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New Owners of Curly's are familiar faces

Curly’s Grill, the Lackawanna restaurant and banquet center, is changing hands – but its chefs and its menu are staying put.

Executive chef Shea Zappia and his father, Don Zappia, will buy the restaurant, said chef-owner Kirk Van Wagner. Lawyers were working on the last details Tuesday morning.

Shea Zappia said he’s keeping everyone’s favorite dishes. “The classic dishes, the jerk and the style of food won’t change,” he said. He will probably freshen up the interiors in the near future, though. The former tavern, at 647 Ridge Road, has been serving Lackawannans since the 1930s.

Zappia, 30, joined Curly’s five years ago, and has been executive chef for the last three. His father formerly ran Simme’s Martini Bar in Lancaster, and worked at area restaurants.

Van Wagner said he will stay at Curly’s, running the banquet business, which makes up about half of the restaurant’s volume. “I thought it was just time to step back a little bit,” said Van Wagner, who is 53. Maybe he will take some time to travel. For now, he still rises at 4 a.m. to make the restaurant’s daily bread.

Van Wagner became sole owner about a year and a half ago after buying out Krista Van Wagner, his ex-wife. The Van Wagners brought fine dining with Caribbean flair to the former blue-collar joint in the 1990s, and made Curly’s a Southtowns standout.

“Shea has shown he definitely has the capability,” Van Wagner said. “I’m sure he’s going to do a great job.”

He said Curly’s crew deserved a share of credit for its success. “A lot of them have been around for 20 years. Hardworking, dedicated, without them Curly’s couldn’t have gotten to the level it is now.”

New location: Saigon Café plans to bring an expanded menu of Vietnamese and Thai cuisine to the corner of Elmwood Avenue and West Utica Street.

“As of right now we are shooting for Nov. 6 for an opening,” said manager Tri Lam.

The restaurant moved from near Buffalo State College to the heart of the Elmwood Village, doubling its size and adding a full bar. It took over a high-visibility corner space at 520 Elmwood Ave. formerly occupied by Le Metro and Mode.

“We will be expanding the menu with more authentic dishes,” said owner Manh Le, while keeping items like banh xeo, the Vietnamese coconut milk crepe. “There are more food items, more authentic homemade foods.”

Dishes like thit ram (sliced pork belly wokked and simmered with caramel sauce and coconut water) and ca kho nghe (salmon or catfish braised with turmeric sauce in clay pot) are listed on the new specials menu.

“We’re going to be doing delivery too,” Lam said. There will also be a late-night dessert menu at the bar, featuring Butterwood desserts that can be matched with wine.

Closed: Suzanne’s Fine Dining in Wheatfield has closed, ending 20 years of feeding hungry folks in Niagara County.

Owners Suzanne and Kevin Guenther got to do what many restaurant couples dream of: selling on their own terms and retiring.

“We had an offer on the property, and decided to retire,” Suzanne Guenther said. “We’ve been in the restaurant business for 30 years, at this location for 20.”

Saturday was the restaurant’s last day. There are a few more banquets, and the Guenthers will walk out of the kitchen at 2843 Niagara Falls Blvd. for the last time. “We’re very lucky, and we’ve met a lot of nice people at the restaurant,” she said. They aren’t planning to open another one, at least now.

The building is in the process of becoming an Islamic mosque and community center. The Islamic Cultural Center of Niagara Falls has purchased the building and plans to reopen it as a place of worship and community activities, said Mohammad Salem Agwa. Agwa, the center’s imam, teaches Arabic at Niagara University. (Hat tip: Rick Corbi)

Progressing: Hydraulic Hearth, the pizza-and-beer centered restaurant at Larkin Square, is inching toward the finish line.

Health inspectors and city code inspectors have been satisfied, owner Harry Zemsky said, with the liquor license to come. “We hope to have family and friends in in a couple weeks,” said Zemsky. “I think conservatively we should be open by the end of November, but you never know.”

The building, at 716 Swan St., is across from the Larkin Square area, where Food Truck Tuesdays have brought steady crowds of eaters during the summer. The long room has walls of stripped brick. The brick pizza oven is at the back, surrounded by gleaming while tile and bar seating.

Tanks have been installed for the Community Beer Works satellite brewery on site. “That probably won’t be running by the time we’re open,” but should be soon thereafter, Zemsky said.

Reopening party: Sun Buffalo Restaurant, 1989 Niagara St., is holding a party tonight to invite customers to check out improvements, including a new sushi bar. Tastings of black rice sushi, wine and sake from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

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