How Kim Kardashian Is Bringing Buzz (and Business) to Staten Island
When people first started coming into Campania, a restaurant in Staten Island known for its coal-fired pizza, and inquiring about “Kim,” Nicole Bressi, a server there, didn’t quite get it.
“I was like, ‘Kim isn’t here today, but check back tomorrow,’” Ms. Bressi said. “It took me a few times to realize they weren’t talking about my friend Kim, who works here with me. They were talking about Kim Kardashian.”
Last November Ms. Kardashian, the reality television star and influencer who recently stirred debate when she wore a Marilyn Monroe dress to this year’s Met Gala, visited the restaurant in Dongan Hills, one of several Campanias throughout the borough and Brooklyn. She was with her boyfriend, the comedian and actor Pete Davidson, who was born and raised in Staten Island.
Word got out about the couple’s romantic date on the roof of Campania, where they skipped the truffle mac and cheese and $150 seafood tower, opting instead for a margherita pizza, salad and sangria. Soon, crowds were swarming the restaurant.
“It was crazy,” said Umberto Guzman, a manager. “The phone was ringing off the hook, and we had long lines every day. People wanted to sit on the roof all winter long because that’s where she sat, but I had to explain to them the roof was closed because it was cold.”
Six months later the attention hasn’t let up.
“So many people ask us about Kim, we now make up stories,” Ms. Bressi said. “I wasn’t even here when Kim was here, but now I say, ‘Oh yeah, we had coffee. It was lovely.’”
Mr. Davidson has long been an ambassador for his home borough, making a movie about it based on his life and buying a defunct Staten Island Ferry boat, with plans to turn it into an entertainment venue. He apparently has a condo in Staten Island too, although he has dropped hints about moving to Brooklyn. One of his best-known skits on “Saturday Night Live,” where his departure was recently announced, was a take on the song “Walking in Memphis,” using lyrics about Staten Island instead. “We got like 80 bagel spots and every block has a pizza place,” he sang.
He has been taking his uber-famous girlfriend to all his favorite Staten Island spots. The media and Ms. Kardashian’s fans — and locals looking for a kick — have noticed.
Some say the attention is overwhelming. “I don’t want lines anymore because it’s annoying for my customers,” Mr. Guzman said. “We have been busy since we opened last April because our food, and service, is amazing. We don’t even need her.”
The couple also went to the movies in Staten Island. “You can’t get any bigger than Kim Kardashian,” said Jesse Scarola, the owner of Atrium Stadium Cinemas, an independent theater near Great Kills with 11 screens and arcade games. “The president could be here, and it wouldn’t be any bigger.”
When Ms. Kardashian visited over the winter for a screening of “House of Gucci,” hundreds of people bought tickets or waited in the parking lot for a quick glimpse.
“My kids saw she was there on social media and hopped in the car to try and see her,” said Christina Ortalano, 46, a managing director with Bank of America who lives in Prince’s Bay, on the South Shore. “Some people acted like they didn’t care, but they did. People get star-struck.”
Mr. Scarola, the owner of Atrium, is still getting a boost from Ms. Kardashian’s one-time visit. “Someone called a few weeks ago, someone from out of town, saying he wanted to come to the theater that Kim visited,” he said. “He rented out the whole theater for his friends and paid for everyone’s popcorn and food.”
Councilman Joseph Borelli of Staten Island is grateful the cineplex is getting some attention. “The atrium is sort of a throwback to an old era where kids hung out at the movie theater and giggled in the back with their pals,” he said. “The atrium was crushed during the pandemic, and it’s good that their name is in the paper for a good reason.”
Vincent Malerba, the owner of Angelina’s Ristorante, a chandelier-clad, waterfront restaurant in Tottenville, said he was no stranger to celebrities. “There are two studios up the block, one in the old jail and one in the old brewery, so we get tons of them,” he said. “But no one did to us what Kim did.”
A photo he took with the couple got thousands of likes on Instagram. “We have never had exposure like that,” Mr. Malerba said. “People started coming in from Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, South Jersey, everywhere.” He hopes people will come for Ms. Kardashian but return for the good food and service.
“We have always known that Angelina’s and Campania were two of the city’s greatest restaurants,” Mr. Borelli said. “That is good for the Staten Island food scene overall.”
Indeed, the number of visitors at Clinton Hall, a new outdoor bar on the waterfront at Empire Outlets in St. George, has doubled in the last three months, said Telly Hatzigeorgiou, the owner. “There are a few things happening; it’s not a one-trick pony,” he said. “It’s warm now. After Covid, people want to get out. But I think Kim definitely has something to do with it also. I hear people talking about her all the time.”
Of course, not everyone wants Staten Island to get more attention.
Every summer Ruby Hernandez, who works in learning and development for an accounting firm and lives near Times Square, escapes to Staten Island with her boyfriend to a quiet beach. “I won’t tell you where it is,” she said.
“If Kim went there I would want to get a photo with her, but then I wouldn’t want the crowds that followed,” she said. “I want my beach to stay undiscovered. It’s nice and quiet and it’s not dirty.”
Jan Zabka, a journalist from Prague, visited Staten Island last weekend to see the Manhattan skyline from afar. As a tourist, he said he was far more interested in seeing another female celebrity, one that is made of copper: the Statue of Liberty.
Mr. Borelli, the councilman, said he hoped that once visitors were on the island, they would explore. “I think they would be shocked to know how much outdoor recreation there is here,” he said. “There are four miles of hiking and mountain bike trails on my block.”
Some Staten Island locals enjoy having some added glamour to their daily lives. “When I go out to have my cigarettes on the rocks by the river I would see Pete coming out of his condo, which is right next to the museum,” Jim Sarlo, 61, a site manager at the National Lighthouse Museum, said last Sunday, though he isn’t sure the comedian still lives there. He said he had seen Ms. Kardashian leaving Mr. Davidson’s condo and heading toward the ferry a few times as well.
“I just say, ‘Hey, sup?’” he said. “That’s what we say on Staten Island.”