by Mike Billoni
While growing up in Grand Island, Kristina Bulera fondly remembers spending much of her summers on the beach or the playground at Beaver Island State Park. During the past couple of summers, the 29-year-old co-owner of the Riverstone Grill with her husband, Chaz, would ride her bicycle to the park with a trolley on the back for her 3-year-old daughter, Avery.
"Avery just loves the beach and playground like I did," Kristina said during an interview in the East River Road restaurant with her daughter on her lap using her crayons with her coloring book. "I love Beaver Island State Park. It is my favorite place to go on Grand Island. My grandma used to take my mom and her brothers there once a week every week in the summer. Chaz and I have spent a lot of time there with friends grilling, hanging out and playing disc golf.
"We also go to watch the sunsets. They are just spectacular."
Today, Kristina, Chaz, 36, and Pat Wirth, 22, are partners in operating the catering in the New York state-owned Beaver Island State Park Clubhouse and the concessions on the beach and at the accompanying 18-hole golf course. Less than one year after Kristina and Chaz purchased and opened the Riverstone Grill on Nov. 1, 2012, they put in a bid with the state to operate the clubhouse in the park. Just before last Thanksgiving, they received word that their bid was accepted for a five-year contract.
The clubhouse has a capacity of 250 for sit-down dinners, a full catering kitchen, and outside there are two 5,000-square-foot patios with a capacity for 300 people each. They will operate the catering business year-round. The outdoor patios have heavy plastic drop-downs and they can heat the space to 70 degrees. They will also open an elaborate ice cream stand next to the boardwalk that will also serve roast beef sandwiches, barbecue, hot dogs, hamburgers and milkshakes, among other menu items.
The interest in renting the clubhouse has been so great that they are talking with the state about opening a year-round restaurant in the facility.
"It was a bit overwhelming and humbling when we won this bid," Kristina said. "The building is so beautiful and everyone loves the park."
Chaz quickly added, "The boardwalk, the beach, the river - it is all so beautiful. I cannot think of another place in Western New York where you can have a wedding in the spring, summer or fall and take pictures on the boardwalk with a sunset behind you or in the woods with all the birds and wildlife. It is just incredible.
"Everyone on Grand Island always complains there is no place to go to enjoy the river. We now have this fantastic opportunity to do that for everyone," he said. "We have this stunning view of the river and the sunsets and now we will have a great ice cream stand for everyone to enjoy a cone, a sundae or a milkshake."
Chaz, Kristina and Pat all worked at the Riverstone when it first opened in 2008 with Chaz as the chef, Pat in the kitchen and Kristina waiting tables. Chaz, a 1996 Grand Island High School graduate and Kristina, a 2002 Grand Island High School graduate, first met when they worked together at the Village Inn 15 years ago. They were married in 2009. Pat, a 2009 graduate of St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, studied hospitality at Niagara University and business at the University at Buffalo. He had been working at Louie's Foot Long Hot Dog Stand on Sheridan in the Town of Tonawanda since he was 15.
Chaz, an outstanding lacrosse player and the former coach at Grand island High School, graduated from St. Andrew's College, Empire State and Medaille College for business. He earned his masters in education at Medaille. Kristina attended Niagara County Community College and Buffalo State College where she earned her degree in education with a specialty in special education.
Chaz is an adjunct professor in the culinary department at The Niagara Community College Culinary Institute.
He and his wife are quite pleased with the steady growth their steak and seafood restaurant, the Riverstone, has experienced, especially on Wednesday nights when they offer $5 burgers in the bar area with trivia contests all night.
To inquire about renting the Beaver Island Clubhouse, contact Pat Wirth at 716-949-6049.