NEWFANE -- The new Del Fuego Steak House -- featuring Spanish-American fusion cuisine and the work of local artisans and craftsmen -- is a nod to the past with an eye on the future.
Locals have waited patiently for the resurrection of the long-abandoned, favorite haunt of yesteryear, formerly known as the Rib House, and the new owners, the Stubbs family and friends, are obliging with the recent "soft" opening.
The restaurant, at 2990 Olcott-Lockport Road, opened last week for lunches but will add dinners shortly, when it receives its liquor license, owner-manager Kevin Stubbs said.
Future plans also include reopening the adjacent banquet facility to seat upwards of 250 and providing off-site catering.
Short-term plans include completing the siding as soon as the weather permits.
Stubbs, a Wilson High School graduate, has returned to the area after a more than 20-year stint in restaurants in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. He is pleased to apply his hard-earned expertise to his very own place.
He said that prior work experience in fine dining helped convince him that if he ever had a chance, he would open a New York-style steakhouse. And, past work in the fast-food industry with largely Hispanic staffs, helped fuel his decision to introduce Spanish-American fusion cuisine, as well, he said.
"I asked my staffs -- who were South and Central American -- to give me some of their favorite recipes," he said. "We will serve paella -- which is a Spanish, saffron rice-based dish with chicken, seafood and chorizo. I will have the fish flown in fresh from Hawaii. I basically call them and ask them what they've just caught and they send it immediately.
"We will have many choices of steak -- prime rib, filet, porterhouse, rib-eye, for example -- as well as premium pork and lamb. We'll also have country-based dishes, using spices from different countries."
Currently, the restaurant's lunch menu offers a variety of soups and sandwiches, wraps, and panninis in the $7-to-$9 range, offering the old American standbys as well as dishes with a Spanish twist.
Stubbs' sister, Darlene, was the one who saw the "for sale" sign and got the ball rolling.
"We started discussing this as a family and my mom asked me, 'Do you want to continue down the corporate path or do this for yourself?' " he said. "It was a difficult decision to make, because with the way the economy has been going, it's tough to leave a little security. But we put together a business proposal and looked for potential investors.
"My mother, Edna, sister, Darlene, and I, and my friends Nick and Pete Stillo of Suffern, New York, are the investors and I am the manager. Nick and I were roommates at RIT and Pete is his brother."
Stubbs has his associate's degree in restaurant management from Morrisville State College, near Syracuse, and his bachelor's degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology in food, hotel and tourism management. He started his career in corporate dining and then went into fast-food restaurant management with A & W Restaurants, Friendly's Restaurants and Arby's.
Stubbs said the restaurant had been closed for four years when he and his business partners closed on the property last July.
"We basically gutted the interior," he said, "but we were able to reuse most of the kitchen equipment."
Those involved in the venture are making close to a $400,000 investment.
Stubbs has called on local tradespeople and artisans to create the restaurant's new interior, reflecting the Spanish flavor -- as well as the restaurant's name -- which means "of the fire."
"Catherine O'Connor [of Newfane] has created the glass wall sconces and we put a flickering light behind them to give them that 'fire' theme," Stubbs said. "She is creating a big glass mural to separate the dining area from the lounge area and it will feature a phoenix rising from the flames, and she's creating four different seasons in the design so that we can interchange some panels."
Fine furniture-maker Chuck Hugaboom, of Burt, custom-built the sleek new walnut L-shaped bar, which is currently awaiting customers.
Several Newfane residents also have been key. Painter Patti Duance tackled the walls, while architect Pat Darrow, of MPD Architecture, drew up the plans and J.A. Reineke served as general contractor.
"I'm happy as long as I can cover my mortgage and bills and payroll," Stubbs said. "I believe things will get better and the economy will change."
Sue Neidlinger, president of the Newfane Business and Professional Association, said she's tried three different lunches in five days, and described them as "awesome."
"I love to see that Kevin took an existing building and renovated it," she said, "and as anyone from here can tell you, the old Rib House was our banquet hall, so it means a lot to the community to have this restaurant here."
The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day and is now handicapped-accessible. Call 778-8080 for more information.