Desiderio’s moves to Cheektowaga, opens Biloxi Blues
photo by kc kratt
This month, Desiderio’s, the Broadway (in Lancaster) dinner theater, opens its first show—Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues in its new home on Como Park Boulevard, Cheektowaga. Under the same partnership—Jay and Robert Desiderio—the space has a stand-alone restaurant, Bobby J’s Italian American Grille—and will also accommodate a full season of the Desiderio’s dinner theater patrons have loved for years.
The new location, the fifth since the business was established, is just down the road from the original William Street location. There, 1982 SUNY Fredonia theater graduate Jay Desiderio worked with his father, four brothers, and sister. “My father had the restaurant, and when I graduated, I said, ‘Hey dad, we don’t use that back banquet room too much. Why don’t you let me do plays back there?’” Desiderio recalls. “He was great about it, and the rest was history.”
At least at that space. When Thruway construction forced a move, the siblings went their separate ways—Linda became a teacher, Larry a lawyer, Vinny a suburban restaurateur, Michael retired—and Bob and Jay opened Impaxx Theater and Concert Club. “It was a bigger place and more set up for concerts, and we had everyone from BB King to Marilyn Manson,” Desiderio recalls. “We did theater, too, but it lost its intimacy. After a while, we kind of wanted to do our own thing, so we opened a restaurant on Pearl and Chippewa. It didn’t have room for theater; in my mind, I didn’t have to produce or direct shows, but people could go to Studio or Shea’s and come to my place for dinner. But I missed doing dinner theater, so I moved to Lancaster in 2004. I finally made it to Broadway!”
On Broadway, the business was a hit from the start, but, after eleven years, Desiderio wondered if it couldn’t do even better—if it were closer to major Thruway exits and population centers, if the proximity would attract a wider pool of actors, if it were roomier without losing its intimacy, and, perhaps most importantly, if people realized that dinner was on even when theater isn’t.
“We started to lose some identity,” Desiderio says. “Sometimes, my restaurant people weren’t sure if they could eat if we were doing shows, and my dinner theater people wouldn’t think of me for a restaurant. Here, I didn’t want patrons to be confused, so the first month we were open, we just established ourselves as a restaurant—Bobby J’s Italian American Grille. Then we introduced the theater, Desiderio’s Dinner Theater at Bobby J’s. Two completely separate entities. Moving gives us a fresh start.”
Desiderio likes that the new business is so close to the one Michael Desiderio, Sr. opened in 1970. “Desiderio’s has come full circle,” he says. “Moving gives us a fresh start, but we’re continuing the family tradition. Bobby’s children and my children work here. I just lost my father and I do wish he was here for the opening of this place.”