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Ya Ya Bayou is third brewhouse to close at Main Street location Owner says he 'lost money every day since we opened'

There was no beer spilled into the sewer, like when the Breckenridge Brewpub closed, and no trucks pulled up in the dark of night to cart off utensils, like when the Empire Brewing Co. shut down.

Still, the outcome was the same: for the third time in eight years, a restaurant/brew pub in the Market Arcade building has gone out of business.

The Cajun-themed Ya Ya Bayou Brewhouse at 617 Main St. served up its last muffuletta sandwich Saturday night.

The closing of the Theater District restaurant isn't a surprise, given comments by owner Steven A. Calvaneso last month that the restaurant had "lost money every day since we opened" in the summer of 2002.

"Of course, it comes with great regret," said Michael DePue, chief operating officer for Calvaneso's Ultimate Restaurant Group, which also owns the City Grill and Bacchus Wine Bar and Restaurant downtown, and Calvaneso's Cosmopolitan Grill in Clarence.

"We put over $400,000 in to keep the restaurant going," he said. "That money came from our other restaurants, from our catering business and from Steve personally. It got to the point where we couldn't have the other restaurants continue to fund the operation."

Calvaneso was a candidate for mayor until he pulled out of last week's Demo cratic primary six days before the election.

It was revealed in The News Aug. 25 that he was behind in his lease payments to the brewhouse building's owner, Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., a city development agency.

In January, Calvaneso had renegotiated his original lease with the corporation after having trouble making payments, but even with the new deal, he was behind, according to records.

Calvaneso still owes $18,000 in lease payments on the building, according to Timothy E. Wanamaker, city planning director and president of the development agency.

"We've secured Ya Ya's lease with some personal guarantees, (so) it's not going to be a 100 percent loss," Wanamaker said.

"Obviously, the last thing we want to see happen is a restaurant leaving downtown in the Theater District, understanding that you can't stay in business if you can't pay your lease," he said.

DePue said Calvaneso "is in negotiations with the city to work out a compromise" on the payments, but that Calvaneso isn't opposed to fulfilling his lease obligations by operating another business in the space, perhaps a concert hall or a banquet facility.

Calvaneso was not available for comment; DePue said he had been authorized to speak on his behalf.

Ya Ya's closure is the latest setback for the Market Arcade space, which was reborn in 1995 -- with substantial financial aid from the city -- as the Breckenridge Brew Pub.

When the owners of that restaurant closed its doors in 1998, the city flushed 12,000 gallons of beer down the sewer and acknowledged that it was unlikely to recoup much of its investment.

Empire Brewing Co. opened in the location in 1999, only to close 14 months later. City officials found out about that closure only when trucks started hauling off restaurant equipment.

Those two operations are believed to have left the city with losses totaling more than $1 million from a combination of unpaid city-backed loans, unhonored 10-year leases and outstanding utility bills.

DePue said the main reasons for Ya Ya's failure were a lack of foot traffic in that area of Main Street and the restaurant's configuration, in which 175 seats were spread among three dining areas.

The staff had dwindled to between 15 and 20 employees, DePue said, and all have been offered work at one of the group's other restaurants.

"We plan on honoring all the vendors . . . (and) anyone we still have outstanding invoices with," he said, adding that any outstanding gift certificates would be redeemable at any of the Ultimate Restaurant Group's other establishments.

DePue said the growth in downtown residents eventually might help the restaurant become viable "but for a restaurant of that size, I'm not sure even that would do it at that point."

He added, "It certainly isn't a home run for anybody. I don't see anyone coming in here and running a restaurant."


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