Fairfield University alumni Jay DeGioia ‘80 and Joe Sandolo ‘81 were teammates on the men’s soccer team when they were students at Fairfield. Nowadays, the duo still works together. Only instead of on the soccer field, they are business partners at the University’s on-campus restaurant, The Levee.
At the end of the 2020-2021 academic year, the University did not renew its contract with Sodexo, Fairfield’s previous food supplier. Another change within Fairfield’s dining program is the change in ownership of The Levee. This change gave way to DeGioia, the current director of Stags Hospitality, and Sandolo returning to Fairfield.
Prior to their new role at The Levee, the duo has worked together in many restaurants throughout the state of Connecticut.
DeGioia said that he and Sandolo have “partnered in restaurants in Norwalk, Bridgeport, Stratford and Brookfield” for 15 years before he moved with his family to Florida to work for Walt Disney World.
Sandolo said these partnerships happened early in their careers.
“As time passed, we have always looked at a way to partner again,” Sandolo said. “It is good to be back working together and especially special for me to support Jay and the Stags Hospitality team.”
Outside of work, the duo are longtime friends, going on over 40 years of friendship. DeGioia shared that Sandolo is his youngest daughter Jamie’s godfather, and the two families have “enjoyed many family vacations together to the beaches in Wildwood, N.J.”
Sandolo still runs a family company based in Norwalk the two started that includes a coffee plant and multiple restaurants. The coffee plant is Oasis Coffee and some of the restaurants owned include Ponza Italian Restaurant in Norwalk, Milford Sports Pub, John’s Best Restaurants throughout Connecticut and Sage, a restaurant coming soon to Norwalk.
“When Jay approached me about supporting The Levee and the Stags Hospitality team, I couldn’t have been happier,” Sandolo said. “It is in true Fairfield spirit and tradition to support local business and the alumni network to provide support and products to the campus community.”
When asked about their favorite memories during their time at Fairfield, both men talked about hanging out at the Snack Bar which preceded The Levee.
“It was a great community space where everyone would meet,” DeGioia said. “It was well before cell phones, so it was important we had a place to start in the evenings. It was amazing to see students, faculty and staff all together enjoying the experience.”
Sandolo was a commuter and therefore “it was important for [him] to have places to meet[his] friends and plan out our free time.”
“I really enjoyed the game room, meeting up with everyone at the Snack Bar and building strong relationships, a few that continue to this day,” Sandolo shared.
On top of hanging out at the Snack Bar, DeGioia mentioned some of his favorite memories at Fairfield include beach parties, taking the train to the city with friends, concerts and “mostly being on the soccer field the entire time [he] was here.”
In terms of working together from a business standpoint, Sandolo shared that the similar work ethics that they both have, have led to the success of the businesses they ran together.
“We have the same goal of giving the guests the best possible experience and will work tirelessly to make that happen,” Sandolo said.
These goals can be seen in the principles that Stags Hospitality is founded upon.
“Stags Hospitality stands on the principle of working with local businesses and also University alumni,” Sandolo said. “When Jay approached me to support The Levee, I was excited to bring my products to campus, and hopefully elevate the student experience. We have always wanted a presence on campus and will do whatever possible to partner [with the University].”
DeGioia also mentioned the dedication he feels to “elevating the student experience” as stated by Sandolo.
“My favorite part of the job is providing a great guest experience and developing team members to reach their full potential,” DeGioia said. “The team here works especially hard to make sure all students and guests are treated well and are always suggesting ideas on how we can improve or try different things.”
The Levee currently has a pizza station, a grill and the market with prepackaged food in the front.
“We want to enhance the market and allow local restaurants to utilize the hot and cold buffet in the spring to give our students an onsite local restaurant experience,” DeGioia said. “There are also plans for the summer to add a four-season patio out front where the tent is and a large party pavilion where the parking lot is.”
These plans, according to DeGioia, are in the beginning stages of being planned, but he hopes that discussions with the community and students will happen soon. In addition to this, The Levee will soon add kiosk and online ordering, and hopes to start making deliveries “once plans are finalized.”
Sandolo hopes that this is “the beginning of a long term partnership” and that he is “truly excited about the local restaurant row feature The Levee will offer in the Spring [semester].”
“I can’t wait to introduce our families’ local restaurants on campus for the students to enjoy,” Sandolo said.
DeGioia cited the near-completion of the Convocation Center as one of the reasons for the adjustments being made.
“The goal is to give the guests a seamless experience throughout campus and The Levee gives students more flexibility as they can now use their meal plans, Stagbucks and dining dollars,” DeGioia said.
DeGioia wants The Levee to be a place where students can have a “few moments to relax during their busy schedules.”
“I want each student to have a consistent and enjoyable meal while being served promptly with a smile,” he said.
On returning to campus, DeGioia said that “Fairfield is home and you always feel welcome here.”
“The administration is committed to providing the students with not only the best dining experience anywhere but to also provide that sense of community that makes this place so special,” DeGioia said. “I was part of the team that developed the Tully renovation before I left in 2017, and I always wanted to come back and help it reach its full potential.”
Sandolo reiterated the homey feeling DeGioia discussed.
“The minute you step on campus, you automatically feel welcome and in friendly and comfortable surroundings,” Sandolo said. “As we watch the enormous growth, it is always fun to come back and see the excitement and sense of community.”
He also mentioned that Fairfield is “well-known for its dining program” and as a proud alumni, he “really wants to be a part of Fairfield’s exciting future.”
“Fairfield has the full commitment of the entire community to provide a great dining experience and commits the necessary resources to ensure we have everything we need to do that,” DeGioia said.
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