Nick Kotrides came to Buffalo to earn a degree so he wouldn’t have to go into the restaurant business. A quarter-century later, he’s putting his three successful stores up for sale and thinking about a second act.
Empire Grill, 1435 Hertel Ave., led the first wave of Hertel’s restaurant makeover with big-city swagger and an innovative menu. It’s listed at $1.295 million.
Toro Tapas Bar, 492 Elmwood Ave., is listed at $1.3 million, and Faherty’s, the bar next door where Kotrides started in 1989, at $700,000.
At Faherty’s, where Kotrides packed crowds into a former neighborhood gin mill, he was one of the first bar owners in town to install garage doors facing the street. “I figured if I couldn’t bring people inside, I’ll bring the outside in,” he said.
“I always say that if there’s a hurricane alert or any cataclysmic weather event, you should prop your butt underneath those doors, ’cause they’re not coming down.” Kotrides said. “I got beams everywhere.”
He bought the building next door, demolished it and built Toro from the ground up. “I took some ribbing when people found out I was opening a tapas place” in a city that had none, he said. People thought he was saying “topless.” Since then, he’s pronounced it “tap-is.”
Kotrides grew up in the restaurant business. His family ran a coffee shop in Wolcott, a half-hour west of Oswego. When he attended Buffalo State College, “my aim was to do international business, not the restaurant business,” he said.
Then again, when he started, he hoped to retire at 50. “Now that’s just two years away.”
The places are staying open, and it could take that long to sell them. Kotrides said. He’s not sure what he’ll do next, just that he expects to be back in the business. “I’m not retiring,” he said.
This summer, Larkinville should welcome its newest attraction: The Hydraulic Hearth, in the old Swan Lounge building, 716 Swan St., across from Larkin Square.
Harry Zemsky, son of Buffalo developer Howard Zemsky, will run the restaurant as part of his family’s Larkinville redevelopment project. He hopes to open midsummer, if all goes well.
“Back in the day, the hearth used to be the center of a community. People from the neighborhood would come together to share a communal hearth,” Zemsky said. “That represents what we’re trying to do in Larkinville, where we’re trying to rebuild a community. So, Hydraulic Hearth.”
The brick oven pizza restaurant will bear the name of its neighborhood,shaped 150 years ago by the textile industry’s energy source, water.
Amid a number of interesting features Harry Zemsky described, the restaurant aims to harness Buffalo’s new power source: beer.
Zemsky said Community Beer Works will open a test brewery at Hydraulic Hearth that gives craft beer adventurers – and average pizza eaters – a chance to try never-before-tapped experiments along with a collection of established craft beers. The plan is for 12 beers on tap: six European imports and six local beers, including four Community Beer Works test kitchen beers, exclusive to Hydraulic Hearth, plus bottles.
The menu will be stripped-down and pizza-focused.
A wood-burning oven will be built in the front of the house, with sushi bar-style counter seating around it, he said.
“Unlike some restaurants, where pizza is just a component of the menu, our menu will be like three salads, three appetizers and 12 pizzas,” he said. Six conservative and six adventurous ones, all brick oven pizzas.
“Sort of the food truck model. I’d rather offer a few things good instead of a million things OK. Instead of making pastas and sauces, I can focus on making interesting bases for my pizzas. It’s going to allow us the room for a lot more creativity.”
There are also plans for a cozy beer garden, shuffleboard courts, oversized Jenga block towers, and a dedicated stage for a food truck to park and add its wares to the Hydraulic Hearth menu.
“Our mission statement has been collaboration. We’re working with Community Beer Works, the food trucks, like at Larkin Square. It was their busiest night of the summer, for a lot of them, and it was good for us. We’re definitely learning the value of collaboration.”
Steven and Ellen Gedra’s new place, at 367 Connecticut St., is going to be called The Black Sheep Restaurant and Bar.
The Gedras’ tiny Elmwood Avenue restaurant has 28 seats, where the chef-baker couple has cultivated a loyal following with traditional and original compositions of fresh seafood, nose-to-tail heirloom pork, and inspired uses of local produce.
Then there’s the desserts, with standards like sticky toffee pudding and specials like slices of Bunyan-sized housemade Ho-Hos, served with local berries.
It closes March 31. After that, the Gedras hope to have The Black Sheep open in 2014. It’s expected to seat 50 at tables and more at the bar.
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