Long after the heads are shaved in March for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the annual charity event to support research for childhood cancer, Artie Berke can be found in the hot summer sun still raising money for the cause through his annual pizza-eating contests. His endless good will, be it supporting St. Baldrick’s or spearheading a coat drive for veterans, makes Berke a respected and well-liked figure in the Northport community. This year he garnered more votes than anyone else in Northport Patch’s of 2011 poll.
So what makes Artie run?
"This is where I always wanted to be" said Berke, who grew up in Huntington with cousins nearby in Northport. Ten years ago after working as an NYPD officer who was on duty at Ground Zero the day after 9/11. At that point, his perspective changed. Family became his number one priority and with it, his dream to open . "This is where I wanted to call home."
Burke credits his wife Lynne and two daughters Julie and Christina for supporting his desire to move and try his hand at the restaurant business. “My whole family jumped in with both feet when we moved here. We always try to donate to the community. I try to teach that to my kids, too."
Berke’s have grown over the past nine years and have raised money for different local charities such as the food pantry. Last year's event raised more than $6000 for . With the help of volunteers Mike Adams and Mary Beth Kraese, Berke turned the 2011 event into a block party, complete with bouncey rides, a video game section and of course, lots of pizza. Thirty contestants showed up, along with Mayor George Doll, New York Assemblyman Andrew Raia and lots of community members. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation sent Berke a plaque which he hangs in Nina’s along with one bearing the names of the contest winners over the years.
Burke says he was drawn to support St. Baldrick’s because of its origins in Northport and because his wife works as a nurse. "Childhood cancer" he says, "touches us all."
When colder weather begins to set in, Berke turns his attention to his annual coat drive in November. Customers who drop off a coat at the store receive a free slice of pizza. The event typically nets 200-300 coats which are donated to homeless vets at the Northport Veterans Medical Center.
So what's next for 2012, the tenth anniversary of Nina’s opening? Berke says he's still thinking of other events to run and causes to support. One cause might be in honor of slain police officer , who was shot in the face in a robbery attempt in Brooklyn in December. "I worked with him for five years," Berke says, adding he's not sure what he might do. "I haven't figured it out yet."
One thing for certain, though, is Berke's commitment to the place he and his family now call home. "I want to be a part of this community. I want to give back to this community."