Sept. 14, 1926 – Oct. 20, 2018
When Anton “Tony” Culig had time off from his flatwork concrete business in the 1960s, he tapped into his heritage to develop a sideline which made him well-known among local food fans.
“They have lamb roasts and pig roasts all the time in Croatia,” his daughter, Susan Culig, said. “I think he was the first one around here to be doing a whole animal.”
He began roasting oxen for parties, which is where one of the owners of Mickey Rats, the beach club near Angola, discovered him. He became the star attraction at the bar’s annual ox and pig roast.
“At one point,” his daughter says, “he was up to five or six pigs and a couple of oxen.”
Mr. Culig died Oct. 20 in Mercy Hospital of complications following a stroke. He was 92.
He had a popular booth for 12 years at the Erie County Fair, where he regularly sold out of his roast beef and roast pork sandwiches.
He continued using his old world recipe, which involved injecting the meat with his proprietary blend of spices, then slow-roasting it on a spit that he custom designed, at two Tony’s Ox and Pig Roast restaurants, first in Eden, then in 1991 in a historic house on California Road in Orchard Park. After 10 years in that location, he retired.
“If he was famous for anything, it was his pork sandwich,” his daughter said. “People would come from far and wide to eat his pork sandwiches, they were so good.”
Born in the mountain village of Bratovanci, about 40 miles from Zagreb in what was then Yugoslavia, he attended school through the second grade, then was sent to work in the fields. After World War II began, he was drafted into the Yugoslav Army.
He returned home after the war, but refused to join the Communist Party after it came to power in Yugoslavia. In hope of finding a better life and earning money to send home to his mother and siblings, he fled with a friend on foot across the Alps in 1948.
At the Austrian border, they expected to be turned away, but were welcomed instead.
“The Austrians gave them food, clothing and jobs,” his daughter said.
He worked as a construction laborer for a year in Austria and for more than a year in Germany before gaining sponsorship to come to Canada in 1951. Attending a wedding in Welland, Ont., that fall, he caught the eye of another Croatian immigrant, Mary B. Morog, who was living in Buffalo.
“She saw him across the room and told her mother she was going to marry him,” his daughter said.
When they were married in 1952, he came to Buffalo. He started his own concrete business, Blue Ribbon Construction, and operated it for 30 years.
He continued to cook for parties after he closed his restaurant.
Noted for his thick Croatian accent and his sense of humor, he had been a Hamburg resident since 1966 and was an avid gardener.
His wife, pictured with him, died in 2015.
Survivors include two other daughters, Mary E. and Pamela J.; two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
There will be no services.