Romanello's South will serve its last meal tonight, then the lights will be turned out in the restaurant that has served thousands of meals and whose banquet rooms have launched hundreds of marriages over nearly 33 years.
The business, opened by the Romanello family that has operated several area restaurants for about 85 years, ran out of money.
“Business isn't what it used to be, the economy just killed me,” owner John Romanello said. “The overhead is way too big for the business we're doing.”
The restaurant will honor gift certificates through this evening, he said, and his brother, James, who owns the Old Orchard Inn in East Aurora, will honor the certificates until further notice. Romanello also hopes to return about $5,000 in deposits customers paid for banquets.
“We're going to try our hardest to get their money back, but I can't guarantee it,” he said.
The restaurant told the banquet customers as soon as it knew it would close and is trying to help them find new banquet halls, he said.
“When we took their deposits, we thought we would be there. As soon as we knew we would not be there, we stopped taking deposits,” he said.
The property on South Park Avenue across from the Hamburg Casino and Erie County fairgrounds is in foreclosure, he said, although he has a buyer.
The new owner will not operate a restaurant, but Romanello said he could not divulge what would happen with it. He also wants to auction off the restaurant equipment.
“Once there's an auction and I can get the salaries paid, and the sales tax, next will come the deposits,” Romanello said.
The restaurant stopped issuing gift certificates in December. He said he knew he could get through February, and waited until tonight because that is when a small party booked a room.
But there is not much money coming in, and every day he's open is costing him money. He used his Social Security check last week to put toward the payroll, he said.
At its peak, the restaurant had nearly 70 employees, mostly part time, he said. Friday there were 38, and today there will be none.
“These kids will be out of work, my children will be out of work,” Romanello said, as he praised his employees. “The chef never left me when he found out, all the cooks never left me. I'm very fortunate to have good people.”
The Romanello family founded Roseland Restaurant on Rhode Island Street in Buffalo in 1928, operating it until 2005. Family members also bought the Old Orchard Inn in East Aurora in 1995, which remains open. John Romanello's brothers Joseph and James operate the Old Orchard and Dagwood's sub shop in Buffalo.
Romanello said he does not have major plans for his future.
“I'm 69 years old,” he said. “Not too many people want me.”
It's difficult to look over a lifetime in the food service industry with an ending he would not have predicted.
“It's just very tough,” Romanello said.