Not many people are impressed by restaurants that are attached to a hotel. There’s the sense that hotel guests are a captive audience, and mostly willing to choke down anything – so long as it’s delivered to their room, or it’s just an elevator ride away.
And so, restaurant operator Angelo Canna has a tall order on his hands when he agreed to take over Hooked, a seafood restaurant on Main Street in Williamsville that just so happens to be sidled up next to a Wyndham Garden Hotel.
With a solid history of revamping and relaunching local restaurants, Canna said he’s up to the task. He said he’s looking to repeat the successes he had in converting Mackenzie’s into Lucia’s on the Lake, and Dock at the Bay into Dos on the Lake.
“So basically, what I’m good at is taking over (restaurants), and breathing new life into them,” Canna said. “Lucia’s was Mackenzie’s, a failing restaurant. We took it over, and now it’s a smashing success. Dock of the Bay is Dos on the Lake now, and I’d like to think that it’s better than it was.”
Along with business partner Billy Paladino, who owns the hotel, Canna takes what sounds like an old school, hands-on approach — greeting customers at the door and watching food being cooked — and he isn’t shy about explaining why he does that.
“I’m in the thick of it, and I fucking love that part of it,” he observed. “That’s what makes it work day-to-day, being able to see everything happen. If the owner isn’t there (to contribute), it doesn’t work.
“It’s not easy to come up with the money to open up a restaurant, so I can’t watch it fuckin’ fail. You know what I mean?”
If you couldn’t tell, Canna is blunt and extremely talkative, at least in an interview with Step Out Buffalo. A lot of local restaurant owners take this personable, hands-on approach, and when they get it right, the result is a place that feels familial.
Canna said he recently got the idea to offer a shuttle to and from Shea’s, for the theater crowd, by just walking over to tables, talking to his guests and asking them for feedback.
“People were asking for that and I would have never thought of it if I didn’t go to the tables, if I didn’t talk to people,” he said.
All of this just enhances the food, drinks and dining experience, which are all very good at Hooked, by the way. Chef Anthony James’ menu features fresh seafood and has a strong Buffalo-Italian accent. Stuffed banana peppers, lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, fried calamari and scallop risotto are all worth your time.
“Everything has to be fresh when you’re dealing with seafood,” Canna noted. “There’s no disguising it. You can’t get away with bad seafood.
“If it’s not two-days ocean-fresh, I don’t take. I don’t buy it. I don’t have a problem telling customers we’re out of it.”
The bar features wine and a healthy mix of national and local beers. However, the showstoppers are the modern, housemade cocktails. All of the drink ingredients are made from scratch, Canna said, even the bitters.
He added that everything, from the bar to the food, at Hooked comes back to having that personal touch.
“That’s what always was missing here,” Canna said, noting that he talks regularly to people staying in the Wyndham Garden’s 31 apartments. “I even know all their dogs’ names.”
He suggested that people who come to Hooked take their time, get to know the place and take in the familial vibe.
“We want you to sit for an hour and a half. We want you to like our place. We’re not trying to rush you out, like cattle. That’s not what this is about.”
5195 Main St, Williamsville, NY 14221
Hours: Monday to Thursday 4 p.m. – 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. – 11 p.m., Sunday 4 p.m. – 9 p.m.