Since 2011, Liberty Hound restaurant has been a fixture at Canalside. At first, it was not an easy feat to get customers to support the business year round, but upwards of a decade later the investment and determination that owners Jason Davidson and Mike Shatzel put into the operation is paying off.
Now the City has issued a Request for Proposal (RFP), which begins the process of seeking an operator for the space. According to Davidson, he feels that it’s the wrong time to potentially displace a successful restaurant at the waterfront, when they have taking all of the risks since the onset.
“Liberty Hound is indeed in danger of closing before the the start of the 2019 Canalside Summer Season,” said Davidson. “Just as Explore and More Children’s Museum gets ready to open and a major Tall Ship Festival is scheduled this July Fourth weekend the restaurant that helped put Canalside on the map may become a victim of its own success.
“When the original RFP came out in 2010 nobody else even bothered to submit a proposal. Everyone thought we were crazy. We had a vision and really wanted to be a part of Buffalo’s resurgence. Liberty Hound serves 600-800 patrons a day during the summer and we’re popular because we strive to give families and visitors a good value along with a nice view, great food, and good service.
“We hope that the risk Mike Shatzel and I took in 2011 is taken into consideration. Not only us but the incredible team that actually make it possible for a small restaurant with a tiny kitchen to do the business we do every day. Their livelihoods are on the line as well. Liberty Hound employees nearly 100 people from May-September and most of them come back year after year. It would be incredibly far reaching for someone to expect the same results from a different team in a reasonable amount of time.”
Incredibly, the City has also stated that the new operator will retain the name Liberty Hound, which Davidson says is proprietary to the owners. Davidson told me that if, for some reason, he and Shatzel are displaced, they are going to take the Liberty Hound concept to another area at Canalside. The naming of the restaurant came about as the result of a contest that was posted on Buffalo Rising years ago.
“The RFP that was sent out publicly states that anyone who wins the bid has to keep the Liberty Hound name and concept, claiming incorrectly that it is owned by The Naval Park and the City of Buffalo,” Davidson stated. “We worked very hard to build our brand and its loyalty for the last eight years and we plan to hold onto it. A landlord doesn’t get to keep the name of its commercial tenant after it severs the relationship.
“That being said we have a great relationship with The Buffalo Naval Park and the City of Buffalo. We’re optimistic that a fair deal that works for everyone can be reached and that Liberty Hound will be a part of Buffalo’s waterfront for many years to come. We know the Naval park needs a greater share of our revenue and we happy to give more. We have always given more and supported the Park above and beyond what we were required to do in our lease. What we don’t think is fair is for another operator to slide in and capitalize on the hard work we’ve all ready done.”
At this point, a couple of other local entities have expressed interest in the site, including Earl Ketry (RiverWorks) and Be Our Guest (Rich’s).
A petition is now circulating that is asking the community to support the owners of Liberty Hound, and their bid to retain their current location at Canalside (at The Buffalo Naval Park).