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Taco restaurant with deck joining Ellicott Street restaurant explosion in downtown Buffalo

The first of three new Latin American-themed restaurants planned by a veteran chef is getting its first public airing next week, with a goal of opening for business in time for the summer season.

Richard Hamilton, a European-trained chef and former Delaware North executive, wants to start a taco-centered restaurant in downtown Buffalo in a former warehouse on Ellicott Street.

Hamilton is seeking approval from the city Planning Board to convert a 2,900-square-foot L-shaped warehouse at 291 Ellicott, between Broadway and East Mohawk Street, into a sit-down establishment with a bar, an outdoor deck and possibly a rooftop patio.

The new eatery, dubbed Deep South Taco Cucina Mexicana, would feature nine different versions of tacos and a handful of other specialty items, he said. It would be an “authentic taqueria” based on ingredients and techniques, Hamilton said, but it’s not a full Mexican restaurant because it won’t offer typical fare like quesadillas, burritos or chimichangas. The bar would offer a “great selection of bourbon, scotch and tequila,” but won’t “try to have everything,” he said.

Plans also call for putting a 1,600-square-foot deck on the four-car parking lot in front of the building, and Hamilton is hoping for permission to put the patio on top of the second floor as well. In all, the indoor restaurant and bar would seat 69, while the deck could handle another 65 to 70 and the patio would add up to 40. The second floor would be mostly for beer coolers and office space.

Hamilton also plans to replace the existing garage doors that face the parking lot with three new glass overhead doors that can be raised for an open-air atmosphere, and will install awnings above them. But the outdoor and roof space would be seasonal and weather-dependent, he noted. “We’re a very small restaurant,” he said. “We’re going to get caught with our pants down on rainy days.”

If the project is approved and there are no other hurdles, he hopes to be open by late July.

The project – whose total cost is just shy of $1 million, including $250,000 for the remodeling of the building before equipment and furnishings – involves the retrofit of two concrete block buildings, one with two stories and the other with just one. A third three-story brick building, located at 301 Ellicott, is separate. All are owned by J. Roger Trettel, through 1876 Buehl Block LLC, but Hamilton has signed a lease for his space.

Deep South is the latest in a line of new and trendy restaurants opening in that same area of Ellicott, along with Perks Cafe & Market, Tappo, Oshun and Big Ditch, which opened last week to a packed crowd in a former Verizon Communications fleet maintenance building.

Big Ditch, founded and owned by president Matt Kahn, head brewer Corey Catalano, marketing chief Wes Froebel and developer Paul B. Iskalo, combines a microbrewery and full-service restaurant that occupy 15,000 square feet of the 37,000-square-foot building.

Meanwhile, Hamilton is pursuing plans to open two other restaurants in North Buffalo and the Elmwood Village. He’s expecting to close on his purchase of “a really cool old gas station” at 1707 Hertel Ave., at the corner of Starin Avenue, in the next 10 days, and wants to open another taco restaurant there, but without a second floor or rooftop feature. However, that project’s been delayed by the environmental cleanup and removal of old gas tanks, and Hamilton is still waiting for the final environmental report. After that, it’s still 30 to 45 days until closing and the start of construction.

Plans for the third property, Toro restaurant at 492 Elmwood Ave., near Bryant Street, have been held up over unspecified closing delays and negotiations with the owner. That site would serve Spanish and Latin American cuisine, featuring crudo, empanadas, meats and especially fish.

Hamilton, who has two master’s degrees from culinary institutes in France, trained in Italy, Singapore and Barcelona, before coming back to North America, where he has worked or started restaurants in Nashville, Las Vegas, Toronto, New Orleans and Rhode Island. He also worked as a restaurant consultant, and spent two years working as vice president of food and beverage for Delaware North before going on his own late last year.

But the Oklahoma native came back to his roots for his newest ventures, citing a heavy Mexican and Latin American influence growing up. “It’s my comfort food,” he said. “This is what I cook when I need comfort and I’m hanging out with my friends.”

email: jepstein@buffnews.com

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