Salamanca transplant Bob Rusiniak brings his South Buffalo-style sizzle and hospitality to the Little Rock City Grill at The Coach – a restaurant that he began rebuilding from the bottom up nearly 15 years ago.
Rusiniak’s story begins in his grandmother’s kitchen in Cheektowaga – a suburb of Buffalo that he calls home. He started cooking with her at a young age; when he was 14 years old, he was already baking wedding cakes for his family and friends.
“It was kind of a hobby until she got me doing it. They were really funky ones at first until I started getting good at it,” he said. “My mother and my grandmother even started buying me my own pans.”
As a student at Cheektowaga Central High School in 1978, Rusiniak attended the BOCES culinary arts program and studied under European caterer and chef Maurice Clark. He also studied architectural design.
After graduating from BOCES, Clark referred Rusiniak to the folks at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium – better known as the “Aud Club” at this time. Before it closed in 1996, the Aud Club was a two-story restaurant and indoor arena located in downtown Buffalo near HSBC Arena.
Bob Rusiniak, owner of the Little Rock City Grill at The Coach, whipping something up in his kitchen.
“I was like, ‘Great. I’m going to be a weenie roaster,’ ” he joked. While he wasn’t selling hotdogs and hamburgers to the wealthy patrons, he started out by washing pots and pans.
Because of the challenge of starting from the bottom, Rusiniak was ready to put up a fight. He spent seven years working his way up to assistant chef.
After working at the Aud Club, he spent several years working as a bus driver and helping out at a family friend’s restaurant in Buffalo. Eventually, Rusiniak knew it was time to move on and start something new. When he started searching the Cattaraugus County area, he stumbled across the old coach stop.
“This place was shot, gone. The only thing holding it up was the stone in the building,” he said as he recalled making an agreement to buy the property. “I got it for a really good price.”
“I asked [the previous owner] if she would hold the mortgage for a little while for me, and I told her I would be back in a few weeks,” he recalled.
He started gutting the old building, emptying everything out and replacing the damaged parts.
“There was no electric, no gas, the windows were busted, it needed new doors … that was the hard part – just trying to empty everything out of this place,” he added.
Rusiniak used his carpentry, engineering and architectural skills learned in BOCES to build the Little Rock City Grill from the ground up. Nestled in the foothills between Salamanca and Little Valley on Route 353, The Coach has been in business since 2007.
“I wanted to keep it historic,” said Rusiniak. “I didn’t want to change much of anything. The main dining room ceilings are basically original.”
The Coach has wood-burning fireplaces, flagstone flooring and comfortable seating for patrons. During Christmastime, Rusiniak and his staff decorate the cozy dining room with lights, garland and ornaments.
The restaurant has an authentic, rustic atmosphere that keeps guests comfortable while waiting for their made-from-scratch meals. Rusiniak prides himself on his fresh, homemade side dishes he carefully prepares and meticulously presents to the customer.
Rusiniak recently built an addition onto the barroom where guests can watch a football game and play a game of pool while they wait.
While he is proud of the work he has put into The Coach, Rusiniak sees another path of life unfolding in front of him.
“I’ve always wanted to get into the canoe and kayak business, and the staff always laughs when I say that,” he said.
The 54-year-old business owner, who employs a waitress and a bartender and sometimes a weekend chef, is preparing for change at any moment. “This place is always up for sale,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve got to have a change of pace.”
Little Rock City Grill at the Coach is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 4 to 11 p.m. and Sunday noon to 9 p.m.
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