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Gigi's restaurant to return to East Side

Gigi's, the legendary East Side soul food restaurant that closed after a devastating fire over two years ago, is going to reopen – a little more than a mile from its former site.

Darryl Harvin, the owner of the longtime East Ferry Street eatery, was selected Tuesday by the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. to operate a full-service kitchen and café at the new Workforce Training Center at the Northland Corridor.

The new restaurant will occupy about 3,900 square feet at 683 Northland Ave., where it can serve up to 450 students, employees and staff of the training center, as well as diners from the surrounding neighborhood and elsewhere.

Gigi's will be in the northeast corner of the sprawling building, but will be accessible to the public either through the main lobby entrance to the Gallery Area of the training center or through a separate entrance off the outdoor patio just east of the café area. Overflow seating also will be available in the main lobby.

Officials will now negotiate final details with Harvin while construction on the facility continues.

"I'm very excited to see this," said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, who announced the selection as chairman of BUDC. "Gigi's is one of the most iconic restaurants in the city... This is great news for the city and the Northland project."

According to BUDC documents, the new Gigi's will bring back all the original favorites of the former restaurant, along with "healthier offerings" and a "Healthy Corner" menu. Grab-and-go options also will be available from both menus, as well as family meal packages and customized catering. The restaurant will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily.

"Executed by one of Gigi's former chefs, the menu will include all of Gigi's soul food favorites prepared with a healthy twist, and a new and exciting menu for customers looking for options that provide healthy artisan choices," the document said.

Common Council President Darius Pridgen, also a BUDC board member, noted that the agency had chosen a small, local business when it could have recruited a chain restaurant or similar corporate operator.

"This is so important. It's not symbolic, it's real, especially in that area," he said. "It's good business and very responsible to choose someone that has been in the game in Buffalo. This one move may mean as much to people in that neighborhood as the entire project."

Gigi's was a staple of the East Side since 1960, and attracted not only a loyal clientele from the neighborhood but also leading political and other figures from throughout the city. Operated for decades at 257 E. Ferry St. by Blondine "Gigi" Harvin, Darryl Harvin's mother, the restaurant was abruptly put out of business after a grease fire in November 2015.

Supporters clamored for its return, but there was no indication when or where that might happen.

Meanwhile, as plans progressed for the Workforce Training Center at Northland, along with Buffalo Manufacturing Works and other tenants in the same 235,000-square-foot building, officials knew they needed to provide food service for the students, staff, and other employees in the building.

"The students at the Workforce Training Center want to eat, and we have to make sure there's food service available for them to do that," said BUDC Vice President David Stebbins.

BUDC had issued a request for "expressions of interest" to fill the space to 26 minority and women-owned businesses and others both locally and even statewide, with a particular hope to attract a local entrepreneur. The agency received five letters of interest and winnowed the list to four.

However, only two submitted full proposals and conducted interviews on March 8: Harvin and Connie Ervin's Aunt Connie's Ed-U-Kitchen. Officials then chose Harvin as presenting the best opportunity, Stebbins said.

"Having an established brand like Gigi's resurrected at Northland would be much better for the community," he said.

"I'm glad they submitted such a strong proposal and have been selected to operate the food service here at Northland," Brown said. "There will be a lot of people getting trained at Northland and people working at Northland and people from the surrounding community that will be in and out of this area. This is a great opportunity for the community, for the Workforce Training Center and certainly it is a great opportunity to resurrect one of the most historic restaurants in the city of Buffalo."

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