Niagara University announced Wednesday it is renaming its recently renovated and expanded dining commons to commemorate a generous gift from local restaurateur and philanthropist Russell J. Salvatore.
The Russell J. Salvatore Dining Commons at Niagara University underwent an $8 million renovation and expansion, which was completed in January. Preliminary construction on the facility began in April 2016.
Salvatore's gift to Niagara University, the amount of which was not disclosed, adds to the formidable list of local organizations that he supports, including Kids Escaping Drugs, the Food Bank of Western New York, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Erie County Medical Center, the Variety Club of Buffalo, and several school districts.
"We are extraordinarily grateful to Mr. Salvatore for his support of our students at Niagara University, and for his longstanding willingness to share his entrepreneurial spirit and incredible generosity with so many people and families throughout Western New York," said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University. "The dining commons was designed, first and foremost, as a comfortable place for people to come together to enjoy a meal and each other's company. In other words, it captures the warm, familial feel of a facility designed by Mr. Salvatore."
"I feel very honored to be part of Niagara University, which has one of the finest culinary teaching programs in the region," said Salvatore, who received an honorary doctorate from Niagara last October.
"We've hired many people from Niagara University and the only one better at teaching them is me," he joked.
Niagara University's enhanced dining facility features presentation-style cooking and a variety of seating options, bold colors and design elements that create an inviting environment for students to gather. Additional improvements include:
An open kitchen concept with new food preparation and serving areas.
New seating options, including banquette/booth seating, a mix of round, rectangular and square tables and chairs, lounge seating within the dining area, and high-top tables and stool seating.
A new addition with seating for 230 for sit-down dining. The addition can also be used in a theater-style setup for 250, with a projector and presentation screen.
Mobile device charging stations, and digital televisions and displays.
Focused on energy efficiency, the facility features new rooftop units, kitchen equipment and a dishwashing machine, all of which reduce utility expenses.
A new patio with green space, patio-style tables and chairs, flowering planters, and a rain barrel to support 875 square feet of green space for container plantings of herbs and native plants.
Niagara received support from Metz Culinary Management, its on-campus food service contractor, on the project. In addition, NU worked with local legislative leaders, including New York State Sen. Robert G. Ortt and former Assemblyman John D. Ceretto (Class of 1975, M.S.Ed.'78) to make the project possible.
NU students were instrumental in determining the food offerings and design concepts for the facility.
Salvatore is well-known for establishing Salvatore's Italian Gardens and its neighboring Garden Place Hotel, Buffalo-area landmarks that are now operated by his son, Joseph. In 2008, Salvatore embarked on a new adventure, an 18,000-square-foot steakhouse just down the road from his other establishments. Russell's Steaks, Chops and More - and its attached, five-story Grand Hotel - has since drawn national attention for exemplary food quality and high level of service.