Paying it forward on Staten Island

Published on May 10, 2022

Paying it forward on Staten Island

How the Nicotras are making a lasting impact

Great communities don’t just happen by accident — they are formed over time by people and businesses who have a goal of strengthening and building up those around them. By looking out for the good of the community, you help create a cycle of growth. The Nicotra Group LLC, owned and operated by Lois and Richard Nicotra, have been using their hospitality venues to create social change in their community since 2005.

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First, a little backstory

Lois and Richard Nicotra founded The Nicotra Group in 1976 as an international fast-food franchise. Over the years it has developed into a private real estate development company with properties in Staten Island and Manhattan. In 2005, the Nicotras hosted a benefit dinner for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and raised almost $375,000 by absorbing 100% of the event costs. Several years later Superstorm Sandy severely impacted the residents of Staten Island, so Lois and Richard supported their neighbors by allowing displaced residents to utilize hotel rooms at their Hilton and Hampton Inn hotels. Staten Island residents seeking refuge from Sandy were able to count on their hotels for heat and power, and the hotels even housed Red Cross emergency rescue workers.

Richard Nicotra told us, “We’re very proud of what we’ve done. We’re both people from Staten Island, our parents were born here. And we want to leave Staten Island a better place for future generations.”

The Nicotras continued their philanthropic efforts by hosting a relief benefit later that year. They donated the space, service, food and beverages for the 800 person event and raised almost $150,000 for the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation for Sandy Relief. 

Taking it a step further

In 2011 the Nicotras opened the COMMONS café, a quick service, social enterprise eatery with a $1.6 million donation. Run by the motto, “Eat Good. Do Good,” your purchase makes a big, lasting impact. The café donates 100% of its profits back into the Staten Island community and to the children and grandchildren of employees in the form of scholarships. In just over seven years, the café has awarded over $1MM in scholarships and grants to more than 379 non-profit organizations and scholarship recipients.

“We don’t have our own children, but we consider all of our employees to be our family and everyone is rooted here in Staten Island,” Lois told us.

And their employees feel the same way. One employee was grateful to be given a second chance, thanks to the Nicotras, explaining, “I ran into some hard times and the Nicotras took me back and they gave me a second chance. And I’m now running their cafe.”

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A banking partnership to support growth goals

Steve Vitale, Head of Commercial Banking for NJ/PA/Upstate NY at Valley, worked with the Nicotras so they could finance their space and open up COMMONS café.

“Whats so great about working at Valley is our ability to have an impact on our community,” says Steve. “It’s exciting working with the Nicotras because not only are they successful business leaders in their community, but they make an impact. So as a result, when Valley Bank and I are able to help them succeed, we see the impact of that in the communities they serve. For me, that’s something that wakes me up everyday and makes me feel like I’m really happy to be at Valley.”

Steve also explains how this cycle of growth helps the community as a whole. “When we are providing much needed capital into our community, that capital is flowing in through these entrepreneurs that are running businesses that are integral to providing employment and much needed services,” he says. 

We are proud to call the Nicotras our customers and look forward to seeing them and their business continue to thrive while positively impacting the community.

This story is why we believe that Local Means More, Valley’s way of shining a light on the unique stories of local businesses and highlighting how their presence in the community matters. We’re proud to partner with these impactful local businesses.



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