Brooklyn Business Hard Times: But Bassett Caterers Will Rise Again!

2020 has been the “gift” that keeps on giving.

This year, so many tragic stories have been told by so many beloved local proprietors. First, after 45 years, we lost one of the most gentle souls in our neighborhood: Joe “Pisa” Sanfratello, a founding owner of the great Pisa Pork Store in Gravesend, Brooklyn. Joe died of COVID-related illness back on May 12, 2020, and the store, with its classic Italian delicacies, closed permanently thereafter. Later that month, another Brooklyn staple—this one in Sheepshead BayJay and Lloyd’s Kosher Deli also closed its doors after 28 years.

Today, however, we received horrible news that one of the best caterers in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn was hit by a devastating fire on Christmas Day: Bassett Caterers on Avenue X. A three-alarm fire tore through the establishment, which has been serving the community since 1962. Two minor injuries were reported after 138 firefighters got the fire under control in two-and-a-half hours. The incident started as an electrical fire in the basement; no foul play is suspected.

But Bassett Owner Russell Dantonil has vowed to reopen the Brooklyn mainstay, with its fantastic homestyle cooking that has filled the bellies of so many loyal customers. “Even during the pandemic, we were open every single day,” said Dantonil. “Every single day. My guys had work, they got a paycheck every week. And now, not because of the pandemic, they don’t have their checks. It’s going to be hard on them.”

Our thoughts are with the folks at Bassett—folks such as Russell, Frank, Laura, Deb, Domenic, and others we know and love over so many years. To a better 2021 …

Song of the Day #1830

Song of the Day: Have a Wonderful Christmas Day, words, music, and arrangement by my friend, Roger Bissell, is delivered in a sweet a cappella version, in which his immensely talented grandson, “Super Milesio” [YouTube channel], sings all nine parts! My best wishes to all my colleagues, friends, and family for a wonderful Christmas Day! Check out this wonderful song [YouTube link]!

Song of the Day #1829

Song of the Day: Happy Christmas (“War is Over”) features the words and music of Yoko Ono and John Lennon. Lennon was tragically killed forty years ago on 8 December 2020, but this 1971 Christmas song remains one of the artist’s signature post-Beatles tracks (with the Harlem Community Choir), a quintessential expression of his peace activism—and of this holiday’s message of peace on earth, goodwill toward all. Check out the song on YouTube. Tomorrow, I’ll post a new Christmas song. But today, it’s a Merry Christmas Eve … and don’t forget to check out Santa’s NORAD status across the globe!

Ski and Me: An Update

For those who don’t know Ms. Ski—also known as Elizabeth Sciabarra, my sister—she is one helluva human being.

So, when life throws us a curveball, and suddenly, emails, texts, and phone calls are unable to be answered, it’s not unusual that so many people would begin to worry about her.

Ski was taken seriously ill in mid-November (with a non-COVID-related condition) that kept her in the hospital for a solid month. She was released last Saturday and is currently home; I am her primary caregiver, but I have a dear brother and sister-in-law up the block, tons of family, friends, colleagues, and former students who are all pitching in with their love and support as she moves forward in her recovery.

Anyone who knows my sister knows that she is a fighter and will persevere. But if I didn’t make this public statement to which I can point moving forward, I’d only have to answer hundreds—nay, thousands—of inquiries from those whose emails and phone calls have gone unanswered.

I’ll be happy to post an occasional update as the situation warrants, but rest assured: She’s on the mend and will be able to reply to folks in due course. Even if it takes a Grand Zoom to do so!

I want to express my deepest appreciation and love to all those who have reached out during this very difficult time. Ski wishes everyone a happy and a healthy holiday season and a better 2021!


** For those who don’t know my sister, she began as a teacher, a brilliant educator who influenced the lives of thousands of students, and who went on to continue influencing those lives as a coach, assistant principal, principal, Deputy Superintendent, and Superintendent, before retiring and taking on the job of Executive Director of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation.

Song of the Day #1828

Song of the Day: Ode to Joy, composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, constitutes the fourth movement and finale of his Ninth Symphony (in D minor, Op. 125). It is one of the most performed works from the corpus of the great composer, the 250th anniversary of whose birth is being noted this month. The master based the choral sections on a poem by Friedrich Schiller. But it is a theme that has been used by both dictators and freedom fighters the world over, giving it a particularly checkered history [YouTube link]. And yet, it is no coincidence that the great Leonard Bernstein conducted the full symphony as an “Ode to Freedom” on the occasion of the collapse of the Berlin Wall (the finale itself can be heard, triumphantly, in two parts: part 1 and part 2) [YouTube links]. Bernstein embraced the Ninth Symphony [YouTube link], as a jubilant celebration of peace and brotherhood, having recorded it two previous times: first with the New York Philharmonic in 1964 and again with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1979. It has also been embraced by diverse cultures for its exuberant spirit; in Japan, for example, in keeping with the holiday season, it has become a veritable Christmas carol. And it has been used by dissenters throughout the world in protests such as those against the oppressive Pinochet regime in Chile and in those that rocked Tiananmen Square. What better way to end a two-day celebration of this important anniversary!

Song of the Day #1827

Song of the Day: Symphony No. 6 in F-major (Op. 68) was composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, who was baptized on this date in Bonn, Germany, 250 years ago. The piece made its debut this very month in 1808 [22 December] at the Theater an der Wien. Also known as the “Pastoral Symphony or Recollections of Country Life,” there have been so many performances of it through the history of recorded music. Among the most notable are those conducted by Otto Klemperer, Carlos Kleiber, Sir John Eliot Gardner, and Colin Davis [YouTube links]. The symphony has entered popular culture as well through two notable films: Disney’s 1940 masterpiece, “Fantasia,” conducted by Leopold Stokowski [YouTube link] and in an excerpt during a key scene with Edward G. Robinson [YouTube link; spoiler alert!] from the 1973 sci-fi film, “Soylent Green.” We don’t know the exact date of Beethoven’s birth, but his enormous legacy remains among history’s greatest musical achievements.

Pearls Before Swine Strikes Again!

From my favorite comic strip, courtesy of Stephan Pastis in today’s New York Daily News:

Ain’t it the Truth!


Song of the Day #1826

Song of the Day: Come Rain or Come Shine, music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, made its debut in the 1946 musical, “St. Louis Woman.” The song first hit the pop charts in a rendition by Margaret Whiting with the Paul Weston Orchestra. Other notable recordings include those by Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, and Barbra Streisand, and among instrumentalists: Bill Evans, Joe Pass, and Return to Forever (with vocalist Gayle Moran) [YouTube links]. But today, I highlight a recording from the 1962 album, “Sinatra and Strings“—to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of the Chairman of the Board. Check it out on YouTube.

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends! Lord knows, we all need a Festival of Lights!

❤

Song of the Day #1825

Song of the Day: See Love [lyric and song link], words and music by Jodi Arlyn, appears on the artist’s 2012 album, “Stars Up On the Ceiling.” I’ve known Jodi for umpteen years as both a colleague and friend at NYU. I had no clue that she had another life beyond the university! What a sweet discovery! Check it out!