For more than a century, a restaurant known as DiTondo’s has sat on Seneca Street in Buffalo, at a literal crossroads between downtown and Larkinville.
After changing ownership in 2018, undergoing renovations and making it through a global pandemic, the restaurant is now at a figurative crossroads. New owners Rita DiTondo and her husband Fabio Consonni have relaunched DiTondo’s as DiTondo — featuring a more open space, new menu and updated concept.
In 2018, then-owners Al and Rosemary Rohloff announced they were retiring from the restaurant business after 35 years of operations, and putting the building up for sale. Enter Rita DiTondo, the great-granddaughter of Sebastino DiTondo, who founded the restaurant in 1904. After purchasing the building along with her father John DiTondo, Rita and her husband leveraged their own professional culinary backgrounds to update the old building and restaurant.
Rita, herself a trained sommelier, and her husband, a classically trained chef, were living in Seattle and had been looking to open a restaurant in the Emerald City. The imminent closing of the family business forced them to come calling.
“We moved from Seattle with the intention of reopening DiTondo’s,” she said. “But really, it was the challenge of breathing new life into a multi-generational family business that brought us to Buffalo.”
Delayed by the pandemic, the completed renovations included a restoration of the original bar, the removal of dropped ceilings, restoration of the original facade, uncovering of the original decorative cast iron support columns and a complete update of the kitchen. The result is a much more open space with buckets more of natural light.
“We let the building dictate what to keep and what to renew,” Rita said.
While updating a space that seemed desperate for it seems like an easy choice, DiTondo and Consonni made an even bolder choice by updating a menu that had seemingly earned countless repeat customers. Classic Italian-American dishes like spaghetti parm and pasta fagioli were dropped in favor of a more seasonal approach. One early menu featured handmade tagliatelle with mushrooms ($15), as well as an egg frittata with fennel and scamorza cheese ($12).
“We wanted to create a space where we share the food and traditions we have at home,” Rita said when asked about updating the menu. “That’s a little different than what the old DiTondo’s served, especially in terms of food. Fabio grew up in Italy and his culinary background really comes from Italy.
“We really believe that we should do what we know how to do well,” she added.
Staffing issues have forced the restaurant to only open for weekday lunches, from noon to 2:30 p.m. They’ve also affected the rollout of the restaurant’s beverage program, which currently includes soft drinks and three types of wine by the glass: red, white and rose. Rita said she’s currently developing a short wine list for lunch and a longer wine list for dinner. She added that a full bar should be available once dinner service begins.
“It’s really unprecedented, at least in my lifetime,” DiTondo said about the staffing issues currently roiling the industry. “I’ve worked in restaurants since I was 16 and I can’t remember a similar situation.”
Of course, not everyone likes change. But DiTondo said she’s seen an overwhelmingly positive response to the updated restaurant.
“We’ve heard so many wonderful stories from people,” she said “We love hearing all of their memories of the food, the space and the people. We’re hoping to carry on that tradition and create a space where new memories can be made.”
She added that she hopes customers old and new come in to try out her restaurant that is new, but still steeped in tradition.
“It is different than the old DiTondo’s,” she stressed, “but we hope all customers will find some kind of nostalgia inside the new restaurant.”
Hours at time of publishing: Monday – Thursday from 11:30 p.m. – 2 p.m., Friday from 11:30 – 2:30 p.m.
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