Restaurant seeks success for itself and neighbors
Joe Petralia took proprietorship of the eating establishment at the corner of Bank and Main streets in Geneseo in September 2010, opening with an entirely new interior, menu and name in January 2011.
The Bank Street Cafe & Grill is no ordinary eatery. That fact is obvious when Joe informs you, “We serve breakfast all day.”
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” he explained, “and there are a lot of people who like it all day.”
So no customer needs be shy about ordering Joe’s delicious pancakes or omelets in the afternoon. Conversely, if you feel like one of the grill’s burgers at an early morning hour, it’s just a matter of ordering and then enjoying.
Joe takes pride in every aspect of his business, especially what he terms a “healthy choices,” customer-driven menu.
“I like variety, although I started with a small menu,” he reports. “Items have gotten added based on input from the customers. The menu has what they really like.”
“I personally try everything we make. If it’s not good, then we remake it. I’m am also always asking customers how they like their order. We’re always willing to tweak a recipe at the customer’s suggestion.”
The most recent menu addition is ice cream and frozen yogurts made on the premises. Flavors are peach, strawberry and mango yogurts and maple walnut, banana, vanilla and chocolate ice cream, all made with natural ingredients.
Joe makes a point to purchase from wholesalers and vendors who are different from the usual suppliers. Nothing which is served at Bank Street has been pre-processed. Everything is home-made from scratch.
“All our burgers are hand-pressed Angus beef; soups are made from scratch,” Joe reports. “Quality is really important to me.”
The menu is a fine selection of paninis, wraps, grilled reubens, Philly cheesesteaks, hot subs, various soups (and for breakfasts) three-egg omelets and pancakes customers describe as “phenomenal” and Joe describes as “thick — not your average size,” and served with a variety of syrups.
Prices are “very reasonable in terms of the food quality you are getting here,” Joe suggests. Portion sizes are generous. There’s always a special of one sort or another going on, publicized in the social media. (Cheeseburger, fries and a soda for $8.50 is an popular one.)
When you buy a cup of coffee to go, you may return later for a free refill. When you are eating at the tables, you may take as many refills as you wish.
The five Finger Lakes coffee varieties include Bananas Foster, Blueberry Cobbler, Rain Forest Crunch, Jamaican Me Crazy, and the Bank Street Cafe & Grill house blends, both regular and decaffeinated. An espresso maker will be arriving soon with accompanying espresso, lattes, and cappuccinos.
Joe’s background was not in the restaurant business — but still turned out to be very relevant to the tasks at hand when he first took charge of the restaurant building. A carpenter by trade, Joe spent the first three months remodeling the establishment into something classier, cleaner and more appealing than any predecessor of recent memory.
The other facet of Joe’s background was his employment at Kodak, where he oversaw inventory control and flow design.
“I came in here, saw the space we had, and designed the flow so that you come in here, order your food, you sit down, we call your name and it’s done very quickly and smoothly.”
In remodeling the interior, Joe’s budget was limited by his decision to buy all brand new kitchen appliances. He gutted the old layout, then refinished the walls and old booths, rebuilt the back room cooler and restored the tin ceiling with masterful care.
New counterspace was created in the front room, using the original oak panels, beautifully refinished. The wainscot in the back dining room intentionally creates an effect of home and comfort. The back room seats 40 and the front room 28. Large TVs are in both rooms.
Joe credits all the decorating to his wife, Patti. The artwork and colors bring to mind the building’s historic legacy, but at the same time signal that you are in a clean, comfortable and contemporary eating establishment which has appeal to people of all ages.
The kitchen design allows for open and full view by the customers.
“You can see your food being prepared. There is nothing to hide,” Joe states.
He employs five local people and, when college is in session, several students. Every employee is carefully trained in high standards of sanitation and appearance.
Joe prides himself in not only the quality of his food, but the cleanliness of his setting.
“I’m a stickler for cleanliness, “ Joe vouches. “I have a checklist that the employees must abide by.”
Joe enjoys telling the story of the disappointed inspector from the county Department of Health, making one of his semi-annual surprise visits:
“He gets finished and is shaking his head,” Joe relates. “When I asked him what was wrong, his answer was, ‘I can’t find a single thing here that’s wrong. Everything is perfect’”
Among the employees, two experienced specialists, Mara and Dave, are in charge of the cooking and preparation.
As for Joe himself, “Like most owners, I can cook when needed, but I also do the dishes when needed,” he asserts.
Without going into great detail, he describes his discovery in Geneseo of the building which would become The Bank Street Cafe & Grill and his fortuitously “being at the right place at the right time.”
“This opportunity came up. Honestly, I was kind of scared because it was a big step with a lot of work,” he relates,” but I thought I could do it. Even though I lived more than an hour away (in Ontario at the time), I was immediately attracted to how this place felt so much like home.”
Joe lives in Webster and makes the commute to work each day.
Although a relative newcomer to the Geneseo community, he is a full supporter of the fundraising walks and of Teresa House. He recognizes how community events significantly boost his and other businesses on Main Street. The Art Stroll, Summer Concerts, Farmers’ Markets, Airshow and sidewalk sales bring customers galore.
During the summer concerts last year, Joe served coffee, desserts and water melon at the village park. He plans to have a presence at this year’s concerts as well.
“I’m trying to get involved in everything,” he said.
The uniqueness Joe is cultivating for his restaurant is reflected in a wider sense as the uniqueness of Geneseo’s entire Main Street market place. Both have the potential to greatly attract visitors.
“But the whole town of Geneseo needs more people here. To get them in we need something out there to say we do have restaurants and shops. We need to have the tourists come to town and not drive by it,” Joe emphasizes, pointng out, “When the Farmers’ Market opened last Thursday I immediately saw the increase. There were probably 15 more people in here than I usually see at that time of day. Geneseo needs these kinds of things.”
Joe fully endorses the village’s proposal to widen the sidewalks at the three sides of the Bear Fountain and create a small outdoor cafe spot with tables and chairs opposite his restaurant, Aunt Cookies and Miceli’s Deli.
And Joe has an idea of his own for bringing folks to downtown Geneseo.
As a commuter who spends 80 minutes of every day watching signs flashing by along the expressway, he points out an obvious fact: Just before Geneseo Exit 8 on I-390, chain restaurants have a signage presence — but there is not a single word about visiting or dining on Main Street, Geneseo.
“What’s happening is that people visiting Geneseo are staying on 20A and never getting here. We business people who will benefit from the added traffic need to get together and make sure we, too, have signs at Exit 8 and up on Route 20A. I’ll chip in and I think everyone else would too,” he believes.
Joe related the story of a gentleman stopping in on a Sunday morning to use the restroom.
As he left, he told Joe, “If I had known you were here, I wouldn’t have gone to McDonalds for breakfast.”
“He had only come down here and found Main Street by accident. We have got to have more signs,” Joe believes. “We’ve got novelty shops like Alley Cat and Touch of Grayce, and some nice sub shops — places you’re not going to find along a strip,” he points out.
“I’ve had so many compliments,” Joe reports. “People tell me we have the best burgers and breakfasts, but you need to come in and experience that for yourself.”
Official open hours at the Bank Street Cafe & Grill are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, closing sometimes a little earlier in the summer and almost always a little later once the students return.