The Castle Restaurant   


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At the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, The Castle Restaurant was included on a list of the top twenty restaurants in the United States. A mere sixteen years earlier, the origins of what would become this famous restaurant consisted of two small buildings on a rural highway, and the giant imagination of a young immigrant from Abruzzo named Guerino Buccella (Butchello). Though financial resources may have been scant at the outset, Guerino was not lacking in vision, determination or a willingness to risk everything. And while it may be impossible to know the full extent of his thoughts and dreams, it is obvious he possessed a clear vision of what he wanted to create… and then went about creating it. 

In tracing the origins of The Castle Restaurant we can perhaps begin with the Castello Chiola (Fig. 1) in Guerino’s hometown of Loreto Aprutino. Childhood memories of this impressive structure may very well have served as his inspiration for The Castle. Built in circa 864 A.D. at the height of the Holy Roman Empire, the castle was destroyed during the subsequent Byzantine invasions of the region and was then later rebuilt. Surely a young Guerino would have recalled this ancient citadel standing vigil high atop his hometown. Decades later on the other side of the ocean, it would take many years for The Castle Restaurant to assume it's ultimate form, but the first ideas to stir in Guerino's imagination could well have been sparked by this ancient structure. 

The American origin of The Castle Restaurant began in 1937, when Guerino borrowed just enough money to open the original L'Alcove Restaurant at 920 North 4th Street in Olean (Fig. 2). The restaurant featured the fine Italian sauces that he had known from his childhood in Abruzzo, and soon his modest restaurant acquired an unpredicted and increasing popularity. This presented an unusual problem as many customers were turned away because the restaurant had seating capacity for only 25 persons. Guerino soon realized he needed to expand. 

Having established his reputation for fine food, he turned his attention to two small buildings on West State Road, which he had once told a friend he would some day purchase. And in 1946, after several years of saving, he acquired the two buildings located just outside the city limits. The westernmost building was called the Dime Castle (Fig. 3). Its original structure was built in 1928 and consisted only of the circular section to the right. At that time it was operated exclusively as a milk bar. A few years later the left wing (which would eventually become the Medieval and Terrace Rooms) was added for the purpose of dining and dancing.  

To the east was located the Tower Gas Station (Fig. 4). While the Dime Castle enjoyed local popularity featuring Chicken-in-a-Basket for 10 cents, the adjacent gas station boasted of cheap gas for only 12 cents per gallon in 1946. These two structures sparked the first plans for the concept of The Castle Restaurant as Guerino imagined it, and on Mother's Day, May 12th, The Castle opened for business. The operation of the restaurant quickly became a family affair and Guerino didn’t hesitate to put his sisters to work! In the adjacent photo (Fig. 5) Adelina is pictured at the far left and Aida at the far right.  

The Castle soon gained the popularity on Olean's west side that the Alcove had long experienced on the north side. Post-game crowds from St. Bonaventure football and basketball games poured in to enjoy a delicious meal and discuss the game. The popularity of The Castle continued to grow and by 1948, the need to expand became increasingly evident. Having outgrown the original 70-seat restaurant, Guerino decided to connect the two original structures by constructing another dining room (the Georgian Room), which doubled the restaurant's seating capacity (Fig. 6).  

As the crowds continued to arrive, Guerino once again had to respond. After expanding the original kitchen in 1950, he commissioned the construction of a banquet facility for weddings and private gatherings. Opened in 1951, and extending eastward from the Tower Gas Station structure, the new Ballroom (Fig. 7) featured beamed ceilings, elegant furniture, and muraled walls that depicted scenes from the Italian opera Don Giovanni. With a seating capacity of 100, the Ballroom (also called the Banquet Room) could be opened into the adjoining Georgian Room to allow seating for 150 guests.  

By 1958 The Castle was once again under construction and, in the spring of that year, work was completed on the northwest portion of the restaurant. This section formerly housed Loretto Foods (named after Loreto Aprutino), which was moved to a new building across the street. Its former facilities were converted into the Ante Room and the Crown Room; an elegant banquet facility with rich mahogany paneling and replicas of Queen Elizabeth's crown and throne. Clearly visible in the adjacent photo (Fig. 8) this addition was located behind the Medieval and Terrace Rooms, which were originally part of the Dime Castle. 

An unforeseen result of adding so much seating capacity was the increased need for waiting room for The Castle’s many customers. In 1960, the front extension was added to the existing restaurant (Fig. 9). This included the Cloak Room, Gift Shop and the Fountain Foyer. The exterior construction of this addition, along with the iconic fountain inside (Fig. 10), is perhaps what propelled The Castle into the national consciousness. With its twin turrets chained to an overhanging marquee, it completed the castle motif, giving the appearance of a medieval portcullis and drawbridge.  

In 1962, extensive change to the eastern section of the restaurant created The Great Hall (Fig. 11). Located to the east of the Foyer, and virtually surrounding the original Tower Gas Station, this expansion featured new restrooms including a large Ladies' Lounge, as well as a service bar for the massive Great Hall (Fig. 12). When combined with the Banquet Room, Georgian Room and Corporation Room the restaurant could now accommodate banquet seating for 625 persons.  

With the restaurant's expanded seating capacity, the new bar and enlarged foyer still seemed inadequate to accommodate the waiting guests. To resolve this problem Guerino undertook the final expansion in 1968, at which time the Cocktail Lounge was added to the southwest section of the building (Fig. 13), transforming it into an elegant waiting area with stained glass windows and rich decor to complement the live music.

Looking at a schematic drawing of the floor plan, The Castle Restaurant can be seen in its completed state, and the significance of what Guerino accomplished can be truly appreciated. In this view, the footprint of the original Dime Castle is made up of the Bar, Medieval Room and Terrace Room, while the round area to the right of the Foyer was originally the Tower Gas Station. 

The Castle Restaurant would enjoy many years of happy memories and in 1971 it would celebrate its 25th Anniversary. The family tradition continued with Guerino and his three sons (left to right) Bill, my father Danny and Gerry (Fig. 14). From the modest beginnings of the two original structures, whose purchase was made possible by the early success of the Alcove Restaurant; and fueled by the vivid imagination of it’s founder, The Castle Restaurant became the crown jewel of Guerino’s self-made hospitality empire which included the Alcove Restaurant, Loretto Foods and The Castle Inn with it’s golf course, swimming pool and tennis courts.

The following quote from William Shakespeare, which appeared on the Castle’s menu, summarizes well the life and dreams of our ancestor.

“Do as adversaries do in law. 
Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.”

Fig. 1   Castello Chiola

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Fig. 2   L'Alcove Restaurant
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Fig. 3   The Dime Castle
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Fig. 4   Tower Gas Station
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Fig. 5   le cameriere
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Fig. 6   Georgian Room Addition
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Fig. 7   Ballroom Addition
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Fig. 8   Crown Room Addition
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Fig. 9   Foyer Addition
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Fig. 10   The Fountain Foyer
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Fig. 11   The Great Hall
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Fig. 12   Great Hall Addition
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Fig. 13   Cocktail Lounge Addition
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Fig. 14   25th Anniversary

© 2009 Guerino Anthony Buccella. Per favore scrivimi con osservazioni o domande su questo website: [email protected]