Up By His Boot Straps
Chapter Five
of the Fabulous Story of Michael Militello and Vincent Carrierre

by Joseph H. RADDER

Michael R. Militello is a purple heart veteran of Vietnam. He was seriously wounded in 1968, the victim of a Viet Cong ambush. Bullets tore into both his legs, knocking him behind a tree, saving his life.

However, he was developing a strong work ethic and honing his entrepreneurial instincts long before the Vietnam war. While still in high school, Militello was promoting dances and live music concerts. The dollars this enterprise provided were a tremendous help to the Militello family, and were an important supplement to his mother's earnings as a waitress. "Our mother raised six of us on a waitress' salary. So it was important for us to pitch in," Militello said.

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Michael Militello and Vincent Carriere.

Honorably discharged from the Army while still on crutches, he came back to Buffalo "to pick up the pieces of my life." He had been a sophomore at the University of Buffalo when he was drafted, so it was logical for him to go back to UB to finish his education. However, when he was unable to get the unemployment benefits he was entitled to, it became clear that "I was going to have to help myself." He worked for a short time, on his crutches, as a bartender, which enabled him to go back to school. It wasn't long before Militello realized that in a college town like Buffalo, the bar business could be a lucrative enterprise. So he began looking for a bar he could afford. As luck would have it, Mulligan's Brick Bar on Allen Street became available. "I laugh about it now," he said, "but what I really did was buy myself a job when I bought Mulligan's with Viet Nam friend, Kevin Kell."

"We started hiring Vietnam vets at the outset," he said. "Vets were great hires because they worked hard and were loyal to a fault."

When Living Prime Time talked to Michael Militello recently, he told us that a number of people who were in high school when he was running those dances, became customers at Mulligan's Brick Bar, and later Mulligan's Museum of Fine Arts Café on Hertel Avenue. Some still have dinner today at Militello's Bijou Grille.

The Hertel Avenue restaurant, with his current partner, Vincent Carriere, as executive chef, soon became the "in" place to dine throughout the '70s and '80s. They then took over the food and beverage service at Kleinhans Music Hall, and in 1973 Militello bought and renovated the Sunset Bay Beach Club.

When the theater district started coming into its own in the early '90s, Michael acquired the Bijou Grille on Main Street in downtown Buffalo. He introduced California cuisine which, as his sister and partner Bea says, tends to feature lighter foods…lots of salads with seafood, chicken, and fruits. And light but satisfying entrees like the Bijou's classic cioppino, sea scallops, shrimp, salmon, and clams simmered in a saffron broth with tomatoes, garlic and fresh basil, served over rice.

A major spin-off has been the Bijou Café kiosks, operated in 17 locations, and the upscale Sonoma Grille, a fine dining venue in Snyder, owned and operated with his friend and partner, Vincent Carriere.

Stay tuned for the final chapter in the story of these fabulous two in next month's Living Prime Time.

Joseph H. Radder is a freelance writer.

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