After roughly 18 years away, Michael Gibney is coming home to open his first restaurant in Buffalo.
Working with his parents – Michael Sr. and Mary Ann – Gibney plans to start a pasta-focused Italian restaurant at 534 Elmwood Ave., the former Joe's Deli and Off the Wall. The Buffalo Planning Board approved the restaurant on Monday; a timeline for its opening should follow soon.
The restaurant, dubbed Inizio – translating roughly as "fresh start" in Italian, will serve dinner only, seat 48 at tables and emulate the Roman tradition of cooking. Although he initially scouted abandoned churches on the West Side, Gibney soon connected with Joseph Lyons, the owner of 534 Elmwood Ave., through a realtor, and pounced on the location due to its square kitchen and proximity to the Elmwood Village Farmers Market, among other reasons.
After a remodeling, Inizio's vibe will fit within the old Victorian framework with a strong sense of dining at a grandma's house.
Gibney intends to craft as much as he can from scratch. The pasta will be made fresh daily, while butter, bread and maybe even the cheese will be created in-house. He expects it to be a "nice" restaurant – Gibney loathes the phrase fine dining – but also pointed out pasta's versatility. "Pasta can be as low brow or as high brow as you want it to be, depending on the circumstances," he said.
The beverage program will be approachable, Gibney said, with a simple wine list and an emphasis on classic cocktails, particularly the negroni. The owner will wield a Crysalli Artisan Water System, too, which chills and carbonates to produce sparkling water, which Gibney intends to serve for free. "It eases digestion and awakens the palate," he said.
Gibney, 36, has worked as a chef at high-end restaurants in Brooklyn and Boulder, Colo., and also authored "Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line" as a thesis for his Master of Fine Arts from Columbia University. His background also includes an undergraduate degree in painting from the Pratt Institute.
"I came home for more time with my family," explained Gibney, who grew up in Tonawanda and attended St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute. "They make me feel supported, and my last days in New York were dark and lonely."
The future seemed bleak during those days, Gibney said, as dealing with a messy breakup, terrible job and "plummeting into a financial pit" from student loans precipitated his reluctant departure from Brooklyn, where he thought he'd spend the rest of his life. A year spent in Colorado, working with a close friend and pastry chef, bore some fruit, but occupancy costs made the project unsustainable. It was time to come home.
"I wouldn't be the same person [I am now] if I hadn't been away for a while," Gibney reflected. "I think it gives me an edge."