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Chef's enters the fast lane: drive-through ; Pickup window debut is magnet for loyalists

Honk-honk, beep-beep. Chef's now features drive-through service.

One of Buffalo's favorite downtown restaurants officially opened its new pickup window Monday, allowing longtime patrons their first opportunity to grab their spaghetti parm and go, without leaving their vehicles.

And grab they did, with a steady stream of orders in the first hour after Chef's opened at 11 a.m. Spaghetti parm, chicken parm and eggplant parm all passed through the window in brown bags.

The service is available during the restaurant's regular hours -- 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. All drive-through proceeds for the first week will be donated to the Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center.

The opening was two years in the making for owner Louis John Billittier. That's how long it took to get city approvals and permits. Construction itself took only a couple of months, he said.

This is part of the bigger renovation and reconstruction of the restaurant's entrance, which has been dramatically enlarged and now includes a bar area and lobby. In fact, Billittier said, the drive-through idea was an "afterthought" that came up during the design work, but "it generated a lot of interest."

Of course, it's not quite a true fast-food drive-through in the McDonald's or Burger King sense. Generally, customers must call their order in ahead of time, and then it will be ready for them for window pickup.

They can also just pull up and order, but it will take 15 to 20 minutes to prepare the meals, so they would have to pull into a "staging area" to wait for the staff to bring the order out.

Still, it was a moment that Patty Pierce had been eagerly awaiting. The 55-year-old from Buffalo said that she has been coming to Chef's since she was 5 and that she made sure she was the very first customer to use the drive-through window.

"I feel like it shouldn't be anybody else," she said. "I've been coming here for years."

Years ago, when her children lived at home, she would come in every week and pick up a quart of Chef's sauce, a loaf of bread, a couple of meatballs and a special mixed salad. Until five years ago, she said, her son didn't even know that his "mother's sauce" was from Chef's.

Monday, though, it was just her. So she got a small spaghetti parm -- handed to her by 97 Rock personality Rob Lederman, who also performs at Rob's Comedy Playhouse at Dandelions Restaurant in Amherst.

Pierce was followed by 33-year-old Renee Witt of Cheektowaga, another longtime customer who heard about the opening of the drive-through from a friend's Facebook posting.

"I don't start work until 3," she said after collecting her own spaghetti parm order, "so I figured I'd come on down."

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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