NORTH TONAWANDA – The former Niagara River Yacht Club is coming back to life, just in time for the summer boating – and outdoor eating – season.
Cranes are still in place at what is now being called Gratwick Riverside Marina. And on a warm, sunny day last week, workers were carrying in tables, with a little help from Common Council President Richard L. Andres Jr.
The mood along the riverfront was effervescent as the final touches were being added at the marina and the new LumberJack’s Patio Grill, a two-year, $1.78 million project, funded by federal grants, Niagara River Greenway, and city and private sources.
LumberJack’s is expected to open in two weeks. The seasonal restaurant – planned for May-to-October operation annually – will have a bar for draft beer and serve simple summer fare and ice cream. The restaurant will seat about 50 inside and have a large deck on the river accommodating 100, as well as a fire pit along the river’s edge, to enjoy the pleasant weather.
The city acquired the old Niagara River Yacht Club seven years ago.
It had been left vacant and gone into disrepair, stripped of copper by thieves. It was unsightly and dangerous. But one woman had a vision.
Carol M. Tallichet grew up in North Tonawanda and graduated from North Tonawanda High School but left the area to marry David C. Tallichet Jr., founder of Specialty Restaurants Corp., which opened more than 100 restaurants throughout the nation, including the upscale Templeton Landing on Buffalo’s waterfront.
After his death in 2007, Carol Tallichet, who had been living in California, came back to spend the summers in her hometown. Her new house was on the Niagara River.
“I have a lot of friends and family back here, and it is truly a home for me,” Tallichet said. “I have such fond memories of growing up here. It’s such a tightknit community.”
Her house was 5 minutes away from the marina, and she drove by the building every day. The “for sale” sign caught her eye.
“I thought what a dynamite location,” she said, but friends and family members tried to dissuade her.
“They said, ‘You have a perfect life. Why do you want to do this?’ ” she said. She even had her own doubts, she acknowledges.
“I thought I was retired,” she says with a laugh. “But I passed this place 10 times a day, and I thought, ‘What a site. What a site!’ ”
Both Tallichet and her sister, Christy Vukelic, a manager at Templeton Landing, will operate LumberJack’s. The two of them grew up in North Tonawanda, and Vukelic said she is excited to be working with her sister. The last time they worked together, Vukelic noted, was as secretaries at Union Carbide when they were both very young.
Tallichet, a major stockholder in Specialty Restaurants, said she invested her own money, approximately $500,000, to upgrade the former yacht club. The city continues to retain ownership and will be Tallichet’s landlord.
“I am leasing from them and have a five-year lease with three five-year options,” Tallichet said.
The city has a concessionaire’s agreement with Tallichet, which allows the city to retain a percentage of LumberJack’s gross sales and boating slip rentals. The model for the agreement is similar to a private restaurant that operates on a city golf course, said Mayor Robert G. Ortt.
The building was gutted in the renovation, from the roof to the gray-blue siding, to the new deck along the river. Tallichet said Specialty Restaurants gave her major support through the renovation process.
Vukelic said that unlike Templeton Landing, LumberJack’s will be simple and seasonal. It will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week.
It will be a place where someone can tie up in a boat in the adjacent marina or walk up from the bike path in Gratwick Park. The menu will include Buffalo favorites such as a Wardynsk’s hot dog, a hamburger or Italian sausage on a Costanzo’s roll; a fish sandwich; curly, traditional or sweet potato fries; side dishes such as chef salad, coleslaw and macaroni salad; draft beer; soft drinks – and Anderson’s homemade ice cream.
The ideal location of the restaurant will allow customers to hear the concerts at Gratwick Park or watch fireworks from Tonawanda, North Tonawanda and Niagara Falls. The view from the deck extends across the river, with Tonawanda Island nearby and downtown Buffalo’s One HSBC Center tower in the distance.
Ortt said the club and marina restoration project received $686,919 in a federal Boater Infrastructure Grant and then $300,000 in Niagara River Greenway funds. Ortt said the city matched the federal grant with $300,000 in its own funds.
New docks with sheet metal along the banks of the river, new infrastructure, new walkways, new lighting, landscaping and dredging, which will take place in July, are in place or planned for the marina.
Ortt said the city has applied for an additional $800,000 in state funding to continue to update the marina.
The mayor said that the timing was great and noted that Tallichet came to city officials as they were submitting a request for proposals for renovating the new marina in 2011.
“She had the expertise and the background and the resources. It was a good marriage, and the timing was right,” Ortt said.
“We were very committed to bringing this to the city, but everything kind of just fell in line. We’re thrilled to have her here, anyway, but the fact that she is from North Tonawanda just makes it all that better.”
Ortt said that developing the yacht club property was a priority for him when he took office.
“It was a site on the waterfront, so it should be something viable that attracts people,” Ortt said. “Look at this view – it’s one of the best on the river.”
Andres said the city originally thought that it would have no trouble selling the yacht club, but, left unattended, it went downhill fast.
“The building was getting older, and the marina slips filled in with debris, and the docks heaved. But it was always a diamond in the rough,” Andres said.
He said mile-long Gratwick Park boasts one of the largest square footages on the Niagara River but offered little to do. That is expected to change with the new marina and restaurant.
“This will be open to everybody, and it will really cap the park,” Andres said. “It’s going to make this park a destination.”