Years from now when we are grandparents and reading the story of Buffalo to our grandkids, no doubt there will be a chapter devoted to Howard and Leslie Zemsky and their family for what they have done to create “Larkinville,” a collection of businesses and public spaces along Seneca Street, southeast of downtown.
Formerly, this area was empty warehouses and vacant parcels of land that were truly an eyesore for those travelling on the 190. Lucky for us, Howard Zemsky, born in Brooklyn who grew up on Long Island, moved with his family business, Russer Foods to a plant and headquarters in Buffalo. The company manufactured, processed and distributed delicatessen meats and from his office, young Howard looked across the 190 to those ugly warehouses for years.
When Russer Foods was sold 15 years ago, Howard and his wife, Leslie, who moved here from Detroit in 1984.
When Russer Foods was sold 15 years ago, Howard and his wife, Leslie, who moved here from Detroit in 1984, and their three children chose to stay in Buffalo and continue to be active in philanthropy, community development and commercial real estate.
A longtime business leader in the city, Howard put together the Larkin Development Group in 2002 to redevelop nearly 1 million square feet of historic space in what is now known as The Larkin Historic District. When the Larkin Building was completely renovated and Larkin Square was created, Leslie became “The Director of Fun” and with her creative team they began Food Truck Tuesdays, Larkin Wednesday and the Larkin Market Thursdays during the spring, summer and fall. In early December, with maestro Seamus Gallivan spearheading the talent as he does year round, they host an amazing holiday kickoff party with so much money going to local causes.
Their son, Harry, and daughter, Kayla are involved in the Larkin Development Group and it was at a recent Larkin Square Author Series at the Filling Station, that I sampled some amazing pizzas in Harry’s Hydraulic Hearth, restaurant and brewery with the Community Beer Works. The author series was created by Leslie and Talking Leaves Book Store on Main St.
My good friend, Paul Ranallo, was invited to speak about the book he published last year of his father’s greatest sports columns at the Buffalo Courier-Express. His dad, Phil Ranallo, authored “What’s New Harry?” in the Courier and it was a must read on the five days it was published.
Inside the Hearth, we sat at the “pizza bar” and received an education of how their wonderful pizza is made from scratch using the top ingredients for their amazing pies. Michael McNamara, a Canisius College graduate with multiple degrees who decided to stay in Buffalo because he loves the city and its people, created an amazing Sausage Pomodor with house made pork sausage and fresh mozzarella cheese. It was outstanding.
As we were talking, the conversation came around to sports and the Bills, the playoff drought and questions if a downtown domed stadium is in the future for the Pegulas. At that point Paul Ranallo talked about how his dad battled Buffalo News columnist Steve Weller on where the Bills’ home should have been over 50 years ago when it left War Memorial Stadium. Ranallo was adamant it should be downtown and now his son is thinking about pulling out all those columns and publishing Volume 2 with a title like “Why didn’t they just do it 50 years ago?”
It was an enjoyable evening in Larkinville and we thank the Zemskys, who remain very active philanthropists and are very involved with their Jewish faith along with serving on the boards and supporting many of our cultural treasurers.
It has been said Howard’s tenacity and business savvy convinced Governor Andrew Cuomo to launch the original Buffalo Billion and hopefully the second version of this amazing windfall for our region will be passed in Albany this year. Called the “Growth Czar.” Howard is currently the President and CEO of the Empire State Development and commissioner of the New York State Department of Economic Development. For all this work he negotiated his salary with the governor by stating that since seven cents from every dollar earned is taken out for Social Security, he would work for an annual salary of 93 cents.
He has not cashed any of the checks and years from now I can see them being auctioned at a local fund raiser for thousands of dollars to help a worthy cause.
Lead image: Michael McNamara, left, and Jesse VanDyne preparing the pies.