Harry Gonzalez had originally planned to park his Lunch Box Food Truck outside of Agway’s Garden and Pet Center in Port Jefferson only four afternoons a week.
But business has been good.
“It’s just been taking off lately,” said Gonzalez, 36, who lives at the Port Jefferson station.
People are now reserving it for private events as well.
Any Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, Gonzalez can be seen serving his empanadas, burgers, hot dogs and Philly steaks over garlic-infused compound butter over Garlic Heroes – whether in breweries, private parties, corporate functions and block parties, even Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton.
(Note: The lunch box no longer has a regular location. Click here for location updates.)
Those who miss the mobile restaurant can probably catch Gonzalez in his other business, Heritage Charcuterie in Smithtown, which he opened in April 2019, more than a decade after a drug arrest that nearly derailed his life.
Two years after being kicked out of his mother’s home at 18, Gonzalez was caught selling drugs to an undercover police officer.
“Friends would let me sleep on their floors and sofas for a little while,” Gonzalez said of his regretted decision to find “an easy way” out of poverty.
“I didn’t have a car, I didn’t have anything. I was basically at the bottom.
He was sentenced to five years’ probation and, although he did not serve a prison term, he said his prospects as a criminal were limited. He narrowed his path down to two options: owning his own business or joining the National Guard.
Right now he needed a gig near his home in Port Jefferson, and Peter McDermott’s North Charcuterie at Mount Sinai does the trick.
“I never wanted to do a job like working in a delicatessen,” Gonzalez said. “I wanted to go to college and I had big dreams, but this [conviction] really ruined my life.
However, it was work that would shape the rest of his professional and personal life.
“He’s become like a father figure to me,” Gonzalez said of McDermott. “He taught me morals. He taught me everything about cold cuts.
Gonzalez said in his 20s he worked 65 hours a week with no regrets.
Eleven years later, he and his stepfather opened Heritage Deli. McDermott provided his longtime employee with contacts for vendors and other people he would need to get off to a good start.
“My life could have been a lot worse,” Gonzalez said. “I could have taken two roads and I’m glad I took the right road. “
pay it forward
Northside Deli was also where Gonzalez met his future wife, Amanda, who swept the floors of the same mall’s barbershop.
Amanda, financial advisor, manages Lunchbox social media accounts.
Two months ago, the 10-year-old couple welcomed their first child in the world, a girl named Maya.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Peter McDermott giving me this advice, or my stepfather,” Gonzalez said. “People have taken me under their wing and my life is so different now, it’s been a complete 180 since I was 20.”
The new dad draws on the influence of those who made a difference in his life and tries to ‘pay it forward’ to his new business partner, Kyle Buergert, a 20-year-old Heritage Deli employee.
Gonzalez has said he wants to make sure the young man has something of his own and avoid the path he’s taken.
“I saw myself in him basically,” Gonzalez said of Buergert.
“He’s a good boy, I know he has potential.”
Above: Photo credit: Harry Gonzalez