Cousin Vinny’s Way, a sub shop on East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx, earned itself some notoriety three weeks ago when it took an unusual retail route and paired strippers with sandwiches. The shop circulated advertisement flyers promoting an adult club in a spare room.
But now owner Anthony “Cousin Vinny” Agnello says it was all a hoax.
Agnello said that he wanted to play on his business history in the adult entertainment industry and stir up a scandal that would bring free publicity. Agnello used to run Gorgeous Stripper Plus, a stripper agency.
“Why not use a little of my notoriety to get some free press?” said Agnello, who added that the press “has been using me to sell newspapers for years.”
Agnello said that for the price of a $1,500 renovation the shop’s spare room got a carpeted platform and see-through shower, giving the business at 2726 East Tremont Avenue the illusion of a racy operation and setting the stage for a scandal. The Westchester Square shop circulated hundreds of flyers advertising a small after-hours strip club with snacking perks like free subs and sodas at Cousin Vinny’s Way, aptly dubbed Cousin Vinny’s Secret.
“We got Gawker and BlueMauMau,” Agnello said, referring to gossip blog Gawker.com and business franchise news Web site BlueMauMau.org, which each posted stories.
The flyer promised “unlimited fountain soda for your mixers, a footlong sandwiches of your choice, and a discrete and totally safe atmosphere to indulge in your carnal fantasies. Our ladies are eager to please… not to mention the fact that Cousin Vinny Agnello has been a leader in the erotic arts for over 15 years.”
Flyers and local media attention stoked community outrage, which led the New York Police Department to investigate, Community Board 10 District Manager Kenneth Kearns said.
Agnello has started circulating new flyers apologizing to community members “whose feathers were ruffled,” and offering a $1 discount in return for what Agnello called a “prank.”
“I never intended to have a private nude club,” Agnello said in the flyer. “First off, it would be illegal, not to mention that this is a community of families.”
The second flyer also offers an explanation for his antics: “The media made me and I decided to use them to promote my restaurant [which was] working on a shoe string budget!”
Agnello formerly owned a Subway sandwich store, but the chain revoked his franchise in April. Agenllo then moved from a shop that was less than 1,000 square feet to a larger 1,600-square-foot site. Kearns said that Agnello moved his operation to an empty site a few blocks down and re-opened as Cousin Vinny’s Way.
Agnello’s stripper agency had been involved in several media scandals, including a teen party in Chappaqua, where the parents of the teen host were charged with misdemeanors.
Agnello, who graduated from Western Connecticut University with a degree in journalism, still answers the phone at Cousin Vinny’s Way with the greeting “Cousin Vinny’s Gorgeous Strippers.” He confesses that “the truth is I’m a little guy with a big, controversial public image.”