Chef's hopes to move forward after co-owner retires following backlash

Chef's hopes to move forward after co-owner retires following backlash

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Lou Billittier Jr. announced his retirement as Chef's Restaurant co-owner Saturday. That announcement came after he drew public ire on social media for his comments on two Buffalo police officers' alleged assault of protester Martin Gugino.

Billittier wasn't available for further comment. Chef's media consultant John Di Sciullo confirmed the former owner's decision to retire and turn over the ownership to his sister, Mary Beth Billittier, his previous co-owner for roughly two decades.

"Lou is completely retiring and stepping out of the operation," said Di Sciullo, who added Billittier had been considering retirement for several months.

Lou Billittier Jr.'s daughter, Ashley Billittier, will remain part of the restaurant's team.

The reopening of Chef's, which closed the flagship location, at 291 Seneca St., temporarily beginning March 31 for the safety of its employees, is in the works under the modified ownership structure, as Mary Beth Billittier is exploring how to do so safely under Covid-19 reopening rules. Chef's on the Go, at 5483 Sheridan Drive, Amherst, has been open for drive-thru pickup Monday through Saturday.

Chef's will continue to offer free meals for law enforcement, a practice the restaurant has followed for decades, Di Sciullo said. Veterans will continue to receive 20% off their orders, too.

Lou Billittier Jr.'s comments on social media prompted some former customers to urge a boycott of the Italian restaurant.

Here's the text from Lou Billittier Jr.'s first Facebook post, which followed two Buffalo police officers' alleged assault in Niagara Square during the nationwide protests stemming from the killing of George Floyd.

"I stand by the members of Buffalo PD ERT team. This is not open for debate it is my opinon [sic] as a former police officer and ERT member. As long as I am alive active police officers will eat for free at Chefs On The Go and Chefs Downtown when we reopen that one as well."

The section of Billittier's post that drew the most response was his perspective on the June 5 protest.

"Anarchy is coming. Law and order is what separates us from the animals. A 75 year old man that stated he wanted to get arrested before the incident. Breaking the law by not leaving striking a police officer 3 times with his cell phone. Officer pushed him away and the man stumbles falls and hits his head. Very unfortunate but he was not shoved hard just pushed," Billittier wrote.

Billittier was a police officer for 24 years, mostly in the Town of Hamburg, and also served on the Emergency Response Team.

Billittier responded to claims of racism with another Facebook post that included "some of my best friends are black" and "I support police not [expletive] [expletive] cops like the ones in Minnesota."

On Saturday, Billittier changed his Facebook account settings from public to private, then, in another lengthy post circulated widely as a screenshot on Twitter, apologized for the statement about his black friends, said he was not "politically savvy," reiterated his support for police officers and announced he was turning over operations of his restaurants.

Chef's opened in 1923 at 291 Seneca St., with the late Lou Billittier Sr. beginning as a dishwasher before rising through the ranks to take ownership in 1954. He passed the business to his son and daughter in the late 1990s.

The Billittier family opened Chef's on the Go, its first presence in the Northtowns, last fall. Chef's is known for its cheese-forward spaghetti parmesan.

[Photos: Chef's supplies spaghetti parmesan for Millard Fillmore Hospital employees in early April]

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