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March 2003

Russ Salvatore-
Loves His Business

by Joseph H. RADDER

You’ve heard the phrase “He eats, sleeps and breathes his business.” Well, that description fits Russell Salvatore to a “T”. He lives the business of Salvatore’s Italian Gardens and Garden Place Hotel from the time he opens his eyes early in the morning until he closes them late at night. Indeed, he lives in an apartment adjacent to his office upstairs in the restaurant building.

Since 1967, when he established Salvatore’s Italian Gardens in a little yellow brick building on the site where his huge restaurant now stands, Russ Salvatore has put all of his energy, all of his talent and all of his dreams into his business. “At that time I had the dream to make it one of the biggest restaurants in Buffalo, now we’re one of the biggest in the entire country” he says proudly. As a matter of fact, Salvatore’s Italian Gardens is now 100 times its original size in terms of square footage. “We’ve added to the building over 25 times.” Obviously customer counts and dollar volumes have increased comparably over those years. To what does he attribute this phenomenal growth? “First, I’m a perfectionist. And second, I love the business so much, I’ve never gotten tired of it. I think anybody who works 100 hours a week will be rewarded.”

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Russ in the Army - 1955.

He inherited this great energy and talent for the restaurant business from his father and mother. They had run a popular restaurant on East Delevan Avenue since the ‘30s. “I worked there as a young child,” Russ said, “mopping floors and stirring sauce. As I grew older, I tended bar and waited tables. I did it all.”

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Russ’s mother Tina and father Joseph - 1952.

Russ and his father Joseph - 1952.

However, the 21st century Salvatore’s is much different than the original. “We serve the same steak and the same lobster as other fine restaurants in Buffalo. So why do people come hundreds of miles to dine here? Because ours is something more than just a restaurant. It’s a showplace, where you get good food and good service too.”

This is not to say the cuisine at Salvatore’s is not outstanding. Indeed it is, and last fall, Russ Salvatore was honored in Seattle with the 2002 Distinguished Restaurants of North America Award (the DiRONA). This award is presented to restaurants across North America that exemplify everything involved with fine dining. Critics go on to say that “Salvatore’s Italian Gardens is one of the finest supper clubs in America.”

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Salvatore’s at 1448 Delevan was started by Russ’s father Joseph
(pictured in the middle wearing a hat).

We found that to be true once more on a recent dinnertime visit. We had a delightful experience. The short wait for a table was a pleasure because there’s so much to see in this “museum”/restaurant. A palm pilot like device buzzed when our table was ready, so we were able to wander all over the place. Our server, Amy, was prompt, attentive, courteous and friendly without being obsequious. She even made a special trip to the bar to get the score of the Bills game for me. The menu offers a wide variety of delicious appetizers, soups, poultry, pasta, beef, seafood and veal. My guest ordered the filet mignon, a delicious tender cut of prime beef. I followed my instinct to “order Italian food when in an Italian restaurant.” The Osso Bucco, a thick cut veal shank braised with fresh green and red peppers in a red sauce, was done to perfection, and served with Salvatore’s famous spaghetti. But it was the little touches that made this meal special...the complimentary serving of hot bruschetta as an appetizer, the marrow fork with the osso bucco and the swirl of delicious chocolate sauce on the spumoni plate.

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Russ’s brother Tony, sister Mary and Russ.

There’s a dinner-for-two menu as well, featuring nine different entrees, complete with salad, potatoes or pasta. vegetable, dessert and coffee, all for one very reasonable price.

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Russ Salvatore received a plaque from the 2002 Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA). Salvatore’s was cited as one of the most distinguished restaurants in the country.

It’s no wonder Salvatore’s is so popular for weddings, receptions, banquets and all kinds of private parties. The Banquet Menu features fifteen different catering options...cocktail paries with hors d’oeuvres, luncheons, dinners, buffets and the wedding of your dreams.

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Russ’s children Rosemarie, Joseph and Tina - 1969.

The Salvatore family: Tina, Russ, Joseph, Rosemarie and Barbara.

The private dining rooms are available in a number of different sizes and reflect the elegance and beauty of the restaurant.

Another Salvatore venture, The Garden Place Hotel, is relatively new. It has grown from 40 rooms to 170 rooms since it opened in 1994. It, too, features the elegant ambience that results from the Salvatore touch. And there are unique features like the outside elevator that transports mannequins of famous people like Bill and Hillary Clinton. “People come down from Canada by the hundreds to stay at our hotel”, Russ beams. Dinner and room packages combine the experience of the hotel and the restaurant.

Chauffer-driven vehicles take guests from one venue to the other (less than a mile apart). “People love this,” he says, “ This way they don’t have to drink and drive.”

We asked how his fabulous collection of artifacts got started. “I happened to be in Florida, and I went to a couple of auctions. And before I knew it, I bought a Remington (bronze statue), then another, then another.” That started him going to different auctions all over the country, where he acquired the hundreds of elegant collectibles now seen at the restaurant and hotel. Salvatore became a collector of antique cars too—and now he has fifteen antique cars on display in glass garages all around the perimeter of the restaurant. “We love to overdo it”, he smiles, “and we’ve always had that reputation.” Obviously, Salvatore’s is a conversation piece. Locals bring out-of-town guests to see it, even though they may only dine there themselves on special occasions.”

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Tina, Joseph and Rosemarie - New Year’s 2003.

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Rosemarie (center) and her son’s Robert and Justin.

Russell, Paula, Joseph, Josette and Nicholas.

It’s clear that Russell Salvatore continues to be involved personally, in both the restaurant and hotel. “I’m more involved now than I ever was”, he says. “I have no intentions of ever quitting. They’ll have to mop me off the floor.”

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The owners of Salvatore’s - Russ and Joseph Salvatore.

Going back to his childhood, Russ remembered his days at School 82 and Kensington High School. “I couldn’t play much sports”, he said, “ because my father, being as strict as he was, had us working in the restaurant almost every minute we weren’t in school.” Russ served in the Army in the fifties, and then spent seventeen years in business with his brother, Tony, at the Delevan Avenue restaurant. “But when my father died, I wanted my own place. I had to sell my house to get the money to buy the little place on Transit Road,”

In spite of his joke about being mopped off the floor. Russell tells us that his son, Joseph, is his “right arm” and will eventually take over the business. He is proud to say “It will always be Salvatore’s because he’s young and he has three kids from ages 14 to 20 and they are already getting involved in the business.”

Joseph was born in 1958 and went to St. Lawrence School near the original family homestead and restaurant on East Delevan Avenue. After moving to Transit road, Joe went to Lancaster schools, always working in the restaurant in his free time.

In 1980, Joseph married Paula Schoenle. She is a florist by trade and has an aptitude for making things beautiful. She was a natural to take over the restaurant décor when that job became available and to get very much involved in making the hotel a comparable place of beauty.

Paula is totally responsible for all the magnificent Christmas decorations each year.

Joseph and Paula have three children, Josette is 20 and is a student at UB. Russell is 18 and studying the restaurant and hotel business at Erie Community College. Nicholas is 14 and attends Williamsville East High School.

Russ’s oldest daughter Rosemarie graduated from Lancaster High School in 1973. She has also shared restaurant responsibilities over the years—and is now in charge of all bookkeeping operations. Her oldest son Robert, 22, has well prepared for the hospitality industry,—studying in Switzerland and majoring in Hotel & Restaurant Management at Canisius College, where he graduated in May 2002. He is now Assistant Banquet Manager at Salvatore’s and works in several other areas of operation. Rosemarie’s youngest son Justin, 19, is now working in California modeling.

Russ’s younger daughter Tina graduated from Lancaster High School in 1987 and has worked banquets at Salvatore’s and the front desk at the Garden Place Hotel. Tina is now an esthetician at Capello’s.

The Salvatores love doing things for charity, Their support of Roswell Park, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Children’s Hospital and other causes is well-known.

Yes. there’s a lot more to the Salvatore family than just their businesses. One wonders where they find the energy to do it all.

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The Garden Place Hotel, the tradition continues since 1994.

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Salvatore’s Italian Gardens, elegance since 1967.

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The courtyard at the Garden Place Hotel.

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One of Salvatore’s three banquet rooms.

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The Garden Place Hotel Deluxe Honeymoon Suite.
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The Roman Terrace Room is one of the spectacular dining rooms at Salvatore’s.

Joseph Radder is a freelance writer.


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