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Raclettes – Passing the Torch

Sometimes life changes course unexpectedly bringing better fortunes, misfortunes and occasionally new opportunities that are not necessarily good nor bad just different. And that is just how Paul & Sandra Wilkins found themselves last summer. Five years after moving into their newly renovated loft in the historic building @ 537 Main Street and just before celebrating their 3rd anniversary of the first floor’ s successful restaurant, Raclettes, events and circumstances had them heading off to start a new adventure. After 30 years of living in Buffalo, New York, Paul accepted a job in his native country.

“It wasn’t a planned move,” Sandra Wilkins admits. “We just found ourselves in a strange situation that resulted in Paul taking a position at a global company based just outside of London, England.”

Traveling back and forth from London to Buffalo several times this year, Sandra felt confident that she would be very happy to keep Raclettes, the popular, Main Street located restaurant open and successful. Her staff, she says, was more than capable of running Raclettes without her daily presence and she still has her family here to visit, after all. So, while the Wilkins’ were not even considering closing the restaurant, on one of Sandra’s trips home, she was approached by someone interested in taking over the restaurant space. She agreed to meet with the group, still not really considering this and so it began. Word must have gotten out that Raclettes may be soon sold and suddenly Sandra was approached by other interested parties -with various scenarios of how they would use the first floor space.

“It was during my next trip home in May that I realized, while I hadn’t even thought about giving up Raclettes, perhaps it was the right thing to do for my staff, for the neighborhood and, I guess, for my own personal well-being,” Wilkins admits. “They really deserve a place to work and eat where there is an owner that can be present and involved in the day to day excitement and challenges of it all. I deserve to be with my husband. I’ve spent a total of 18 weeks away from my husband since March. We’ve been like Siamese twins for the past 30 years – so it is not an easy thing for us to be apart.”

After discussing it at length, Paul and Sandra decided that if they were truly going to turn over the space, it was going to be to the right person and for 3 main reasons. First and foremost, they love their entire staff, consider them family, and wanted to make sure they would be taken care of. Second, they wanted to make sure whoever took over the space was a good business person (good meaning both experienced and with a reputation of being a fair and strong employer) as they wanted to make sure that the first floor was occupied by a restaurant that would succeed.

We’ve been like Siamese twins for the past 30 years – so it is not an easy thing for us to be apart.

“90% of restaurants fail in the first year,” Wilkins quips. “And of that 10% , 90% close in the 2nd year”.

And the third requirement was that the person taking over would have a great model that would fit into the space and the neighborhood. A place that would be very likely to beat this statistic, as Raclettes had.

Morgan & Tim

“Talk to Tim,” Paul told Sandra. She completely agreed! The Wilkins’ have greatly admired Tim and Morgan Stevens’ restaurant concepts and business ethic.

The day after she returned for her next visit to Buffalo, Sandra walked over to Lucky Day and asked if Tim was in. He greeted her in his usual friendly manner and Sandra asked Tim if he had a minute to talk. Not having any idea what it was about, and as busy as he must have been, Tim agreed. When they sat down, Sandra told him that she had a few people approaching her about taking over Raclettes, partnering with her and/or opening an entirely new restaurant at 537 Main. She then told him that she and Paul had thought about it and decided it was time – but they wanted the right person or people to take over and were willing to wait until they found them. She explained that they (Sandra and Paul) thought Tim and his wife Morgan were a great business team, which they held in high esteem. They also loved and frequented two of the Steven’s establishments.

Lucky Day

Lucky Day Whiskey Bar on Pearl Street is known for its’ endless supply of brilliant whiskeys and a fine dining menu that includes large plates (including Bourbon Glazed Chicken or their 14 oz Bone In Pork Chop) as well as smaller, unique plates like their Hand Pie menu. And, of course, the long established, Buffalo favorite, Ballyhoo – Drinks & Links on South Park is well known for their amazing sausages, craft beer and Jam Jar cocktails.

“I love how they are both so different, yet both so inviting,” Sandra says. “And Tim and Morgan have made a great success of both of them.”

“Tim was so courteous. I figured that he probably thought I was nuts but I knew he would understand that I held him and Morgan in the highest esteem, and that is why I was there. So…crazy? Maybe, but hopefully not at all insulting!” Wilkins recalls.

“When Sandra stopped by I was concerned something may be wrong, she seemed distressed,” Tim recalls. “After talking for only a couple minutes I realized that was because turning over your beloved restaurant is not an easy conversation to have. I was more than happy to bring this topic to my wife Morgan and in no time we were discussing terms. I am a big fan of how Sandra and Paul do business and feel like the relationship as tenant and landlord will be very comfortable.”

And so, the ideas and the concepts began to form.

“It will be changing concepts however. We like to fill voids where we can and the 500 block of Main St. is coming to life both day and night. The charm of the space and location to so many business and theater goers alike calls for added lunch service,” says Stevens. “We want to get you back to work quickly if needed but offer a more relaxing experience if you are maybe just visiting from out of town. From there we will move into dinner service. We are still developing the menu but it will be approachable to all and fairly priced. Cocktails will follow to add to the mature night life scene we have enjoyed at Lucky Day.”

One of the other discussion points at their meeting was the employees. Sandra then told Tim that one of the main things she was concerned about was her staff. She told Tim that part of the deal was that he would promise to interview and consider as many of her family of employees as possible. Of course he will – but creating a new space takes some time. And, even knowing that in 3 months Raclettes was going to soon be a fond memory, when told, the loyal group decided to stay to the end! If you’ve been to Raclettes you know that their staff is made up of some of the best, most professional and hard-working people in the industry! Restaurant owners and managers – go to Raclettes website to read all about them. They may be your next favorite employee.

And now, the last part of the equation: The second and third floor residential space.

And now, the last part of the equation: The second and third floor residential space.

One of the greatest apartments to be found in all of downtown Buffalo
The kitchen in the apartment

Sandra and Paul have decided to lease it out and a few people are actually interested in buying the entire building – but the Wilkins’ aren’t sure they are ready for that yet. They may one day return to Buffalo – and where else would they rather live than their beloved residence @ 537 Main?

What they are sure of is that they now ready to pass the torch and keep the marvelous new Restaurant Row on the 500 block moving onward and upward. As sad as they are to close Raclettes (the last day of service will be Saturday, December 28th), they are just as happy to welcome Tim and Morgan Stevens and watch as their amazing concept comes to life. They are confident that Buffalo will bid farewell to the former and embrace the new with a wonderfully warm welcome and steadfast support.

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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