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FE&SEditorial Archives2005May — Facility Design Project of the Month

The Western Door: A Seneca Steakhouse
Positioning equipment and supplies in this fine-dining restaurant’s kitchens so most of thepreparation and cooking is on stage required a creative layout, imaginative restructuring of duct work and efficient use of storage space.

The dining room, decorated with sculptures that hang from the ceiling, rich fabrics, cherry wood pillars and handcrafted ceilings, is arranged for intimate and group dining. In addition, four private dining coves with fixed glass overlook the casino. Also, custom-designed tables and chairs, fine china and glassware, and Gueridon table service manned by teams of two are featured.

The on-stage, exhibition kitchen can be seen in full from the dining room. Not only is food preparation visible, but so is the display of fresh meat, fish and other ingredients, and desserts.

A chef’s counter is positioned in front of the cooking line. Shown is the server pickup side. On both sides of the main chef’s counter is a spacer rail for placing tongs and utensils. Also available to the cooks are 1/9th pans that sit between the top and the rail from which they can use the dry spices as rubs for the steaks before putting them into the ovens.

Artisan breads and desserts are cooked in the stone hearth oven (center of picture). Dessert prep also takes place in this area of the exhibition kitchen.

A butcher block where large pieces of uncooked meat are portioned to order is positioned at the end of the cold chef’s counter (the pick-up side is pictured).

Photo credits
Kitchen Photos by John Egnor, JEM Associates;
Lobby and bar photos courtesy of Seneca Niagara Casino

The Western Door: A Seneca Steakhouse is by no means the nation’s first fine-dining restaurant specializing in the highest quality steaks and seafood money can buy. Therefore, its owners and designers were determined to distinguish this restaurant from its predecessors and other greater-Buffalo, N.Y., establishments attracting customers who prefer an upscale dining experience.

“We had to develop our own unique standards for menu preparation and service to set us apart from our competitors,” states David Kopasz, vice president of food and beverage for the Seneca Niagara Casino. “We wanted to appeal to both local and well-traveled international guests by giving them the best dining experience they’ve ever had.”

Essential to the “best” experience is viewing the steakhouse’s culinary crew as they perform their craft in a 900-square-foot exhibition-style kitchen. “We wanted the kitchen to be in the dining area so guests could see the quality of the fresh ingredients — everything is on display including meats and seafood — the professionalism of the staff and the cleanliness of the operation,” Kopasz adds.

Built in what was a convention center, Seneca Niagara Casino opened Dec. 31, 2002. At the time, the facility offered gaming, a 400-seat buffet, a 175-seat casual sports pub, two counter-service snack bars and an employee dining room. The Western Door: A Seneca Steakhouse opened in May 2004. These facilities are but a small part of a multi-million-dollar project that includes the opening in late 2005 of an adjoining spa hotel and casino with 604 rooms and suites, a 200-seat café open 24-hours a day, a 70-seat Asian restaurant, a 120-seat Italian restaurant, a gourmet market deli, casino bar, lobby lounge, 24-hour room service, and 30,000-square-feet of banquet/multipurpose rooms. Plans for a second casino hotel property are underway near Allegany.

Guests access The Western Door: A Seneca Steakhouse through a lobby furnished with comfortable seating, a hand-painted ceiling, wine library and dramatic lighting. Behind a granite-top counter at the wine bar are two countertop refrigerated display cases for white wines and two for reds. Together, they hold more than 1,000 bottles. “We clad the façade of the stand-alone refrigerators in a cherry wood veneer so the units wouldn’t look commercial,” comments John Egnor, president, JEM Associates, Linwood, N.J., the firm that provided consulting and design services for the restaurant, buffet, sports pub, snack bars and employee dining room. JEM will also provide these services for the new hotel’s foodservices.

The lobby merges into the restaurant’s full-service bar, which, Kopasz says, was designed to elicit “wows” from customers.

At an angle built into the rear wall off the bar is an oyster and clam shucking station. A large display mirror positioned over and behind the station set at a 45° angle allows customers to watch the shuckers from above.

Passing through the bar, customers enter into a 160-seat dining room. During its first few months of operation, the dinner-only restaurant is averaging 300 guests each weekday and Sundays and 400 on Saturdays. At the far end of the space is a multi-station, bustling display kitchen where menu items are prepared, cooked and finished before they are served to guests. Mise en place and menu items such as sauces are prepared in an adjacent 1,200-square-foot BOH kitchen.

“We first developed the menu and then designed the kitchen,” Kopasz recalls. “This resulted in an efficient, well-equipped space. We didn’t spare expense to get the E&S that we needed, then required intensive, multi-week training for the staff.” New staff members are also required to undergo intensive training.

Chef du Cuisine Brian Mahony endorses the practice of selecting equipment to fit the menu. “It’s obvious that a lot of thought went into designing a kitchen that would work well for the culinary staff preparing this menu,” he says.

Fresh food is delivered daily to the restaurant’s BOH kitchen and stored in a walk-in cooler, upright freezers, an ice cream freezer, dry storage or a four-drawer fish file. Other equipment in the BOH includes long stainless-steel tables, a 30-quart mixer and an ice flaker. Included on the cooking line are a double convection oven used to cook prime rib and other slow-roasted meats, roasted vegetables, and accompaniments such as polenta and baked pastas; a six-burner range for the preparation of sauces and soups; a conventional oven beneath the range for finishing specific menu items; two fryers; a smoker; a charbroiler for supporting banquet needs; a steamer for potatoes and other vegetables; and two tilting skillets also for soups, sauces and daily bread spreads.

In the early morning, the bakery crew arrives first. They prepare everything from artisan bread dough, a specialty of the house, to desserts. Both are baked in the exhibition kitchen’s stone hearth oven.

At about noon, the other crew members arrive to prepare mise en place, fan out lobster tails (nearly 60 are served nightly), prepare sauces on the range, form crab cake patties and so forth. Prepared or semi-prepared products are then placed in another glass-doored walk-in and upright refrigerators positioned adjacent to the exhibition kitchen so staff members have easy access. “We always have a two-day supply of menu items such as sauces to ensure we can keep up with the demand,” Mahony explains.

The FOH kitchen is designed with several stations, all of which are visible to restaurant guests. “Usually, when display kitchens are built, only one side of the equipment — the side in which servers pick up food — is visible,” Egnor explains. “Customers rarely see the back side where the preparation is done. Here, we turned that around 180°. Customers see the front of the cooks who then turn around to place menu items on pickup shelves. Because guests see the island piece, for example, we dressed it up with mirror-finished stainless steel so it would be aesthetically pleasing. It’s one of the kitchen details that draws attention just as the details on a theatrical stage setting bring viewers into the room.”

Customers can sit at a chef’s counter and watch the preparation of salads and cold appetizers. On one side of the counter are soup wells and a cold rail, while on the other side is a refrigerated counter with a utility sink, a built-in cold well and a convenience outlet, as well as another cold rail, and a refrigerated fish display case.

Directly behind this area is a prep counter with a refrigerated base, shelving, an ice cream unit, a cold rail and an induction cooker. On the end is a 36-inch square butcher block table on which cooks cut portions from large slabs of meat that are held in the refrigerated display cases nearby. Cleavers and knives hang on the side of the table. Once cut, chefs take the meat to the cooking line where it is prepared on one of several pieces of equipment. At one end of the line is a radiant broiler with a griddle top; both sides of steaks are seared on a flat-top griddle to seal in juices, then placed in a broiler that can heat up to 1,200°F.

Also on this line is a charbroiler, used to grill select cuts of meat and fish. Adjacent are two six-burner ranges used to sauté vegetables, blacken shrimp, heat sauces and prepare additional menu items. Convection ovens beneath are used to finish off the blackened shrimp and prepare “well done” steaks. Two deep-fat fryers prepare onion rings and steak fries.

Hot items are passed into a large chef’s counter where staff pick up either hot food (on the left), which is held briefly in hot wells when necessary under heat lamps, or cold (on the right). A heated cabinet under the counter is used to hold items prepared in the BOH kitchen, such as mashed potatoes and prime ribs. Serving dishes are stored underneath the counter on the other side of the unit.

Across from the pickup area is a gas stone hearth oven used to bake artisan breads and hot desserts, which are assembled nearby. A bakery merchandiser is positioned at the end of the line.

As in any space that is renovated or completely gutted, designers had to work around pre-existing structures. No doubt the biggest obstacle encountered by Egnor and his team was the positioning of ducts that supported a lower kitchen. Egnor’s background in plumbing, heating and mechanical systems was helpful. “We actually had to lobby to flatten out the ducts from 20 inches by 30 inches to 10 inches by 48 inches,” he says. “But we compromised. If the engineers agreed to modify the existing ducts so we could position the kitchen where it is now, I agreed to split the exhaust connection on each side of the hood.”

In its short history, The Western Door: A Seneca Steakhouse has received the enthusiastic customer response that Kopasz, Egnor and Mahony had hoped for when the restaurant first opened. The visibility of the staff working with E&S on the thoroughly open stage has not only provided differentiation, but has also heightened the bar of professional standards they all want to set.

>> View the floor plan of The Western Door


The Western Door: A Seneca Steakhouse is located in the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Open for dinner only from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., weekdays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays, the 8,200-square-foot restaurant seats 160. The average check is $51. Average transactions: 300/night on weekdays and Sundays; 400/night, Saturdays. Restaurant staff: 58-60, which includes 15 culinary staff members. Featuring a 900-square-foot open kitchen and 1,200-square-foot BOH kitchen, the upscale menu featuring steaks, lamb chops, prime rib, fish and seafood is prepared with fresh ingredients, many of which are displayed out-front. Customers can sit at a counter and watch preparation.

Owner: Seneca Nation of Indians; John Pasqualoni, COO; Barry Snyder, president and chairman of the board
Vice President of Food & Beverage: David Kopasz
Executive Chef: Gary McHale
Western Door Steakhouse Manager: Richard Buccanara
Western Door Steakhouse Chef du Cuisine: Brian Mahony
Architects: William Dow of Jeter Cook Jebson, Hartford, Conn.
Interior Design: Stephanie Schillig of Jeter Cook Jebson, San Diego
Foodservice Consultant & Designer: John Egnor, president, JEM Associates, Linwood, N.J.
Construction Company: Klewin Gaming and Hospitality, Norwich, Conn.
Director of Development: Al Luciani, Seneca Niagara Casino

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