Struggletown BBQ Truck Owners Opening First Permanent Spot at Former Amici Express Pizza Place in Mount Sinai

The owners of Struggletown BBQ, the authentic barbeque food truck usually seen parked at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai, are planning to open their first brick-and-mortar storefront in the former Amici Express pizzeria spot at 1028 Route 25A in the same town.

“We put the truck on the road a year and a half ago,” said co-owner John Leonard in a phone interview with “Pretty soon thereafter we knew expansion was in the works. The question was: a second truck or brick-and-mortar?”

Fate stepped in and answered that question when the perfect location happened to become available.

“If I could have taken out a map and put a pin on it, that would have been where it went,” Leonard said. “And it had everything we were looking for.”

The space in Wylde Time Plaza is on the border of Miller Place and Mount Sinai, where Struggletown BBQ truck is already well known. A week after the pizzeria closed, he heard it was going up for rent so Leonard dropped into the beer distributor in the shopping center and asked about it. One of the landlords happens to own the beverage center and a deal was made.

“It was a little earlier than what we were planning on,” Leonard said. “We had to scramble.”

It was too good to pass up and the scramble paid off.

Struggletown BBQ

📷 New home of Struggletown BBQ at 1028 Route 25A in Mount Sinai.

Leonard said the space is also perfect because it has a full kitchen that will require minimal to no changes for his needs. The one thing he did get was a new smoker, driving to the heartland of America in Missouri to pick it up.

They’re going to burn real wood in the Old Hickory brand smoker; the pit has a fire box below for real logs. Leonard joked that the way to tell a real barbecue joint is they have a pile of logs out front.

He plans to swap out the old pizza ovens for the new smoker, which he says is the biggest change he’s making to the kitchen. That way they’ll be able to get up and running as soon as possible.

He expects to open around Thanksgiving.

“Last year we sold 25 turkeys,” Leonard said.

People came to a parking lot to get the turkeys from their food truck last Thanksgiving. This year, he hopes they will come to his permanent spot and he can sell more of them.

“The kitchen space gives me the capacity to drive the catering game,” he said.

Leonard, who owns the business with his son, Jake, said their catering and private party business has taken off. So much so that they outgrew their current capacity almost as soon as they rolled on the scene.

“We turned down as much catering as we were doing,” he said.

Struggletown BBQ

📷 Struggletown BBQ interior with new smoker.

The Struggletown BBQ food truck will be parked until they get the new spot up and running although in winter they don’t do as much business anyway. Last year they moved from their usual warm-weather spot in Heritage Park to the Snow Shed parking lot in Port Jefferson Station.

The new kitchen will let them do more catering, more events and expand their menu for the restaurant, which they are working out right now.

Leonard promised the menu will be twice the size as the food truck with double the number of sandwiches (he specifically called out adding pastrami with burnt ends) and many of their specials will become permanent offerings. He’s also adding some new items like different types of baked potatoes and desserts.

“We haven’t really been able to do dessert,” he said.

For the most part, the restaurant will be take-away with about 15 seats, which is all the permit for the space allows.

“We’re going to be more of a takeout and delivery place,” he said.

Leonard said they’re not making any structural changes to the footprint. They’re just taking out the booths and setting up high top tables and counter seating but even that is a huge difference from the food truck for his regular customers.

“We’re moving up in the world,” Leonard said.

They’re taking the food truck’s color scheme and inverting it for the interior. When they first picked colors they wanted to stand out on the side of the road so they chose a bright orange.

“It’s ‘construction orange’ with black highlights,” Leonard described.

The inside of their space will be more black with orange highlights.

“It’s the same but different,” he said.

Leonard, a lawyer by trade who found himself unemployed during the pandemic, has come a long way since he started barbecuing at home.

“It was a backyard hobby that went crazy,” he said.

Leonard first began by entering competitions on a whim with his brother-in-law in Lake Placid, where the family vacationed every year.

“In 2013 we went up and took an old smoker and entered,” he said. “We got killed.”

But it was a great experience and a decade later that morphed into a real business. Leonard got himself a custom-made truck, fitted the back half with a smoker and was on his way.

That name, Struggletown BBQ. It has a backstory too.

He said his nephew inspired the name. A teacher once told his nephew that if he didn’t study he would be in “Struggletown” his whole life. That inspired the name of his nephew’s band, which then inspired the barbecue team.

“It’s a team so you need a name,” Leornard said. “I thought, that’s a cool team name.”

Struggletown is also a metaphor for the effort it took to get where he is today.

“I’ve really come to love it because there’s been a lot of work and struggle and long hours,” he said.

Struggletown BBQ is a family business. His son is a 50% owner in the company whose girlfriend Kate is part of the operation. Leonard’s wife, Anita, and his younger son work there too. 

“It’s very much a family business,” he said. “Family and friends of family.”

Leonard says that he hopes to change people’s minds about barbecue.

“There is a sentiment out there that there’s no real barbecue on Long Island,” he said. “A lot of people’s experience comes from chain restaurants but when they taste the real stuff, it blows their minds.”

Contrary to that belief, Leonard says a lot of people are in fact doing authentic barbecue, name checking Dang and Smok-Haus, among others.

“There are authentic people doing authentic barbecue on Long Island and I don’t consider myself in competition with them,” he said. “They all have different styles and flavors.”

Instead Leonard encourages people to try them all because he knows how much work goes into making real barbecue.

“You have to be a little crazy to do it,” he said.

📷 Struggletown BBQ.

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