Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo: The Real Life Romeo & Juliet

The 1980s were defined by a rock-and-roll voice so profound, so powerful, that women today still define love as a battlefield. Lindenhurst [Long Island] native and four-time Grammy Award winner, Pat Benatar’s songs of female empowerment, both tragic and hopeful, have transcended decades. Benatar and her husband and guitarist, Neil Giraldo, aka “Spyder,” have a real-life Romeo and Juliet story, but with a not-so-tragic ending.

Over the summer, together, in conjunction with Guild Hall, Jamie Cesa, and Bel Chiasso Entertainment, they presented a free concert and staged readings of “The Romeo & Juliet Project” at Bay Street Theater’s “Under The Stars” at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor.

The concert, which debuted for the first time, had the crowed all fired up with its modern-day twist on a classic; Old English is outlawed, the Capulet’s grand party is at a warehouse, there’s a budding homosexual romance, the list goes on. Attendees were left enthusiastically wondering, ‘will it end up on Broadway?’.

Prior to the concerts debut, I caught up with Pat Benatar herself.

What was your reaction the first time you came across ‘Romeo & Juliet’?

The first time I read it was in seventh grade and I fell totally, and madly in love. I was a romantic fool. It was perfect. It was everything I loved — the historical fiction, the romance, and the entire life. I was 13. It fit right into my lexicon of the universe at that time.

How did all of this come together?

About four years ago, Spyder and I met with Jamie Cesa, the producer of the show. We met with him with the idea of doing a biographical musical, a jukebox musical. We were working on that for a couple of years, getting our writers and false starts, meanwhile continuing to do performances. In the first two years, Bradley Bredeweg was producing a small version of a musical called “Romeo & Juliet: Love Is A Battlefield.” You obviously can’t have two performances going on at once, so we sent people down in Los Angeles to check it out and they said it was really good. I said, “Oh shit.”

So, we shut the production down. We had to. He didn’t have the rights to the music anyway; it can only go so far. Then he was at a benefit and came up and introduced himself. Then, Spyder and I decided we didn’t want to do another biographical musical. So, we called Bradley. What he had done was so brilliant, it was amazing. The songs that are being played are done in the form they were written in but it wasn’t the form we wanted. Then, we all got together, us, Jamie, and Bradley, and we came up with what we have now. A reimagined story of “Romeo & Juliet,” the original in some places with a detour into things more relevant for right now.

What is the music like in the show?

A hybrid. It’s our music reimagined as a musical theater number. It’s remarkable how the lyric content fits in the story.

Out of all plays to emulate, why ‘Romeo & Juliet’?

Everyone has always called us the Romeo and Juliet of rock and roll because they’ve thrown everything at us on Earth — trying to split us up, all of this horrible stuff that people do — and we’ve managed to survive it. It has relevance for us. We’ve been married for 37 years and have been together for 40. You know, I’d love to say that this has been a picnic, but it has not.

How did you and Neil Giraldo meet?

I signed to Chrysalis Records and the company put together a group of studio musicians. We were putting things together and doing demos with wonderful studio musicians. It just wasn’t raunchy enough. It wasn’t rock enough. I mean, it sounded beautiful, but it wasn’t what I meant. I met with Mike Chapman a few times and I told him what I was trying to do, so he said he had a guy. So, Spyder came down the day I was doing auditions for the other band members and just came so we’d meet. He was already too accomplished to audition. He came in with everybody else. I didn’t know he was there. Someone told me Neil Giraldo was there, but I didn’t turn back.

Then, I heard someone behind me say, “Hey, man, can I borrow your axe?” And I thought, oh my gosh, he didn’t even bring his guitar? I was ready to turn around and skewer him. Then I saw him and that was the end of that. My brain literally shut down, the rest of my body lit up on fire. I tried to compose myself, like “What the hell are you doing?” I was madly in love with him. I composed myself, shook his hand, and he got on stage to play the most unbelievable guitar chord I have ever heard. I wouldn’t have worked with him if he hadn’t been the right guy, the right guitar player, but he was exactly what I was looking for.

Was the first song about you two?

“Promises In The Dark.” We were dying to be together. I was still married; he was in a relationship. So, we were not together. We made that whole record with all of that emotional, physical tension going on. We were trying to figure out how to start the relationship, because they don’t make it. We were crazy about each other but didn’t want to blow the career. It was a hard to decision to make. We took it really slowly, and the first song we actually wrote about the relationship was “Promises In The Dark.” It’s our signature thing.

How does this rock ‘n’ roll journey differ from others?

We’ve had a really amazing life. It hasn’t been perfect, there have been lots of struggles, but we came out on the other side. We have two daughters, two grandchildren. We’re so grateful. To be able to circle all the way around, go back to my Long Island roots, and be able to start this whole other adventure, where music that has been so critical and important to your life is now being put into another format. It’s amazing. I’ve never heard the songs sung by anyone but me. To hear them all singing these words that we wrote, we played, that have never been sung by another person, is spectacular.

This article first appeared in The Independent Newspaper on August 13, 2019, prior to the concerts debut. Read more about #EverythingEastEnd here

The Cold, Bitter End

This article first appeared as the cover story in the January 17, 2018 issue of The Independent Newspaper



Self-taught photographer James Katsipis braves the harshest winters in a location iconically praised during the summer months. He is an ambassador for Montauk Hard Label Whiskey and part of the East Coast Vision Team for A Walk on Water, a foundation that offers surf therapy to special needs children.

His newly released book, The Cold, Bitter End, captures Montauk’s desolate beauty. What others view as “The End” is only this man’s beginning.

Seven years ago, a picturesque series emerged using the hashtag #ColdWaterSurferSeries, showcasing winter surfers from Montauk to Ireland. In 2013 the series landed its own exhibition, which was curated by Scott Bluedorn, at Neoteric Fine Art.

Over four years later, originally published in November 2017, The Cold, Bitter End makes an icy splash as Katsipis’s debut in the publishing world. Portraying cold-water surfers and seemingly abandoned storefronts, these images are making their way from Ditch Plains into the homes, and hearts, of eager page turners.

“This project didn’t start out as a book. It was just me and my camera doing what I do,” Katsipis modestly explained. Admiring the likes of Tom Colla and Matt Clark, the whole book was shot with Canons and AquaTech Water Housings, though he’s recently switched over to Sony mirrorless.


“It’s a fine line between passion and obsession. My mind just always seems to be taking pictures even when I don’t have my camera.”


Each picture promises 100-percent originality with a few minor color enhancements. This may come as a surprise upon flipping to the scene of, what appears to be, someone skinny-dipping into the ocean. “That wasn’t even planned. I happened to be in the ‘wrong’ place at the right time,” Katsipis jocularly noted.

All the people seen throughout the book are the boys from Whalebone magazine, whom he’s known for most of his life. While he tended to reach out a day prior to catch them in action, half of the time the snaps are purely spontaneous.

Clad in a winter suit, 5mm gloves, and locking up the camera, Katsipis swims out to sea for the perfect shot. He situates himself right in the impact zone, ready. In a moment, he captures a single image of exemplary complexity. The full face of a wave, from trough to crest, at a stand-still.


A shot of pure precision, it requires a double-take before realizing it’s not the infamous sandy cliffs but rather their aquatic neighbor. Katsipis recalls, “With a keen eye you can catch brief moments of reprieve from all the beatings.”


Katsipis has remained a lifelong resident of the 11954 zip code. Together with his wife, Bella Ornaf, founder of jewelry line FIN Montauk, their dog Samson and little pig, Mako, the four happily call Montauk home — a place of ever-changing seasons.

As locals, they’re the first to admit some things outsiders simply won’t understand. The most underrated thing about Montauk? Winter, clearly. The most overrated? “Range Rovers, sorry Dylan,” Katsipis laughed. And you’re definitely not from the area if “you don’t know what the green bench is.” As for his personal favorite pathway to explore, Camp Hero.

The 146-page “photographic winter journey in Montauk” is currently sold on Amazon with plans to become available to the local East End community soon. Though there are no expectations for a parallel summer photography series, another book in the works is Mermaids of Montauk, to be released at a later time.

Visit or follow him on @Letstaukgrams and @mermaidsofmontauk for upcoming signings, in addition to some stellar photography.

Follow me on Instagram & Facebook @NikkiOnTheDaily


Check back soon for a story on his wife’s endeavor, FIN Montauk

Hamptons Farms

This article first appeared in the January 3, 2018 issue of The Independent Newspaper


The culinary trend toward farm-to-table experiences continues to make its mark on the East End. Hamptons Farms is the new neighbor in town, offering fresh ingredients and a warm atmosphere, at its debut location at 412 Montauk Highway in East Quogue. Owner Sandra Sadowski runs things with her husband Stefan Amraly, alongside Arielle Ferrara as the local chef heading the kitchen, serving up comfort food without the guilt. Eager to learn more, I sat down with Sadowski.

How would you define Hamptons Farms?

Our goal is to have our produce, meat, and fish from sustainable sources, all non-GMO, no hormones, and if we can source locally that is a bonus. Using these fresh foods makes for a better-quality product in the end. We also strive to have both indulgent dishes on the menu and light dishes so our guest feels they can share plates and also visit us regularly. We pride ourselves on our gluten-free and vegan options as well.

How often do you switch up your “featured dish?”

Chef and I enjoy collaborating on special features for the bar, main dishes, and desserts. Usually I pitch an idea and she will create a final product that is better than I envisioned which is really exciting. We switch up our featured dishes at least once a week, however, on some occasions, up to three times per week. Our loyal guests comes in several times a week and looks forward to our new features so this is very important to us. We also take suggestions from guests into consideration; we love input from our community.

What have been some favorites so far? What’s your signature dish?

Favorite dishes thus far have been the Swedish meatballs with the Fisherman’s Bowl, which includes striped bass, angel hair pasta, spicy tomato fennel broth, and mussels, with toast points for dipping.

An indulgent dish that is very popular is the buttermilk fried free-range chicken with bacon mac and cheese, pickles, and coleslaw. We have guests who also come for our warm French bread with honey butter; it’s simple but so fresh and delicious. On our kids’ menu the grilled cheese is the most popular and, of course, rosemary French fries with aioli. Our bar guests love the cheese and charcuterie board, juicy grass-fed cheddar burger, and our flatbreads: simple margarita and indulgent mushroom, brie and truffle.

If I had to say we have a signature dish on the lean side of the menu, it would be our grilled salmon over a salad of arugula, butternut squash, and black beluga lentils and pepita pesto. Lately, I just cannot get enough of the grass-fed strip steak which is served over potatoes, blistering tomatoes, and caramelized onions for dinner and the farro bowl (spinach, butternut squash, poached egg) with wild grilled salmon for lunch.

What made you choose East Quogue as the location? How did you find your building?

East Quogue found us, the building found us. The location is perfect, such a high-volume area being on the point of Montauk Highway and Old Country Road. I had driven by almost daily and just never considering taking on such a large project alone. My husband has been the biggest support and encouraged me to take the plunge of ownership versus just operating. So far there have been no real surprises, just more time invested which is to be expected.

Tell us about the decor. What can patrons expect upon entering the doors?

Family and friends were the inspiration for the decor. The thought was, ‘How can we make a cozy modern barn atmosphere and carry that through the branding entirely?’ This is seen in the actual building, decor, food, staff, and soon to be outdoor space this spring –the creation of a “social eatery,” where friends and family can come together in a relaxed yet refined chic environment for cocktails, bites, games, and overall fun.

The atmosphere is warm and inviting, very farm chic. We have throw blankets we offer patrons who want to get even cozier which we mostly used in the autumn outside. The party table in the back is outfitted with a three-sided cushion bench and a plethora of throw pillows. This table is requested almost nightly and is available to groups of eight up to 13. Our hutch holds many games to be played during lunch and happy hour, and also keep the little ones busy while waiting for their meals in the evening. We have had parents joyfully comment that this was the first dining experience with their children not on electronic devices.

The copper bar has been a popular place for friends wanting to gather and catch up over hand-crafted libations, especially with daily happy hour from 3 to 6 PM. In the warmer months the inside-outside bar and dining will double capacity and offer a wide range of social activities which we are looking forward to.

The location has a tainted past of closings. What makes you optimistic that Hamptons Farms is here to stay?

The hospitality industry is an extreme environment to work in. Between very long hours, weekends, nights and holidays, it can take a toll on ownership and the staff. Furthermore, the expenses from payroll, food costs, electric, mortgage, heat, insurance, and so much more have to be reflected and worked into the menu costs. This is not always understood by the customer. Finding the right formula can be difficult for an inexperienced operator, so with having so much corporate experience we are fortunate.

Consistency in service and food quality is our main focus and priority as well. With this winning combination, we are confident we will be a year-round social eatery destination for the community. Lastly, after meeting several of the previous operators, they all found success, however, they were burnt out from the industry. Openings can take a toll, which it has; however, we realize a work-life balance is extremely important in the health of ourselves and our team.

What have your previous titles been?

I am very front of the house. Operations has been my area of expertise. In the last four years, having consulted on some world-renown projects as well as being a part of their openings I felt confident in my own venture. My main area of focus has been wellness with a focus on fitness, spa, salon, juice bars, and wet facilities.

Titles held have been director of operations for North America, ESPA International Consulting, with the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, the Peninsula Hotel Group, Nobu Eden Roc Miami, Chatham Bars Inn, Le Meridien Hotels, The Rittenhouse, and opening Sojo Spa Club and Baha Mar. Previous to ESPA, I spent 10 years at the Ritz-Carlton Central Park as director of spa and fitness, in addition to holding a place on the Ritz-Carlton corporate advisory council, opening up the Ritz-Carlton Westchester and the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain as well as assisting some low-performing properties.

Prior to the Ritz, I was the spa and fitness director at The Plaza Hotel, where I was really in awe of culinary, and first took a liking to food and beverage being in the presence of the Palm Court, Oyster Bar, and the Oak Room. There was so much history and employees who had been working there for years with fantastic stories, just so much fun.

Is this your first restaurant? What made you decide to take on such an endeavor?

Yes, this is my first restaurant. This was not planned. Fell into my lap. My husband Stefan and I were discussing my hectic global work travel schedule and the stress it puts on my four children. Our conversation was overheard by a local real estate broker who chimed in to say he has a commercial real estate listing that may be of interest.

After working in five-star, five-diamond properties, I immediately fell in love with the farm chic and have been wanting to hang up my pantyhose and pumps for a more modern barn/lifestyle project. It all came together very quickly. I purchased the property as well, so it is more than a restaurant investment, it is also a real estate investment. Real estate has always been a huge passion, having gotten my New York State real estate license 10 years ago, although I do not practice.

What’s your mantra or motto when it comes to business?

Under promise, over deliver. Slow down to speed up. In the end, it’s about the overall experience and having fun.

What restaurateur do you admire? Perhaps one you hope to meet or have met recently?

I really enjoyed working with Chef Alain Allegretti who is able to present the most amazing modern French cuisine while maintaining a very calm demeanor in his kitchen. His charm and humility is infectious and allows his team to work side by side with him with ease. I would be honored to meet the legendary Jeremiah Tower who is the pioneer in American gastronomy. He is very well-educated, has a remarkable story, and created culinary experiences which continue to influence chefs and foodies today.

How has your family been during this process? 

My family has been extremely supportive in this process. My husband took on about half of the opening responsibilities and continues to finish our upgrades and final touches to the restaurant which will carry into spring. My four little children join us for a family brunch every Sunday at the restaurant so they can see and understand what we are working so hard for. My oldest child has even jumped in during unexpected busy afternoons and bused tables and engaged with the customers — they love it!

What sort of mark do you hope to make on the community?

We love this community and open our doors to everyone. Being involved in the local happenings is very important to us. We proudly hosted the East Quogue School Gardening Club after their field trip to the Densieski Farm Stand to show them what “farm-to-table” means. We took the children through the process of picking up the produce at the farm, and all of the stages it goes through. Our chef demonstrated how we make our Densieski coleslaw, and allowed each of the children to enjoy tasting it. They were then educated on the customer experience and sent home with carrot cakes and an invitation to visit us again with their families.

We also made chocolate chip cookies and individually wrapped them for the East Quogue tree lighting a couple of weeks ago. All of the attendees were able to enjoy them and we were thrilled we were able to be a part of something so special in our community. Overall, we strive to be a buzzing breakfast, lunch, and dinner destination for those who love food and fun. The biggest compliment to us is when we see our guests come in for lunch or brunch (weekends) and then return the same evening for dinner!

Upcoming events or promotions?

We are excited for breakfast to launch this spring, and in the meantime, focus on our weekday lunch and weekend brunch. Having outlets and USB plug-ins coming soon will allow those who work from home to have a place they can go to for all day coffee, breakfast, and lunch all while working in a social environment. Additionally, our outdoor space is amazing — just perfect for fun, games, and live music.

We are starting off the New Year with a wellness dinner series kicking off mid-January. This will allow our customer to learn tips from wellness experts while dining on a featured lean dish. We are also finalizing our Valentine’s Day menu and programing, and are thrilled we already have reservations! We love children and are incorporating some fun family friendly events such as a special Valentine’s weekend event and Easter brunch complete with an Easter egg hunt. Beyond the restaurant, look for us at the Quogue Library where we are hosting “A Taste of Spring” culinary event in March, and at many charity events throughout the East End.

Our menu will continue to evolve with the seasons and our creative culinary team. We are excited to launch culinary and cocktail pairings which is new for 2018. I am especially keen to taste our new warm libation made with broth launching in January.


In addition to the restaurant, a market is set to open later this month located at 69 Mill Road in Westhampton Beach. This separate location provides an intimate setting of five tables or so in addition to a bar seating area. As the grab-and-go spot, there will also be shelves featuring beauty products, picnic supplies, and sustainable home goods.

For more information, call Hamptons Farms at 631-856-4080 or visit them online

Culinary Power Couple Leads ‘A Hamptons Happening’

(This article first appeared in the July 6, 2016 issue of The Independent Newspaper)


The twelfth annual “A Hamptons Happening” will take place Saturday at the home of Maria and Kenneth Fishel in Bridgehampton. This year celebrates the 40th anniversary of the founding of The Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Center. Honorees include American television chef and author Sandra Lee, founder and owner of Surf Lodge Montauk Jayma Cardoso and CEO of Lafayette 148 New York Deirdre Quinn. In addition, the event will honor lead chef couple Fernanda Capobianco and François Payard.


Brazilian native, Fernanda Capobianco previously managed and owned The Payard Restaurant and Pastry shops in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, before developing all-natural, organic recipes with the freshest ingredients for her own desserts and sandwiches. Having lost her dad to diabetes at a young age, she understood the American health crisis. Upon her move to New York in 2009 she became a board member of the New York Coalition of Healthy School Foods.


Capobianco affirmed that “Vegan or not, everyone will opt for healthier options in the near future,” as she founded the Vegan Divas baked goods and dessert brand in 2012. Her products are currently sold throughout the U.S. with a flagship location on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. In addition to her successful health conscious products, Capobianco launched her book The Vegan Divas Cookbook in 2014 and has monthly columns in Isweet Magazine and Organic Spa Magazine.


Her husband, François Payard is a third generation pastry chef from France who moved to New York in 1990 upon taking his first position at the three Michelin starred restaurant Le Bernardin. Years later, in 2009, the François Chocolate Bar opened in New York City. It has been described as “a chocolate jewelry shop.” In 2010 the causal bakery, FPB (François Payard Bakery), opened on West Houston Street in downtown New York City.


The year of 2012 proved to be a very successful year for Payard with two additional openings of FPB, a patisserie at the Plaza Hotel in the Todd English Food Hall and his first flagship store on the Upper East Side. In addition to his culinary success, Payard is the author of popular cookbooks Bite Size: Elegant Recipes for Entertaining, Simply Sensational Desserts, Chocolate Epiphany: Exceptional Cookies, Cakes, and Confections for Everyone, Payard Desserts, and Payard Cookies.


This year at “A Hamptons Happening” guests can expect a sweet surprise from Payard. He’ll be sharing his Parisian macarons and limited edition chocolate collection, which is 70% Dark Chocolate called “Gran Cru” from the company Valrhona, located in the small French village of Tain L’Hermitage.


When he comes out to the East End, Payard goes straight to the market stands to gather vegetables and fruit, quality that far surpasses that of any grocery store in the city. And, of course, he likes to pick up some wine from the local vineyards. “I really love a deep red wine with dinner or a white wine to go with a summer fish.”


As a culinary power couple there are bound to be some differences between Fernanda and Francois, especially with such individual cooking styles. Payard explains, “We like to eat healthy — regardless of the occasion! Fernanda’s vegan and not a sweet eater. I’ll whip up some fresh grilled vegetables and she’s happy.”


As for the outlook of the culinary arts for the upcoming years, Payard predicts more locavore and farm to table cooking. “A move towards a healthier lifestyle where we create great flavor combinations without compromising the freshness of the ingredients. Simplicity is key.”