Those who had the misfortune of being away from Flagstaff this summer might do a double take when they revisit Buster’s Restaurant & Bar and Olive Garden Italian Kitchen. Loyal guests might miss their favorite booth, but owners and managers of both establishments say popular, comfort foods like zucchini muffins, lavosh, lasagna classico and all-you-can-eat breadsticks are not going anywhere!
Contemporary Surf, Turf
“We bought Buster’s in May 2015 and for the first six months, we ran it as is,” said Brian Terpay of Plated Projects, which owns several restaurants in Flagstaff. “The restaurant has been here for 32 years. We can’t just cut it all out. We talked to the guests to find out what really works and what everyone thinks is the best part.”
Patrons can still savor Buster’s signature French onion, tomato Florentine and other homemade soups, created by the same chef since the restaurant opened, but they will be doing it in a whole new environment.
“We wanted to get back to that true steak and seafood house,” said Ryan Field, one of the four owners. “In the bar, we’ve created an open atmosphere where you can see across the room and walk around easily. The main restaurant is more like a lodge, intimate and cozy with comfortable leather U-shaped booths.”
As Field notes, the bar side definitely emphasizes the “surf” in “surf and turf.” Ocean colors of shimmering coppers and blues grace the room. At the entrance is a large seafood bar with several different kinds of oysters and shrimp, market fish and salmon. Taking center stage is an inviting modern U-shaped bar, already a popular spot for the new happy hour items.
Terpay points out two new garage door style windows in the back that will open to an enlarged wrap-around outdoor deck, probably by next summer. “The deck is 18-feet wide,” he said. “We’ll have this great indoor/outdoor space and nice breeze flowing through the restaurant.”
On the turf side, a new sophisticated private dining room with a fireplace can be reserved for groups of 20 to 25 people.
“It was sad being closed for three and half months,” said Terpay. “Disappointed tourists would tell us, ‘This is always our stop when we’re traveling.’”
The new owners also feel nostalgic about the restaurant and want to keep it special. Terpay, Timothy Pacatte, Field and his brother, Jared Field, were all raised in Phoenix and attended Northern Arizona University. Jared and Timothy were servers and cooks in the restaurant during college and worked for Jon Schulman, who owned Buster’s for 30 years.
“Mr. Schulman has been a Flagstaff restaurant icon for more than 30 years. He was a mentor and a leader to so many of his customers and staff,” said Terpay. “It has been our privilege to carry on his legacy and we look forward to continuing to build those relationships as we turn a new page in Buster’s history.”
“As Flagstaff grows and the college grows and more people are moving in, we’ve seen the restaurant business steadily increase over the years,” said Terpay. “There are so many great new restaurants now and great local dining. We all support each other and the community.”
“The secret’s out about what a great town this is and the quality of life it offers,” said Ryan Field. “Also, Flagstaff has such history. We want to keep the best of the old and blend it with the new.”
Plated Projects also owns Taverna, The Oakmont, Marquee and The Mayor.
Lighter, Brighter Taste of Italy
Meanwhile, across Milton Road and operating under a newly designed logo, General Manager Brian Patrick is overseeing the final touches on the hip new look and feel of Olive Garden Italian Kitchen.
“We haven’t changed who we are – it’s still a family atmosphere – but we’re now more modern and vibrant,” said Patrick.
Walls have been moved and life has been added. Beautiful scenes of quaint villas and gondolas float across two high-definition monitors in the lobby; bright colorful paintings of Italian scenery have replaced black and white artwork; light fixtures, paint and fabrics are all new; the bar is more open and inviting with outlets to re-charge laptops and phones; and wine is emphasized like never before. Two impressive glass-encased floor-to-ceiling cabinets feature 28 different kinds and wine stations are easily accessible to servers.
“If the bar is busy, you never have to wait for a glass of wine,” said Patrick. “Servers have access to all the wines and can quickly offer samples and recommend their favorites.”
The remodel also identifies an area for the restaurant’s popular take-out service, and the Olive Garden continues to emphasize its catering options and delivery.
During the eight-week re-modeling project of the 20-year-old restaurant, all furnishings – including dinnerware – were donated to Habitat for Humanity.
The Olive Garden menu continues to feature guest favorites along with new lighter Italian fare dishes under 575 calories, like shrimp scampi and chicken piccata, inspired by the Mediterranean region of Italy.
“We’ve already received an outstanding response from guests,” said Patrick about the new look and updated menu. “My restaurant teams and I are proud to share our new restaurant design with the Flagstaff community.” FBN
By Bonnie Stevens, FBN
Buster’s bartender Kelsey Olsen serves from the new bar that adds to the open atmosphere of the room.
Photo by Bonnie Stevens