The corner of Elmwood and Delavan is is beginning to take shape. After years of sitting squandered, this prime urban corner is about to play its part in the renaissance of the city thanks to the actions of Local Boys Restaurant Group – Billy Paladino (Ellicott Development), Henry Gorino, and Chuck Mauro. The team is going to be bringing a restaurant concept that will appear somewhat familiar to people who have paid a visit to one of Henry Gorino’s other popular eateries – Rocco’s Wood-Fired Pizzas located out on Transit Road.
I caught up with Henry a while back, to ask him what led him to opening his latest enterprise on Elmwood. Before catching me up to date on his recent ventures, Henry started off by saying, “I opened up my first restaurant two months before The Blizzard of ’77 [laughing]. It was called Valentine’s, and it was located where the new Courthouse building is on Niagara Square. I left that business in 1983 and opened Oliver’s, which I then sold in 2013.”
Henry’s other restaurant ventures include 800 Maple, which is now ten years old, and Sienna which is double that. Needless to say, he has made his mark in the restaurant industry, and continues to do so thanks to his work ethic and his ability to team up with instrumental business partners along the way. After consulting for Bill Paladino on a restaurant concept at the Erie Basin Marina, Bill told Henry about the development project at the corner of Elmwood and Delavan. Henry said that he was interested, and a partnership was struck after Henry’s longstanding business partner was brought into the loop – Chuck Mauro. “As for the new Elmwood restaurant,” Henry mentioned. “We have still not settled on a name as of yet, but it’s going to pay tribute to my former business partner, John Tronolone.”
To date, Rocco’s is Henry’s busiest restaurant, serving 300 every Saturday night, along with a take-out business and a drop-off concept expansion. “We feel that the Rocco’s type of restaurant will work well on Elmwood,” Henry stated. “It will be a little more upscale (ala Sienna), with an active bar. Plans call for a cutout on the second floor apartment level (see rendering) that will be a private dining room with an ‘open wall’ overlooking Elmwood. The room will be available for all diners when it’s not privately booked.”
According to Henry, there were some neighborhood issues right off the bat, but he feels that they have been alleviated. “We worked out the parking issues thanks in part to 722 Group LLC’s purchase of the old School 56. There’s also resident parking for the 21 upstairs apartments that was gained from Ellicott Development’s acquisition of 617 and 621 W. Delavan. Now we’re working with The City to rework the year round alternate parking issues. Other residents complained because they didn’t know where they were going to get their gas. A couple even commented that they were not happy that they were going to have to look at our building every day – it was stealing their sky. In the end, we tried to make everyone happy, and we feel that we’re going to be bringing something great to the street.”
Talking with Henry, I learned a lot about his views on the dining scene in Buffalo. He’s been in the industry a heck of a long time, and has had more of an impact on Buffalo dining than just about any other individual. Apparently all of his successes drive him forward to accomplish bigger and bolder initiatives. He told me that, altogether, his staff is approaching 400 people. There will be 75 employees at the Elmwood location alone (staff parking and weekend valet parking at the former School 56 – don’t worry). “If there was enough quality staff in the area,” he said. “I would have put up 20 restaurants. I’ve had incredible partners that have allowed me to operate successfully over the years.”
If it sounds like the Elmwood location might be one of Henry’s last operations (I did for a hot second), then think again. The wheels continue to turn, and before I knew it he was talking about the potential of a couple more ideas that he’s considering or working on. I suppose in a city like Buffalo, when you have a guy that knows the restaurant business, soup to nuts, he’s a valuable commodity. As the city continues to grow, Henry’s phone will continue to ring, with people on the other end pitching him proposals to open in places that aren’t even on our radar yet. It’s an exciting time to be in the business, that’s for sure.
Personally, the Elmwood/Delavan project is a dream come true for me. I’ve been waiting to see that gas station go away my entire life. I never imagined that it would be replaced with such an inspiring building and business to boot – all thanks to a guy who has a hard time saying “no”… as long as his partners are behind him backing him up.