For 36 years, Tony Palumbo ran Tony's Bayview Drive-In with his wife, Clarise. His commitment and presence were chief reasons why Tony's became synonymous with summertime fun; a charcoal-grilled Sahlen's hot dog, Perry's Ice Cream and a scenic view of Lake Erie were timeless pleasures.
But when Tony died in 2017, Clarise soon looked to sell the business at 3804 Lake Shore Road in Blasdell. She approached Gregory Suffoletto and his father, Mike, who had been customers at Tony's since Gregory was a kid.
The Suffolettos officially purchased Tony's Bayview Drive-In in March — "just in time to not see people for a couple months," Gregory said — and kept Clarise on as a consultant. That decision echoed the Suffolettos' overall mission: to not lose sight of how Tony built the seasonal restaurant.
"We're always thinking about what Tony would have liked or would have wanted," Gregory said. "It's his place always."
Carrying on Tony's legacy meant understanding how the founder ran the business. The Suffolettos kept on Christopher Duerr, the general manager who worked under Tony and had known him since he was a child.
"When Chris was a kid, about 4 or 5 years old, Tony gave him a free 'Pig Out at Tony's' T-shirt and told him to come work for him someday," Gregory recalled. "Now all these years later, he's the general manager. Tony was always really good with kids."
In Palumbo's obituary, the former owner's outspoken preference for how to grill hot dogs rang loud and clear.
"The hot dogs had to be sliced three or four times on each side, and then grilled slowly so they plumped up and developed a glaze on their exterior," the obituary read. "Cook them too fast, [Palumbo] warned, and the meat shriveled up."
Tony's Bayview Drive-In's menu hasn't changed with the new ownership. Hot dogs and hamburgers off the grill are still the focus, with a range of milkshakes, 24 flavors of Perry's Ice Cream and select soft-serve options available to cool off customers.
Beyond allowing summer employees to design special milkshake flavors and perhaps adding Dole Whip as a dairy-free option later this summer, the majority of the Suffolettos' changes were structural.
The new owners replaced the roof and the ceilings, then added their own touch with a black-and-white checkered floor, a "retro feel" inspired by Pink's, a longstanding hot dog restaurant in California. A patio was added, too; in total, Tony's has 20 tables outside, with room for six or seven people at each.
"With new patio we have a lot of outdoor space," Gregory said. "It's easy for us to get tables spread apart and for people to order and feel safe. Space is the name of the game."
Ordering methods are pandemic-friendly, too. Though inside service remains an option, roaming employees will take orders from customers in their cars, who then pay, park and wait for their food in a parking spot.
There were challenges that accompanied the Suffolettos' takeover, but also opportunity. Neither Suffoletto had been involved in restaurants before; Gregory thrived in real estate, and Mike ran the family vending business, which included his other son, for 40 years.
Because Gregory and Mike worked in separate fields, Gregory thought taking over Tony's together would be a fun side project with his father.
"We definitely have different opinions on things, but it usually comes together," Gregory said, with a laugh. "I definitely appreciate [working with my father] more being older than I would five or 10 years ago."
In the future, the Suffolettos plan to open in late March and close for the season around Thanksgiving, just like Tony would have wanted.
3804 Lake Shore Road, Blasdell
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
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