the shift away from frozen food at even your basic Long Island corner pub has been remarkable.
“It’s gone from hockey puck burger patties at the supermarket to crafted, blended burgers from chuck, short rib and brisket that has that nice, fresh flavor,” Vincent Jr. said.
“They’re using fresh, non-pasteurized lime juice instead of Rose’s,” added Michael DiCarlo. “Everything is going fresh. And our sales team is constantly asking the restaurants, ‘What can we get for you? What are the customers asking for?’
To continue doing so, DiCarlo is expanding its operations yet again. This winter, another 580,000 cubic-foot refrigerated storage space will come online.
That’s in addition to the existing 5 million cubic feet of dry, refrigerated and freezer storage at the company’s 20-acre headquarters on North Ocean Avenue, just south of the LIE.
“If our customers do well, we do well,” Michael DiCarlo said.
“If they can grow, we can grow.”
Where they came from
Three DiCarlo brothers, starting with James and Vincent, helped grow the company from one Polly-O food route in Mastic Beach to today’s 10-state operation.
The boys were already familiar with the Italian food game, as their parents, Michelina and Vincent DiCarlo, first bought a truck in 1927 to deliver cheese to Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, then later opened several more deli and dairy businesses in Brooklyn and Long Island until 1960.
“Polly-O was losing money on its Suffolk County routes so they offered it to my brother James, who worked there at the time,” recalled John DiCarlo Sr., now the company’s president.
“Another route became available, and Vinny took that,” he said. “As business grew, they created my brother Mike’s route.”
John Sr. was in high school at the time, but still working for his brothers during the summer and on days off. He later graduated from Hofstra and eventually joined the business full-time in 1970.
That was two years after his brothers built their first warehouse in Shirley.
(Prior to that, they kept their Polly-O trucks at a gas station.)
After several expansions in Shirley, DiCarlo Distributors, Inc., as it was called then, moved to its current headquarters in 1986.
What attracted them to this tract of wooded land off North Ocean Avenue?
The railroad tracks.
“We thought one day we might be able to use rail as a point of distribution to bring in product,” John Sr. said.
A spur was eventually built, and today between eight and 10 rail cars deliver to DiCarlo’s property monthly.
“It didn’t happen until 2006,” John Sr. said, “but it happened. It’s good for us, and it’s good to get some trucks off the LIE.”
Each rail car takes about four 53-foot delivery trucks off the highways.
“We’re proud of how everything turned out,” John Sr. said. “It’s not an easy business. Distribution isn’t easy with trucks and drivers and everything else you need, but we have good employees and people who want to work and earn a good living. We’ve been blessed in that regard. But it takes a lot of work.”
Helping Long Island
DiCarlo doesn’t just service restaurants and pizzerias, but also nursing homes, schools, national chain restaurants, fast food, catering halls, country clubs, even food carts.
As mentioned, they also support dozens of Nassau and Suffolk food vendors, from butchers to bakers.
“We’re also the largest buyer of local produce on Long Island,” Vincent Jr. said.
Aside from its Holtsville headquarters, DiCarlo operates three more distribution locations, two in New Jersey and another in Massachusetts.
The company employs roughly 250 people, 90 percent of which live on Long Island.
There’s also a retail operation in Holtsville, DiCarlo Marketplace, which proved key for the company as it muscled through the pandemic.
They took the marketplace to an outdoor tent to sell everything from meat to toilet paper and other needed goods that were hard to find at local supermarkets.
They even did free deliveries to those who were sick or otherwise homebound, and sent food and supplies to food banks and homeless shelters across the Tri-State area.
Several baymen were helped to survive through COVID by selling bushels of shellfish directly to DiCarlo.
The company supports Island Harvest, Hope House Ministries, Suffolk County Woman’s Alliance to end Food Insecurity and other charitable organizations, with the executive team serving as board members at Kent Animal Shelter (Vincent Jr.), St. John the Baptist High School (Michael DiCarlo) and United Veterans Beacon House (John Yancigay, VP of Operations).
“We like doing all this,” Michael DiCarlo said. “It makes you feel good; it really does.”
Then there’s the commitment to quality, which helps everyone, from local school children to the elderly.
“We don’t put anything under our brands without us approving the quality first,” Michael DiCarlo said.
Here’s a quick anecdote:
Michael DiCarlo recently heard from a customer who was concerned about the food at an assisted living facility where he had to place his mother.
“He told me, ‘Then I saw the DiCarlo Food Service truck pull up, and I knew she was good.”
Feedback like that is always a boost for the team.
“But what’s most rewarding is to see the company grow and prosper,” said John Sr. “We employ a lot of people and watched multiple generations of their families grow. We’ve had people with us for up to 40 years.”
“It’s good to see people who’ve worked for us prosper, too,” he added.
“And we’ve made a lot of friends along the way.”
Contact DiCarlo Food ServiceAnd someone will be in touch.
Top: The executive team at Dicarlo Food Service and their sons. (L-R) Vincent DiCarlo Jr.,, John DiCarlo Jr., Michael DiCarlo, John Yancigay, Michael DiCarlo and Vincent Yancigay in the refrigerated storage space that’s coming online soon. (Michael White)