By Vicki Chesler
“My father was all about work,” says Bobby Bellini, president of Varsity Plumbing and Heating, the firm his father founded 50 years ago. “He was very regimented. He’d blow reveille in our house about 4:30 in the morning with the most annoying whistle you could possibly imagine.”
We’re sitting in the conference room at Varsity’s headquarters in Flushing, Queens, and from the next room comes a trilling whistle.
“That’s it!” yells Bobby as the sound comes again from his father’s office down the hall.
“I was the last of the three brothers to join the company, in the fall of 1985,” says Bobby. “I was in college and then playing professional baseball, but Dad said, ‘You’re coming to work.’ So every day, my brothers Ricky and Tommy and I would be roused out of bed by my Dad walking in, switching on the lights, and whistling till we couldn’t take it any more.
“Then we’d pile into the Suburban and leave every day at 5:10 a.m. We’d pick up our two neighborhood friends, take turns driving, and arrive at the office by 6:15 to start working.”
The days were long and hard, and the Bellini brothers often stayed till 7 p.m. “He was tough,” Bobby says of his father Bob, “but we built the business that way.”
Bobby was an outfielder with the Baltimore Orioles Minor League system at the time, and he recalls trying to fit in his workouts before and after working 12-hour days.
His father would drop him off at a local track to run for an hour before work. After work, he’d practice hitting at the batting cage near his home.
But in between practices and training, Bobby and his brothers Rick and Tom, were helping Bob Sr. build the family’s plumbing business.
Family owned and operated since 1962, today Varsity provides a wide range of services to all kinds of properties, from co-ops and condos to rentals and commercial properties.
Varsity’s expertise includes plumbing, heating, cooling, sewer and drain cleaning, air and water quality, backflow prevention, pumping systems, and fire sprinkler/standpipe systems.
Varsity’s headquarters, located in Flushing, New York, features a 28,000 s/f office as well as an 8,000 s/f parts warehouse with over $1 million worth of inventory, enhancing its ability to service its clients at any time of day, without the need to depend on suppliers.
Their Long Island operation, Varsity Home Service, has grown to become Long Island’s premiere plumbing, heating and cooling service provider.
From their office in Bohemia, they serve a customer base of over 25,000 Long Island homes. Varsity holds Licensed Master Plumber status throughout Long Island, the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester County and the State of New Jersey.
They enforce a policy of drug testing, criminal background checks and credit checks for all employees. “We will not send anyone into your home that we would not invite into our home,” Bobby emphasizes.
For years Bobby has served as president of the Master Plumbers Council of the City of New York.
Founded in 1889, the organization works closely with the City Buildings Department, City Council, the DEP, other agencies and City representatives to ensure that properties are operated safely and that code regulations are in place and enforced.
The Council has been actively involved in initiatives such as backflow prevention, energy efficiency and requirements for using L
Licensed Master Plumbers to perform these kinds of health and safety-oriented installations and inspections. He remains an active Member for the Council, and is also a Member of the New York City Plumbing Licensing Board.
From the early days of Bobby’s involvement with the company, Varsity has supported a number of charities, contributing time and money to fundraising efforts.
For nearly 20 years, they have supported the Boomer Esiason Foundation to fight Cystic Fibrosis. Founded in 1994, a year after the NFL quarterback’s son Gunnar was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, the Foundation has raised millions of dollars to help find a cure for this degenerative genetic disorder, as well as providing support for families affected by it.
Growing up in East Islip, Long Island, Bobby and Boomer went to the same high school.
“He was this 6’ ft. 4 ins. blond athlete destined to become a superstar, and I was this 5 ft. 3 ins 110 pound sophomore,” Bobby recalls. “We were both on the varsity baseball team, and Boomer took me under his wing, and kind of looked out for me.”
Bobby recalls the first fundraiser Boomer put together for the Foundation at the Irish Coffee Pub in East Islip.
“Varsity contributed $5,000, and the event raised about $16,000.” Since then the organization has raised over $100 million, with funding support from business such as Varsity, along with national corporations and caring individuals.
Bobby teamed up with Boomer once again for a recent celebrity baseball fundraiser at the new Yankee Stadium against former Yankee greats.
“We won 11-2,” says Bobby of his team, Boomers Bombers, which also included former Mets pitcher John Franco, Craig Carton, who co-hosts Boomer & Carton on WFAN, former NHL great Doug Weight and former NBA great Wally Szczerbiak.
The opposing team included former Yankees such as outfielder Mickey Rivers, second baseman Homer Bush, Lee Mazzilli and General Manager Brian Cashman.
In addition to supporting the Boomer Esiason Foundation, Varsity has organized a food drive for “Long Island Harvest,” sponsored Little League and other local sports teams, and supports local churches, synagogues, and Fire Departments.
One of Bobby’s top priorities is family. His father Bob still visits the office nearly every day, and his brothers Rick and Tom, both vice presidents, are there daily as well.
His brother-in-law, Mike Lyons, serves as Chief Financial Officer, and his sister Theresa manages the office of Varsity Home Services, their Long Island operation in Bohemia.
Bobby’s daughter Erica worked at the company for a couple of years before setting off on her own.
Bobby still lives in Suffolk County, Long Island, near where he grew up, and still spends much of his down time enjoying the company of his family.
On weekends and holidays, the siblings, their father, kids and various cousins often head up to the Finger Lakes region for fishing, quad riding, hiking and other outdoor activities.
“The most important thing for me is to continue building relationships with our customers by earning their trust and their confidence,” says Bobby.
“Throughout the past 51 years, we have always remained true to the founding principles my father subscribed to when he started the business back in 1962: Do a good job, charge a fair price, stand behind your work, and always keep your word.”
“We feel a sense of responsibility towards our clients, many of whom have been with us for years. We still have clients that started out hiring my Dad back in 1962, and now we are serving their children.”