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Restaurant business is a labor of love

Maybe true love does conquer all.

It certainly builds some nice restaurants along the way.

Cathy and John Pasquantino, the owners of the Youngstown Village Diner, were awarded the 2007 Youngstown Business of the Year award over the weekend at the annual Lower Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce Gala.

The diner was among several Lewiston and Youngstown businesses honored.

The Pasquantinos met more than two decades ago, when John was the owner of the Cozy Corner on Pine Avenue in Niagara Falls. He needed additional staff for the night shift, and Cathy, as a favor to John's niece, agreed to moonlight as a waitress after she had already worked a full eight-hour shift at Tops Market.

Hard work would prove to be the foundation of their marriage.

After they married in 1984, they opened the Waterwheel Restaurant and Riviera Motel in Niagara Falls and operated it until 1991. They then moved to Lewiston and worked for various restaurants, waiting for the right opportunity to open a new place of their own.

When D.J.'s Restaurant came up for sale in Youngstown about two years ago, they found another match.

They closed D.J.'s on a Sunday. On Monday, a new sign went up, menus were changed, cupboards were restocked, and new counters were added. By Tuesday, the Youngstown Village Diner was open for business.

Their new business already is a growing local hangout.

Cathy Pasquantino said regulars have made the diner a second home, often eating every meal of the day there.

Former Gov. George E. Pataki found his way there one day for lunch.

Cathy Pasquantino, now a new grandmother, has even found some spare time to serve as the president of the Youngstown Business and Professional Association for the past three years.

Another honor went to Dr. Robert L. Bull Jr., a family practitioner who was named Lewiston Citizen of the Year.

Bull said he grew up knowing he wanted to work in medical missionaries and has now been on 15 trips to Chiapas, Mexico, in the past 12 years. Chiapas is one of the poorest areas in the world, where people will travel on donkeys or hitch rides on trucks for hours to see him, Bull said.

He also has inspired Dr. Mario J. Violante Jr., a dentist, and Violante's wife, Lois, to travel with him to offer free dental service and has brought contributions of pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and equipment. He said that during mission trips, he does whatever is needed, from minor surgeries to delivering babies.

Other awards:

* Lewiston Business of the Year -- Tin Pan Alley and the Brickyard, both owned by business partners Eric Matthews and Ken Bryan.

* Sanborn Business of the Year -- Rhoney Funeral Home.

* Ransomville Business of the Year -- KiPo Chevrolet.

* Village of Lewiston Citizen of the Year -- Lewiston Police Chief Ronald Winkley, who will retire at the end of this month.

* Youngstown Citizen of the Year -- John "Butch" Cannon.

* Town of Porter Citizen of the Year -- Douglas Diez.

* Mount St. Mary's Hospital received the Chamber of Commerce Chair's Award.


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