Tonawanda News

January 30, 2009

NORTH TONAWANDA: Gratwick Fire hall kicking catering service up a notch

By Neale Gulley<br><a href="">E-mail Neale</a>

Gratwick Hose Fire Company #6 on Ward Road in North Tonawanda hopes to bolster it’s event catering business with a little help from Scott and Jenny Rossi, new owners of the City Grill in Buffalo.

On Monday, they signed a two-year exclusive catering contract with the one-time Manhattan restaurateurs, making their local fire hall the first place north of Buffalo to serve food by the soon-to-be managers of Remington Rand’s proposed “15-mile” restaurant on the Erie Canal.

The Rossi’s new area-wide restaurant venture, City Grill 2 Inc., (or SJR Culinary Ventures) is based out of the popular downtown eatery they now run.

The rights were purchased in November to take over City Grill in a building owned by Tony Kissling, the man spearheading development of the defunct Remington-Rand building on Sweeney Street.

“We kind of went into a partnership with them,” Virginia “Jenny” Rossi said. “We’ll use our resources to promote Gratwick Hose.”

That, she said, includes a catering specialist already working to build that side of the business at City Grill who will also produce publicity for the larger, 4,125 square foot fire hall.

“If (people) can’t come down to Buffalo we have this larger space up there and they’ll get the same quality food,” Rossi said.

Gratwick Hose has been around for 118 years — mostly for firefighting but also for catering to social events. The hall, which doubles as a real fire station plus a public bar and indoor/outdoor reception facility, recently fell on hard times.

“The public literally thought Gratwick shut down,” President Bill Davignon said.

Two years ago, he said, they were forced to eliminate a popular Bingo night because anti-smoking regulations didn’t sit well with participants.

At the same time a city fire engine housed there to respond to emergencies was moved elsewhere, costing the privately owned, incorporated fire hall $26,500 in rent from the city each year.

“When that truck went out the door, we were done,” Davignon said of the business following a decrease in revenue and the public’s perception they had closed. Annual gross profits, usually around $162,000, was down about $100,000 this year, he said.

“In the ’70s and ’80s we were probably the most booked hall in North Tonawanda. I can say that with confidence,” he said.

Luckily, the engine was returned to the hall by the city this year.

Various fundraisers, fish frys and things like hosting last year’s national Kan-Jam event has kept them afloat.

Davignon said the Rossi’s food was by far the best of several other caterers they’ve previewed.

The hope is that the contract will draw upscale weddings and other events serving people close to home.

“When I saw the 15-Mile story I say ‘this is what we’ve got to do,’ ” he said.

Rossi said the idea behind their style can be called American Regional, making use of local seasonal produce and a spin on local favorites. For instance, Rossi pledged to buy produce from the North Tonawanda Farmers’ Market for use in an ever changing seasonal menu.

“We want to bring the fine dining service and fine food ... and place it in a way where we can meet anyone’s budget,” she said.

As far as 15-Mile is concerned, they’re working with Kissling to have it open by Labor Day, though it is still taking shape.

“By the time boats are in the water,” Rossi said.

Contact reporter Neale Gulley at 693-1000, ext. 114.