Torn-Down Tuesday: Deco Refreshment Stands, 1924

       By Steve Cichon

For more than 60 years Deco was a name Buffalonians relied upon for quick inexpensive food and what they billed as “Buffalo’s best cup of coffee.”


Toward the close of World War I, Gregory Deck opened one of Buffalo’s first hot dog stands with $6.50 and an old kitchen table from his mother’s attic. By the close of World War II, there were 35 Deco Restaurants in Buffalo and the chain had become a relied-upon pit stop fueling Western New York’s “Rosie the Riveters” and other war production workers.

One early profile called Deck “the King of the hot dog fad.” When he opened that first dog parlor to help pay for college in 1918, hot dog stands were seen as a momentary trend, fueled by millions of people who—thanks to Henry Ford– now had cars for the first time and needed someplace cheap to go.

Deco had 7 locations in 1924.

Six years into the hot dog business, Deco had seven locations around Buffalo plus a central distribution warehouse and office. A 1924 profile in the Buffalo Times captured some of the excitement the city had over Deco.

“From a little soft drink and sandwich booth established by college boys has grown one of the most popular and most extensively patronized systems of refreshment stands to be found in any city in the country. Reference, of course, is made to the ‘Deco’ stands.”

Unlike many of Deco’s competitors, which crept up alongside the road with little concern for health or sanitation, Deco’s countermen wore bright white uniforms in sanitary porcelain-walled shacks, which also featured electric lights and modern refrigeration.

One of the early selling points of the Deco hot dog was that it was never touched by human hands. Neither through the cooking process or when being handed to a customer—which was always done on a white napkin.

“White, clean, unique, these ‘Deco’ stands are located in all parts of the city,” the Times read in 1924, “and their situation is known to practically every motorist in the community. It has been well said that you can always tell a ‘Deco’ stand because it is clean and because it is busy. ‘Deco’ stands cater especially to motorists, and a group of cars from Pierces and Rolls Royces down to Fords is always found clustered about any or all of the seven stands in Buffalo.”

After spending much of the 1920s buying out competitors and building new stores, there were nearly 50 Deco locations just before The Great Depression ate away – but didn’t shatter – the business.

When the sandwich and coffee trade picked up as World War II approached, the old stands began giving way to small counter and booth service Deco restaurants. There were 37 Deco locations when the family sold the business to SportService in 1961. The last Deco Restaurant closed in 1979.

Torn-Down Tuesday: The seediest of Chippewa’s seedy joints

By Steve Cichon

People find it hard to remember Fisherman’s Wharf without calling it “the infamous Fisherman’s Wharf.”

Buffalo Stories archives

The restaurant was perhaps the seediest of Chippewa’s seedy joints during the strip’s heyday as Buffalo’s de facto red light district.

At a State Liquor Authority hearing in 1969, Buffalo Police said the place was frequented by disorderly women, dope peddlers, and people looking to employ disorderly women and dope peddlers. Three cops said they were approached by women soliciting them for immoral purposes and offering marijuana for sale inside the tavern.

It was the epicenter of the mid-1970s scene where one judge estimated that up to 40 prostitutes worked the street each night. The going rate was $20; the bargain rate $15.

Just to the south of the Fisherman’s Wharf building on Franklin Street was the place last known as the Villa Nova Hotel.

The Villa Nova started life as the Cheltenham Hotel just before the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, during which anti-liquor crusader Carrie Nation may have been the most famous guest.

Hope was high that the building could someday be renovated into apartments when an arsonist struck the abandoned building on a spring day in 1989; it was demolished soon thereafter.

A few months after the fire, the now garishly painted yellow and black Fisherman’s Wharf was bought up with the hopes of a Chippewa Street revival.

“With a little imagination and foresight, Chippewa Street could come roaring back,” realtor Jay Heckman told News Reporter Paula Voell in June 1989.

For the same story, developer Myron Robbins told Voell he bought the Fisherman’s Wharf building simply to save it from being knocked down.

“I’m a preservationist,” Robbins said. “I had the money, so I stepped in and grabbed the building. The building is safe at this point,” adding, “I’ve committed myself to making sure the building doesn’t deteriorate any further and that at some point it will be completely restored.”

Three years later, Robbins asked for permits to tear the building down. The following year, in 1993, Judge Frank A. Sedita II ordered an emergency demolition.

Five years later, in 1998, the $400,000 Soho nightclub was built on the spot.

Buffalo in the ‘60s: Ordering off the Your Host menu

By Steve Cichon

Had you walked into one of the 31 Your Host restaurants that filled the Niagara Frontier with a quick inexpensive meal and a pretty good cup of coffee, this is the menu you would have been handed as you slid into a booth or onto a stool at the counter.

A menu from Your Host. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Alfred Durrenberger and Ross Wesson started the Your Host empire with a hot dog stand on Delaware Avenue in Kenmore in 1944, and grew it over the next two decades into the large restaurant chain generations of Western New Yorkers remember.

A menu from Your Host. (Buffalo Stories archives)

In 1965, Your Host was slinging 27,000 of the burgers which started at 35 cents on the menu above. Around a decade later, when the menu below was in use, there were a growing number of places to get a burger cheaper and faster.

Photos of the (Buffalo Stories archives)

The ’70s and ’80s weren’t kind as fast food and national restaurant chains began to hone in on Your Host’s customers, and the local institution limped into the ’90s.

A menu from Your Host. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The last 11 Your Host restaurants closed up for good in 1993.

Buffalo in the ’70s: Who remembers White Tower Burgers?

By Steve Cichon

In the 1930s, a federal court ruled that Milwaukee’s White Tower Hamburgers was a direct rip off of Wichita’s White Castle Hamburgers. For the next 40 years or so, White Tower and White Castle served up cheap fast burgers all around the country — but generally they steered clear of each other’s territory.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo was White Tower territory. In the 1940s, there were White Tower restaurants on Broadway, Chippewa, Fillmore and on the 200 and 1000 blocks of Main.

While White Castle still thrives in 2015, White Tower didn’t fare as well. By the late ’70s only a handful of restaurants were left nationwide, including two in Buffalo — one at Broadway and Sycamore, and one at Kenmore and Tremaine in Kenmore. Both buildings remain, but they are drastically changed, to the point where it’s difficult to say for certain which location — complete with Courier-Express paper box — is in the photo above.

Update: Readers point out the broadcast tower in the background, which cements the location as in Kenmore. The tower is on Channel 4’s property on Elmwood Avenue.


Torn-Down Tuesday: Making way for the Manny’s Supper Club parking lot

By Steve Cichon

Norman Besso and his wife Rosemary opened Manny’s Supper Club on Delaware near Virginia in 1961.

Buffalo News archives

Following a fire in the former Shadow Restaurant in 1974, Besso had the structure on the corner — boarded up and covered with political signs — torn down in 1977 to make way for a parking lot.

Known for excellent cuts of steak, mussels ala Norman, and black bean soup for 32 years, Manny’s closed in 1993. It was three years later that artist Frank Cravotta painted the now landmark lion mural on the side of the building where Shadow once stood.

Your Host serves Buffalo 27,000 burgers every day, 1965.

By Steve Cichon

Fifty years ago this week, if you were looking for a quick bite to eat in Buffalo, chances are that one of the 31 Your Host restaurants crossed your mind as a possibility.

At a time when eating out might have been more of a gamble, Your Host promised air conditioning, 100 percent beef and real cream for your coffee.

These ads all appeared in The Buffalo Evening News during the week of September 6, 1965.


Buffalo in the 70’s: ‘Around the table at Chef’s’

By Steve Cichon

Politicians and paisanos of a past era filled Chef’s on the day in 1979 when News reporter Anthony Cardinale stopped by with a notebook to absorb some of the feeling of a landmark. Thirty-five years later, Chef’s is still going strong.

Buffalo Stories archives

“Around the table at Chef’s”

“ ‘My restaurant’s success is in his memory,’ Lou Billittier says when he’s asked about the chef after whom his restaurant is named.

“ ‘The chef was Attillo Silvestrini, and we still use his recipes,’ Lou says. ‘He trained me when I first started working here in 1941. I was 12.’

“ ‘He had a temper, but it was a mellow temper. If you didn’t do things right, you got the spatula! I was a dishwasher, bus boy, waiter, manager, part owner. …’”

Buffalo Stories archives