Physical and culinary changes are on the menu for Shanghai Red's, the barely three-year-old restaurant located on the former Crawdaddy's site along Buffalo's Erie Basin Marina.
The owner, California-based Specialty Restaurants, has filed plans with the city to enclose the establishment's second-floor open-air deck to create a banquet room.
The restaurant company also is proposing to convert its interior "Buffalo Room" to a Japanese-themed steakhouse. The Hibachi Room will operate as a "restaurant within a restaurant," offering tableside Asian cooking for up to 32 guests.
"We haven't been as successful in Buffalo as we'd like, so we're going to shake things up and create some excitement," said David C. Tallichet, chairman of Specialty Restaurants.
Tallichet said the company "made a mistake," when it designed the 23,000-square-foot facility with a 4,000-square-foot open-air deck on its second floor.
"It's a beautiful place to sit in the sun or watch a sunset, but in Buffalo, people only want to do that three months of the year," Tallichet said.
Outdoor fireplaces and protective awnings notwithstanding, the deck hasn't drawn the spring and fall crowds Shanghai Red's hoped for.
"It just isn't making us any money, so we're going to permanently enclose it and generate a bunch of banquet business," he said.
Plans for the approximately $500,000 project are up for review by the Buffalo Planning Board next week, along with plans for the interior redesign to create the steakhouse. The restaurant's ground-level outdoor patio will not be affected by the deck-enclosure project, and the owner is planning improvements to make the outdoor bar area more inviting.
The restaurant operates on city-owned land under a lease that runs through 2026.
Specialty also is working on larger-scale proposals to boost the profitability of the high-profile restaurant. Long-term plans call for installation of a 250-foot dock to increase water access.
Specialty also is eyeing a vacant, city-owned parcel adjacent to the restaurant for construction of a 100-room hotel, according to Tallichet.
"Our dream is to get development rights to that land and build a beautiful, small hotel. It would be great for the waterfront neighborhood and would drive business to the restaurant," he said.
Specialty has been meeting with various hotel chains regarding the project with the goal of opening a marina-side hotel in 2009.
Richard Tobe, the city's commissioner for economic development, permits and inspection services, said the city has a strong interest in seeing Specialty make the most of the prime waterfront site.
"It's a location that has had difficulties in the past, so we want them to succeed and are pleased to see them make continued capital investment," Tobe said.
He also said the proposed Canal Side development a short distance away along the Erie Canal Harbor should boost traffic for the entire city waterfront in coming years.
The restaurant company, which operates about 30 facilities, primarily in Florida, California and the Midwest, many with a World War II theme, has a checkered track record on the Buffalo waterfront.
It opened Crawdaddy's, a seaside-themed restaurant/bar, in 1982, finding instant success, but as years passed crowds thinned to a trickle, and management changes led to uneven service and poor building maintenance.
The restaurant was shuttered in 1998, sitting idle and frustrating city officials who ended up in court seeking an end to Specialty's 50-year property lease. The Crawdaddy's building was bulldozed, the city sought alternative development ideas, and Specialty wound up back in control of the site with plans for the upscale Shanghai Red's.
The $5.5 million restaurant/banquet complex debuted in 2004, but has never captured the level of business Specialty envisioned.
"We've made mistakes, we've had our troubles, but we are dedicated to making it a great, successful restaurant that our company and the City of Buffalo are proud of," Tallichet said.