Birdwalk Restaurant Closing
History of Late Local Legend, Bill Barrett & His Establishment
By Chad Neal
For over four decades there has been a restaurant on the outskirts of Ellicottville that has served the area with fine dining and a rustic and unique atmosphere. The Birdwalk on Route 242 heading east out of town has been a staple for many folks in and around Ellicottville. The late Bill Barrett opened the restaurant in 1970. Barrett passed away this past May at the age of 83. His wife, Laurie who has been with him since the late eighties told the Villager a few things about her late husband and the Birdwalk and her daughter Jessica Caputi also shared a few things about the legend that started the Birdwalk. They both have worked at the Birdwalk for a long time and have decided to close up the restaurant for dinners on September 30.
The Villager (V): When did Bill open the restaurant? How did he come up with the name?
Laurie Barrett (LB): The Birdwalk was established in June 1970. One of the popular songs of the time was Tennessee Birdwalk, and Bill thought up the legend of the birds migrating through the beautiful Great Valley Creek.
V: What was his inspiration for the menu?
LB: The menu to begin with was 10 items, and he mimicked what Bert (Beatrice) had on her menu, she was the previous owner.
V: He was a collector, where did he get all his stuff?
LB: Bill and I got into antiquing when we were married, and enjoyed it very much. It was a good way to travel and supplement our income.
V: When did you and Bill get involved, how did you guys meet?
LB: Bill and I were married at the Arboretum on February 29, 1988, he thought he was clever because he only had to buy a present every 4 years. I was a former employee and friend of Bill and Gwen. Gwen passed away in 1986, and the rest is history. I worked at Tips Up at that time. I met Bill & Gwen at a Luau they held in the yard. They had visited Hawaii and did an authentic luau. YUM!!
V: What foods sold the best?
LB: Over the years there have been many. Blackened Catfish has always been popular, Bill’s Spaghetti Bolognese, rack of Lamb and fresh seafood, never frozen. Bill was real fussy about that.
V: What kinds of events were the most memorable?
LB: Bill and Gwen started the Birdwalk Regatta in 1971 and continued it until it got so big that it now takes a fire department to run it. Back in the beginning people would camp right out back. Everyone in the family and employees would chip in to help. Al Koehler always started the race. I remember one year Smiley from Smiley’s Tavern closed [up his place] and tended bar. It was a real community effort; all the bars and restaurants would do a beer stop and record times. There were always a few pro regatta people out to get the best times.
I don’t remember the first year of the [Buffalo] Philharmonic played in Ellicottville for the fourth of July, Bill, Gwen and Jesse Kregel (Tympanist for the philharmonic) were influential in getting that started. Jack Little (aka, The Villager’s Ben Franklin) even did the cannon blasts for the 1812 Overture. There have been a lot of good times at the Birdwalk.
Jessica Caputi is Laurie’s daughter and called Bill Dad for the past 29 years. She has been a helping hand at the Birdwalk as well along with her children who have grown up knowing Bill as Grandpa. Caputi told the Villager, “Dad was a really amazing person and a huge part of the community. I just want everyone to know how much he appreciated them. You know he grew up in the depression and he used to tell me stories of chasing the ice cream truck to get chips, because he didn’t get many snacks; it was a real treat to him. One of the reasons to his own detriment that he kept the prices low at the restaurant because he felt like everyone should be able to afford to go out for as good dinner.”
Caputi iterated that these past few months have been “super emotional”. She mentioned that plenty of people in Ellicottville were good friends. She wanted to mention that he and “Bob McCarthy along with Sis and Skip (from Foster’s) and Laurie would go to Ireland every year for the Lisdoonvarna BBQ Cookoff!”
“He also used to go to Alaska,” Caputi added, “ gold mining in the summer (to beat the heat he would say). He was very adventurous. I only saw him cry 3 times in my life…the day he married my Mom, the day his Foster Mom passed away and the day Frank Giancola passed away. They were best friends and told the best stories together.”
So as the saga comes to a conclusion for the Birdwalk the stories will always be there. The Birdwalk restaurant is closing for dinners and it seems it will go down as one of the greatest places Ellicottville has known for food, people and good times. The Restaurant is also an antique shop of sorts, and that part of the building will stand as an antiques shop and tea room and will sell pastry items. The long road the Birdwalk has traveled has many tales to tell. The transition from Dinner restaurant to Antique showroom and Tea room shouldn’t take long at all. Get down to the Birdwalk before the 30th in order to feast on the scrumptious menu items that will no longer be available.