When restaurateurs Nadir and Jenny Rago purchased Pete’s Cuisine, at 401 Hempstead Ave. in West Hempstead, and opened Pompei restaurant in 1971, they had big visions for the business. They dreamed of transforming the small building into a place that would attract people from all over the community. When Nadir’s health declined in 1984, his daughter, Ada Rago, took over the business and made that dream a reality.
“Ada was in medical school at the time, and had plans of becoming a pharmacist,” her husband, Vincent Pavlovsky, recounted. “Once her father got sick, she dedicated her life to running the business through hard work, and made it into a thriving business in West Hempstead.”
Ada expanded the space in the late 1980s, when she bought the property next to the restaurant to create a parking lot. Shortly afterward, the restaurant added sit-down catering, which was a success. For many decades, Pompei attracted about 1,000 guests per week, according to Pavlovsky, the co-owner with his wife for more than 20 years. From birthday parties to awards ceremonies, bridal showers and wedding anniversaries, Pompei became the community hub for celebrations.
“They’re a quality restaurant run by quality people,” said Phil Napoli, of West Hempstead. “They never disappointed day after day, year after year, and they were a cornerstone of our community. I want to thank the ownership and all their long-term employees, who truly cared for their customers.”
Business came to a screeching halt, however, last March, as the coronavirus pandemic spread. Pavlovsky had several deaths in his family that month, some of which were related to Covid-19, and a few Pompei staff members died in the same week. As if that weren’t enough, Ada’s mother, Jenny Rago, died in April.
“When these types of things happen, the bolts just come out,” Vincent, 57, said. “Then, once the state’s regulations were put in place, we knew that we couldn’t operate the restaurant at half staff.”
Distraught by the effects of the pandemic, her husband said, Ada, 63, believed it would take too long to turn the business around. So they sold it to Bais Torah U’ Tefilah, a synagogue across the street, on Dec. 31. Vincent said that Ada had become accustomed to spending six days a week at the restaurant, from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m., to ensure that the quality of the food was “superb.”
“She dedicated her life to this business,” Vincent said. “She wasn’t a cook, even though she knew how to. She had a team of great people underneath her, but she was always in the kitchen, making sure everybody’s meal was hot and perfect. It was very rewarding for the both of us.”
Vincent, who owns Service Masters, a restaurant repair and construction company, noted that the restaurant industry across New York state suffered a huge blow. “There’s really been nothing more traumatic than what we’ve gone through over the past year,” he said, “but a lot of restaurants have had their struggles, too. When you talk about a neighborhood business like ours that was thriving for so many years . . . we took a tremendous amount of pride in what we did.”
He attributed Pompei’s success to the local organizations, fire departments, the Nassau County Police Department and senior citizen groups, among others, for supporting local businesses.
“Pompei has been a cornerstone in the center of town for many years,” West Hempstead Community Support Association President Maureen Greenberg said. “May the family know that while their decision to close was hard, they made many families have beautiful, significant life events at the restaurant. I wish them the best in their retirement.”
Having that kind of support, Vincent Pavlovsky added, was humbling to his family. “Even though the customers came from near and far, the neighborhood people were wonderful,” he said. “If Ada was able to go on the roof and scream, ‘Thank you!’ to everyone, she’d do it. Unfortunately, times change and situations change, but life goes on. We don’t have any definitive plans for the next stage of our lives right now, but we’re working on it.”