SOMERS, N.Y. - When re-thinking his Tomahawk Street restaurant, Skender Ademi drew on an image from his childhood: the Drini River Waterfall in western Kosovo.
The waterfall is set at the mouth of a river, surrounded by mountains and lush scenery and a main draw for tourists coming through the area.
It was the perfect image to conjure when Ademi thought of how he wanted to bring a fresh new feel to what was formerly the Route 202 Steakhouse.
Ademi changed the name of his restaurant during a slump in sales he believes was caused by negative media attention following a violent outburst between two of his waiters.
Despite the restaurant’s near-perfect rating on Yelp, Ademi feels his customers haven’t returned because of the lingering association with that incident.
In a town like Somers, where violent incidents are few and far between, this one caught the attention of several TV and print news outlets.
According to police reports, on Oct. 25, 2017, two waiters got into a fight just outside the steakhouse after closing, and one stabbed the other with a corkscrew.
Police learned of the attack three hours after it took place, when the victim drove himself to Danbury Hospital with multiple stab wounds, according to police.
Ardijan Taraku, 38, of Scarsdale, was arrested at the restaurant the next day and faces misdemeanor charges in an ongoing case before the Somers Town Court.
Ademi said the incident happened on the first night in years that he took off to take his wife, Florijana, on a date. The couple lives in Mahopac with their three children, ages 10, 9 and 5.
“In this area, when something bad happens, it becomes really big news and the news that was spread was bad news,” Ademi said. “The bad thing is I got the bullet. I got the hit. I was the bad target.”
While both waiters recovered from the incident and neither works at the restaurant anymore, Ademi said the media coverage had a chilling effect on his business.
So he sought a change. It started internally with cracking down on spats between employees and getting rid of anyone who showed signs of aggression.
Then he updated his menu and rebranded the steakhouse as Drini’s Taverna.
But Ademi estimates his business has been cut in half since the night of the fight and hasn’t recovered.
The affable restaurateur came to the United States in August 2002 with dreams of being an actor, and like many who pursue that line of work, he took a job waiting tables to make ends meet while he went on auditions.
But with no big acting breaks on the horizon, he poured more of his time into the restaurant business and rose in the ranks at several New York establishments.
In 2006, he pounced on the opportunity to own his own restaurant and founded the Route 202 Steakhouse.
The restaurant serves up two distinct vibes: a bar area with comfy seating and TVs and a menu that elevates simple bar food with fresh vegetables and seafood along with staples likes fries, sliders and chicken wings.
Through the bar into the main dining room, the view changes to one of an elegant dining area with white tablecloths, oversized, tufted booths and options such as homemade pappardelle with wild boar ragu, lobster ravioli and jumbo lump crab cakes.
The menu, Ademi says, combines the best of what he’s picked up over the years and his own twist.
“I like good presentation. I’m into a lot of greens,” Ademi said. “It’s elegant. From the years I worked, I picked the best from my experience and what people like the most.”
The sauces are all homemade and he buys fresh pasta and bread from Arthur Avenue in Manhattan.
Most of all, Ademi just wants the chance for people to rediscover his restaurant and give Drini’s the chance it deserves.
“What makes me feel good? When people appreciate the good food,” Ademi said. “I like staying in the kitchen. I love cooking. When I was beginning, I had to do something to pay the bills and now it’s become my profession.”