A veteran restaurant site in Buffalo's Theater District has a new owner and will be getting a completely new identity.
Long-time owner David Forness has sold Hemingway's restaurant, at 492 Pearl St., behind Shea's Buffalo Performing Arts Center, to 492 Pearl Property Co. LLC, a local partnership, for $538,000. The partnership is led by Joe Gugino, whose local restaurant resume includes stints at "O," The Steer and Stuffed Mushroom.
The restaurant, which is being renamed "Encore," will reopen next month with totally new menu featuring a mix of American and Continental cuisines, as well as a selection of sushi.
Gugino has started a rapid renovation of the 3,000-square-foot restaurant, and will trade Hemingway's kitschy decor of antiques and oddities for a sleeker, more modern look.
Currently, the two-story building is easily recognized for the wild animal statuettes Forness had perched on the exterior. An estate sale will be held at the site on Oct. 25 to sell off the Hemingway's artifacts.
Gugino had been looking for a site to open his own restaurant, and had scouted both suburban and city locations before Hemingway's went on the market.
Forness bought a Victorian-style boarding house at 492 Pearl St. in 1987 and undertook a two-year renovation project to turn it into a popular spot for pre-dinner drinks and dinner, as well as a solid neighborhood dining venue.
Once one of downtown Buffalo's most successful restaurant owners, Forness has been at odds with the City of Buffalo over property tax assessments and payments for over a decade. All of his restaurant properties have made appearances on the city's foreclosure auction list multiple times, saved by 11th hour payment agreements and court orders to keep them from being sold off.
Forness has also had his share of problems, and made some enemies, through the years. He was hit with a $178,950 U.S. District Court jury verdict in 1998 for sexual harassment. The case was brought against Forness by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of two former waitresses who accused him of dropping his pants and grabbing their buttocks. Forness denied the allegations, claiming he was the victim of false charges manufactured by a business rival.