Owner of Chez Vous Catering honored for commitment to North Shore

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — When a 12-year-old Ettore Mazzei got his start in the restaurant business, he was washing dishes at Lucchese’s House of Seafood.

“I worked at Lucchese’s, washing dishes for about five to six years before I cooked, became a bartender, and then moved to the front of the house. I never left the restaurant business,” he said.

Although he graduated in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics & financing from the College of Staten Island, Mazzei followed his food and hospitality passion. The following year, Mazzei founded Chez Vous Catering from his basement.

In 1987, just one year after the business’ inception, Chez Vous took a space at Edgewater Hall, located at 691 Bay St. in Stapleton. Built in 1876, Edgewater Hall was constructed as the original location of Staten Island Savings Bank, and was later used as a speakeasy frequented by the Vanderbilts and Barrymores during the Prohibition Era.

“Fortunately for us, the facility still had the original tin ceilings, the maple floors on the first floor, the southern yellow pine on the second floor, the brick walls, and the lead glass in the front and the porch. We painstakingly restored a lot of it and kept it the way it was,” recalled Mazzei. “Fifteen years ago, we may have appeared old-fashioned. But now, we’re chic and vintage.”

In the early ‘90s, Mazzei was seeking new ways to expand and reinvent his business.

The business began adding party rentals to accommodate offsite catering needs, bringing Chez Vous catering beyond Bay Street.

“In 1992, I started purchasing my own party rentals like tables, chairs and tents. One of the supply companies went out of business, so we decided to buy our own,” he said. “It became a combination where we could now offer both. With off-premise catering, I can cater a party outside and, if the weather calls for pouring rain, we could move it into the catering hall. It’s nice to have that flexibility.”

Although Mazzei found success with the new offsite service, the business stayed firmly rooted in its Stapleton home. When the opportunity arose to eliminate his lease in 1997, he was quick to jump on the chance to purchase the building and keep Chez Vous Catering in the same spot for years to come.

But throughout the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, his foresight in expanding his business to produce outdoor and off-site events proved vital, allowing him to nimbly adapt to changing circumstances and regulations and keep his business operating.

For his accomplishments, Mazzei is being honored with a Louis R. Miller Business Leadership Award, which he will receive in the Established Businessperson category. The awards — which are presented by the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce and the Staten Island Advance — honor the memory of Louis R. Miller, a businessman and West Brighton resident who was also a community leader.

Mazzei’s strongest passion may be reserved for his Downtown Staten Island community. Armed with his general contractor’s license, he has purchased, renovated and built several other buildings, including 701 and 703 Bay St. Also, since Chez Vous Catering has been at the same location for almost 35 years, Mazzei has provided valuable insight into the area for new or prospective tenants.

With a passion for the arts, the entrepreneur plays a prominent role in providing artists with a platform to share their work. In addition to Chez Vous, he operates the bar and restaurant Amendment 18 — the former home of Dock of the Bay, Uncle Bourbons and Dock Street — located in the cellar of Edgewater Hall, where local musicians regularly perform. And he has his own music production company, Dock Street Records.

Mazzei also produces the online and print publication This Way On Bay, which serves as a resource for residents, local visitors and tourists along the Bay Street Corridor and the surrounding neighborhoods.

“I was part of the formation of the North Shore Business Association, and after that dissolved, I still wanted to stay involved with the North Shore. So, I created and still run This Way on Bay, and we talk about events and happenings on the North Shore,” he said.

To capture new audiences for the Bay Street Corridor and neighborhoods like Stapleton, St. George and Livingston, Mazzei was part of the team behind the North Shore Business Association-sponsored North Shore Restaurant Crawl. That inaugural event in 2012 attracted about 400 foodies ready for the opportunity to “crawl” the neighborhood to sample diverse tastings from 16 eateries.

“Then from there, New Dorp Lane started doing it, and then Forest Avenue,” he laughed. “It was definitely a direct result of ours.”

If you think that statement is just another way of promoting the North Shore of Staten Island, then you’d be right. And that’s just fine by Mazzei, who holds a strong affinity for the area.

Over the past five years, Mazzei has played an integral role in the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce’s economic revitalization work in Downtown Staten Island. He currently serves on the steering committee that is working to form a Business Improvement District in the area to strengthen and support the establishments along Bay Street in St. George, Tompkinsville and Stapleton. He’s donated space at Edgewater Hall to host meetings, and he regularly participates in clean-up and beautification events.

Mazzei’s over-30-year commitment to the neighborhood is as strong as ever.

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay here until the end,” he said.

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Recipients of the Louis R. Miller Awards are recognized as effective business leaders and for their outstanding contributions to the local community. Awards are given out in four categories: Emerging, Established, Master, and Not-For-Profit. The honorees will be recognized during the annual Louis R. Miller Business Leadership Awards Breakfast on Wednesday, Feb. 16. For tickets, visit www.sichamber.com or call the Chamber at 718-727-1900.

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Current occupation and title: Chef and owner of Chez Vous Caterers & Party Rentals since 1986; band and event booking manager for Amendment 18.

Community Involvement: Past president (2000) of Mid-Island Rotary Club; secretary (2000-05) of Downtown Staten Island Council; member of the North Shore Business Association and founder of the North Shore Restaurant Crawl; founder and editor of This Way on Bay online & print newsletter.

Some of my life goals include: Making a positive difference in my community and inspiring my children and grandchildren to be the best they can be.

The best part of my job: Celebrating the best part of people’s lives and catering their special events.

The most difficult part of my job: Loading truckloads of catering and party rental equipment, bars, food and staff and setting up for off-premise events.

My life philosophy: Leave a piece of wisdom for the next generation.

I am most proud of: Starting Chez Vous Caterers from the basement of my home in 1986 and expanding/maintaining quality over the last 35 years.

Something that no one knows about me: I am a singer/songwriter and have a rock album called, Sweet on You; owner of Dock Street Records and Recording Studio and produced Method Man’s The Meth Lab album and 2nd Generation Wu’s singles and album

The quality I like best about myself: Generous.

Personal interest and hobbies: Writing — as I am the author of It’s Your Right to be Fit, Sexed & Happy, So Claim It and a new book currently being written called Young Bodies for Old People, and I am a writer of blogs and stories for This Way on Bay & Chez Vous Caterers.

I laugh at: My grandchildren’s funny personalities.

I am really good at: Catering and producing events.

I admire: People who master their craft.

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