Aug. 6, 1949 – Feb. 8, 2014
Frederick “Fredi” Rzemek – restaurateur, cat advocate and spirited volunteer – died unexpectedly Feb. 8 after suffering a heart attack in his Buffalo home. He was 64.
Mr. Rzemek was born in Dunkirk and moved to the Buffalo area as a child. He attended Lackawanna High School and General Motors Institute before earning an automotive engineering degree from Buffalo State College.
He worked for General Motors Co. for some time before he discovered his real passion was food, according to his wife of 10 years, Margaret “Maggie” Syta.
“He didn’t want to deal with the constraints of the corporate world,” his wife said. “He liked to be the boss, and he liked the action of the restaurant industry. Food was his life and his passion.”
Primarily self-taught, Mr. Rzemek learned his craft by cooking with his Polish father and grandmother. His first restaurant, Goody’s on Allen Street, was followed by a smaller establishment called Market at Rotary Rink that catered to skaters downtown.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s that Mr. Rzemek reached his stride with a restaurant he opened in Clarence Center called Fredi. The colorful restaurant boasted crimson walls and pale wooden dinner tables clothed in inky blue.
In a First Sunday magazine article about the restaurant published in November 2003, he was described as “a gregarious, hand-shaking, welcoming machine.”
When asked about his menu philosophy, the restaurateur said: “Take a relatively simple dish and tweak it.”
Mr. Rzemek’s restaurant on Goodrich Road closed in 2005 after it was extensively damaged in a kitchen fire. It had been the location of several fundraisers Mr. Rzemek sponsored for several nonprofit organizations: HEART, dedicated to caring for homeless pets; Feral Cat Focus and Operation Pets.
“We have a three-legged cat that was discovered before Christmas 2012 stuck on a fence in West Seneca,” said his wife. “Fredi was called by police because his name was on a call list for animal rescue.”
Rzemek had also worked at Artpark as director of events and food service. He catered special events at Shea’s Performing Arts Center and Studio Arena Theatre.
Mark Supples, who owns Mother’s Restaurant on Virginia Place, knew Mr. Rzemek for 30 years.
“He was a happy, personable friend who got along with everyone,” Supples said. “He had friends from all backgrounds. He could bring people together, but he really didn’t hang around with a group. He kind of walked amongst everyone.”
In recent years, Mr. Rzemek operated a catering and event planning business he also called Fredi. Anne McCooey, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Fontana Boathouse, often worked with Mr. Rzemek on events at the riverside facility.
“I will never forget the ItalianPakistani wedding he catered,” said McCooey. “He spent three days braising goat using recipes he got from the groom’s aunt in Pakistan.
“This is what Fredi did,” McCooey said. “He was great because he provided the same level of service for everyone.”
Mr. Rzemek was drawn to the river by its energy, according to his wife.
“He was so proud of the boathouse,” said Mrs. Rzemek. “The water and the lights and Peace Bridge. He thought it was a perfect, idyllic spot. He would be honored to have the celebration of his life there.”
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his mother, Lottie Krochmal Rzemek; and a sister, Margaret Hodge.
A memorial celebration will take place in May at the boathouse.
– Jane Kwiatkowski