Tucker Curtin raised a stink three years ago when the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority wouldn’t allow him to keep his waterfront restaurant open during the winter.
He won the battle last year and Dug’s Dive stayed open for the late fall and winter months.
But that won’t be the case this year. This week Curtin hung up a closed sign that will remain until March 1.
It turns out the cold weather season wasn’t worth it – at least not yet.
“We broke even last winter, but it was a struggle,” Curtin said, explaining why the restaurant that serves seafood and other casual fare is on hiatus. “We were hoping to push more wintertime recreation down there, but the landlord didn’t want to do it. We’ve been waiting for the bigger vision to happen, but it just hasn’t happened,” he said, referring to plans for the outer harbor.
He also said that he is not sure if he will remain at the same site once his lease is up in two years, expressing uncertainty about what will happen after the transfer of ownership from the NFTA to the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in 2014. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made that announcement Sept. 5 in Buffalo, when he said the Small Boat Harbor, where the restaurant is located, and Gallagher Beach will become a state park.
A State Parks spokeswoman said it is still too soon to discuss what will happen, but officials are aware of the restaurant’s popularity.
“It’s very early still in the process as we go through our due diligence with this property. We do recognize Dug’s Dive is a very popular establishment,” spokeswoman Angela Berti said.
For the colder months ahead, Curtin, who will reopen the restaurant March 1, had hoped the NFTA would promote wintertime recreation activities on the lake to help draw more people.
“Without that, there is not enough traffic,” he said.
But Curtin also said there were other factors, including a desire to devote more attention to the Lake Effect Diner and Steer Restaurant and Saloon, the two eateries he owns on Main Street in the University District. Curtin also operates the seasonal Woody’s Beach Club and Taqueria at Woodlawn Beach in Blasdell.
Curtin said he needs more information before he decides to pour money into the Dug’ Dive site. “Restaurant equipment lasts about seven years, and we’re ready to continue to invest down there, but we need to know where we’re going, and if we only have a couple more years there,” he said.
Another location on the outer harbor also is a possibility, preferably one where he could own the property and expand.
“The landscape there is changing quite a bit,” he said. “There is a lot of movement, and there may be other opportunities.”
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, a big proponent of waterfront development, has said he expects to see more restaurants on the inner and outer harbors in the coming years as more projects are completed.
Curtin began pressing the NFTA in 2010, with Higgins’ support, to open year-round, but the two sides failed to agree on who would pay for the additional expense.
The NFTA board of directors in September 2012 agreed to let Curtin’s company, Buffalo River Marine Terminal, operate 12 months a year, requiring payment of $3,312 in additional rent and to plow the snow and maintain public restrooms.
“You can’t make any money when your door’s closed,” Curtin said at the time.
Now, he said, he’s not sure he can turn a profit even if they’re open in Buffalo’s wintry weather.
“If I knew there was a future five years from now to be open year-round, I would push it,” Curtin said.
Business over the past year had been “pretty decent despite the weather challenges,” but at the same time, he said, the restaurant, beginning with the menu, needs to be “retooled”.
“A business starts to slide after seven years, and it’s up to us to adapt and change, and come up with some new solutions to keep Dug’s Dive fresh,” he said. “In this business, you’re either growing or you’re dying, and we have reached a zenith there.”