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Buffalonians who enjoy the food and atmosphere at Osteria 166 should consider taking a scenic drive down the 219 to visit its sister restaurant, Villaggio.
After their first restaurant began to flourish in downtown Buffalo, owners Nick and Kendra Pitillo decided to create something new in a place they were very familiar with – their hometown of Ellicottville.
“I like to think of us as an Italian pub focused on bringing people together,” said Spencer Murray, General Manager of Villaggio. “We serve good, classic comfort food with a little creativity in the mix.”
In addition to serving up comforting food, Murray and his staff put a lot of energy into creating a restaurant environment where their customers feel at home.
“For us, it’s all about our guests being comfortable and having fun,” he said. “It all starts with the food, the music, and our staff. I love when people come in and wind up staying much longer than expected because they are having so much fun. Everyone who walks in the door should be treated like they’re at home.”
Murray has spent his entire career in the restaurant and hospitality industry, climbing the ranks from dishwasher to manager and working in locations both locally and throughout New England. It was early in his career that he met Nick Pitillo through a mutual friend while working at the Original Pancake House in Williamsville, not knowing their paths would intersect again.
I moved away from Buffalo for about three years,” Murray said. “It was during that time that Nick opened Osteria 166. When I was ready to come home, I reached out to Nick and he told me ‘I might know a guy who is opening something.’ That guy just happened to be him.
Murray jumped at Pitillo’s proposition to “ski all day and work all night” and returned home to Western New York to help get Villaggio up and running. The restaurant officially opened its doors for business during Fall Fest weekend of 2015. Despite his initial plan of working his way back to Buffalo, Murray wound up settling down in Ellicottville.
“Ellicottville is my home now. There’s something kind of magical about this place that you can’t put your finger on it,” he said. “It’s good for the soul, it’s a great place to have fun and a great place to raise a family. It’s like a vacation every weekend.”
Since they opened four years ago, the crew at Villaggio has put a lot of effort into curating that welcoming atmosphere in the restaurant. Guests can drop in throughout the week for a variety of specials, from buy-one-get-one glasses of wine on Wednesdays, to “Oysteria” seafood specials on Thursdays, Family Fridays where kids eat free with the purchase of an adult meal, live music on Saturdays, and their big draw – Pasta Sundays.
“One of our famous things we do is a $15 all-you-can-eat pasta bar where you get to choose your ingredients like sauce, meats, and veggies,” Murray said. “It’s become a Sunday special out here in Ellicottville.”
Villaggio also hosts a variety of specialty events for their customers. Last month, Murray put together a fixed price, four-course dinner with wine pairings, co-hosted by the owner of a vineyard in Italy. As a self-described “food and hospitality nerd,” Murray enjoys delving into the fundamentals with his guests.
“I love teaching people about what we do,” Murray said. “It’s something that’s so undervalued in society, yet food, beverage and hospitality is involved in everyone’s daily life whether they realize it or not. At these events, we get to hang out, break some bread, talk food and wine, and share some great moments together.”
Villaggio also carries its services outside the walls of their restaurant. They do full scale catering for events small to large. They offer meal drop-offs for guests who are renting a house in Ellicottville for the weekend so they have a full dinner waiting for them when they arrive. Villaggio also hosts cooking classes, which have been popular with businesses who are hosting staff retreats in the area.
“We just did three days of cooking classes for a corporate group that was staying at Holiday Valley where we hosted 25 people per day,” Murray said. “We teach our guests how we cook some of our meals, and they get to help prepare them and eat what they prepare.”
Murray and his staff have enjoyed becoming a staple in the Ellicottville community and creating a place where people love returning to eat, drink and be merry. This year, they’ll celebrate their four-year anniversary with a big party in October, featuring a live band, complimentary food, and liquor, wine, and beer tastings. They see it as a thank you to the members of the community who helped them get started and grow.
“We sincerely love what we do,” Murray said. “We love when friends come to visit us, whether we see them once a month or every day. Half the people don’t feel like they’re coming in as guests, they feel like our family now.”
To check out Villaggio’s menu and business hours and learn more about their upcoming events, visit their website at villaggioevl.com.
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