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Russell Salvatore, 85 years young and still working 100 hours a week

Iconic restaurateur Russ Salvatore celebrated his 85th birthday with a party Sunday at Seneca Niagara Casino.

Salvatore admits he could not quite relax in the early stages of the event because he wanted everything to go exactly right. In that quest, for example, he re-did The Stir nightclub the way he wanted.

"I get a little bit depressed on what's happening to the restaurant industry," Western New York's perhaps most familiar octogenarian said. "People don't dress the way I like them to dress. It ticks me off. It is so bad and it upsets me and I have people get mad. When you come into my restaurant, you have to take your hat off or else you get thrown out."

Only when things were just right could he relax, meet his guests and enjoy his 85th birthday. It was a good week for him, saying Easter Sunday was his 68th straight Easter on the job, part of his routine seven-day, 100-hours work week.

"You look forward to going to work. What are you going to do, sit home and watch television? You get bored. You get depressed," Salvatore said. "I go to work because I shake hands with people, meet new people and it's a good feeling to make people feel good - and in the restaurant business, if you serve a decent meal and give good service, you get the pats on the back and that makes you want to come back to work every day."

Salvatore said Seneca Gaming officials and workers like his parties.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"Well, we've been at the casino for quite a few years, having parties, and they do a wonderful job. They bend over backwards for me," said Western New York's perhaps most familiar octogenarian. "Our guests are so beautiful. They always look forward to catering our parties, say, 'Russell, your people have come here. Our help loves them so much. They tip. The valet guy gets money. They get money. We look forward to your parties.'"

With the work of event producer Manny Lezama, the party featured all kinds of food, ice sculptures Lezama had carved and the pounding music of DJ Milk. Milk said it was a great chance to perform.

"It's kind of become an annual thing, where Mr. Salvatore has brought me in to DJ for his birthday party," he said, "and it is absolutely fabulous. He treats the community and the partygoers so well."

Many people were at the party to recognize Salvatore for his many community contributions, like flat screen TVs for Erie County Medical Center and the Russell J. Salvatore Student Commons at Niagara University.

"I'm here as a guest of Mr. Salvatore," said surgical nurse Michelle Andersen. "However, I'm also here to pay tribute to a wonderful man of our a community, a benefactor of our community and just a wonderful man."

"I've known Russell for 25 years," said Dick Verdi, "the finest gentleman that walked this earth. You can't ask for a better friend or person. For Buffalo, he's the best."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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