The names Billittier, DiPaolo and Salvatore are synonymous with great food and friendship in Western New York. They are also three of the area’s biggest supporters of Buffalo sports teams, at all levels.

Chef’s Restaurant

Let’s start with the Billittier family, the owners of Chef’s Restaurant. On any given day one could find a table of Buffalo Sabres, current or former, sitting in the dining room enjoying huge plates of pasta. “Our start with the Sabres was thru Frank Christie the long time trainer,” said Louie Billittier Jr. who now owns Chef’s with sister Mary Beth. “Frank would send the new guys to Chef’s to get a good meal after practice and my father, much like Illio DiPaolo with the Bills, would take in these young “kids” as a father figure because they were away from their families. He would look out for them and give them advice when he could. More then once we would get phone calls at our house at 3 or 4am in the morning from a player asking my dad for help or to get bailed out of some mischief,” added Billittier.

Lou Billittier Jr, Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert, Mary Beth Billittier, Rick Martin and Lou Billittier Sr.

Lou Billittier Jr, Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert, Mary Beth Billittier, Rick Martin and Lou Billittier Sr.

“One night I was 13 years old washing dishes and Frank Christie called my Dad and asked him to bring me to the AUD right away because he needed a stick boy to work the visitors dressing room,” said Louie John. “He just fired his guy and wanted me to fill in and that was the start of my years as a stick boy for the Buffalo Sabres. I always worked the visitor locker room and sat on the visitors bench throughout the 70’s till I went away to college in 1979. In that time I made friends with all the Sabres obviously and alot of opposing team players as well.”

Lou Billittier Sr. also had a strong friendship with the iconic French Connection, Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Rene Robert. “Back then there was always one of them in my Dad’s office asking for advice or just talking to him,” Louie John Billittier remembered. “A perfect example of their love of my father was when he died and the three of them were in Western Canada doing some promotion when they heard he died,” Louie John said. “Rene called me and said, ‘You are not burying your father until we get back there.’ I said, Yeah, okay and went on with our plans. They immediately left Western Canada and took two planes into Toronto where they rented a car so they could make it to the wake on time. That was impressive.” 

Chef’s has also been a favorite eatery for members of the Buffalo Bills and in particular Bruce Smith. On any given weekday one can spot coaches from local college teams, front office people and even local sportscasters like Rick Azar.

Louie Billittier Jr. has created a foundation in Lou Billittier Sr’s name and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for such local charities as the Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center, Roswell Park Hospital and others.

Ilio DiPaolo’s Restaurant

Blasdell is the location for the popular Ilio DiPaolo’s Restaurant and there on any given night you can bump into members of the Buffalo Bills , especially after Sunday home games. “Ever since I can remember, my Father (Ilio) was always giving back to his fans and the community,” said Dennis DiPaolo, who now operates the restaurant with brother Mike. “Because my father’s restaurant was located in the south towns the Bills players used to stop in all the time or order pizza’s when they stayed at the McKinley Inn during training camp. My father’s friendship with the players of the 1960’s grew and grew over the years and has continued to this day with the organization and our entire family,” added Dennis.

jim-kelly with Dipaolos

Joe Kelly, Ilio DiPaolo, Dennis DiPaolo and Jim Kelly

The relationship with the Buffalo Bills is strong for the DiPaolo family and especially with such iconic Hall of Fame players as Jim Kelly, Joe Delamielleure, Joe Ferguson, the late Kent Hull, Ruben Brown and many more. That relationship has been beneficial for both sides as well as for the community. “Whether it was signing autographs, speaking at a Sports Night dinner or donating pizza’s to a charity event, giving back was the way my father brought us up.”

The strong relationship Ilio DiPaolo had with the Bills’ players carried over after his passing. “Upon my Father’s death in 1995, the Buffalo Bills, led by Bud Carpenter and Jim Kelly, started the Ilio DiPaolo Scholarship Fund,” said Dennis DiPaolo. That scholarship fund then turned into much more than a one time gesture by Kelly and the Bills’ players

The DiPaolo Scholarship Fund founders held a professional wrestling event at the old Memorial Auditorium called “The Legends of the Aud” which drew 16,000 fans. In all seven pro wrestling events were held over the years with proceeds going to Children’s Hospital, People Inc, Hunter’s Hope, the DiPaolo Scholarship Fund and others. In fact, over the past nineteen years the DiPaolo Scholarship Fund has raised and donated over $900,000 to local charities and in wrestling and football scholarships to high school seniors.

DiPaolo’s is also the favorite location for numerous high school awards banquets and various Hall of Fame functions for baseball, softball, bowling and even Professional wrestling.

Russell’s Steaks, Chops & More

Then there is legendary restaurateur Russ Salvatore who first created the beautiful Salvatore’s Italian Gardens in Depew and now Russell’s Steaks, Chops and More in Lancaster. Russ Salvatore has had a long relationship with WNY charities and a strong bond with the fans of the Buffalo Bills. More than once Russ Salvatore has bought out the remaining tickets for a Bills home game so that it could be shown on local television and not be blacked out. Case in point, in December of 2012 Salvatore purchased the remaining 10,000 tickets for the Bills/St. Louis Rams home game which was then shown in the Buffalo Market.

Salvatore explained his purchase of the Bills tickets and other forms of support for local teams like this: “Sports in Buffalo has been a thread we could always cling to as a community,” said Salvatore. “Despite any hardships that may hit us personally or regionally, sports always gave us a common ‘rallying” bond.”

Russ Salvatore

Reserve Mounted Captain Joe Metzger, Russell J. Salvatore and Sheriff Tim Howard …

Russ Salvatore has had several different ties to the Buffalo Bills over the years. Salvatore’s was once the sponsor for the Buffalo Jills in the 1990’s and many will remember the huge Bills’ fan parties he threw in Florida. For fifteen years Russ would host a bash at Shooters down in Fort Lauderdale the week of the Bills/Dolphins game attended by thousands. For many it became as much a part of the trip as the game itself did.

During the 1990’s and the Bills Super Bowl years, Russ Salvatore was one of the biggest supporters of the team as any business owner in the region, but he didn’t stop there. Russ Salvatore has sponsored countless events that have benefited sports teams at all levels.”The participants and fans of WNY sports teams cross every possible demographic from little league, high school , college and the pros. Whether your 8 or 81, a man or a woman, there is something for everyone. Next to our great Independent restaurants, sports means Buffalo to me!” said Russell.

Russell Salvatore has also generously given to so many causes over the years including the purchase of a new horse for the Erie County Sheriff’s Mounted Division, the creation of Patriots and Heroes Park on Transit Road, the creation of the Russell J. Salvatore School of Hospitality & Business at Trocaire College  and many, many more.

There are other restaurants and individuals in Western New York who hold charitable functions and support various sports teams. In fact, Buffalo and Western New York is known for it’s generosity and involved citizens. At the top of that list however, are Chef’s, DiPaolo’s and Russell’s, who have become as much a part of the fabric of the Buffalo region as the teams that carry the name on their jerseys.



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