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Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

Osteria Salina owner Guillermo Salinas had a vision for Auburn’s potential

It’s been twelve years since restauranteur Guillermo Salinas planned a trip outside of New York City to the Finger Lakes. He saw an opportunity for culinary success in the Upstate NY region and decided to permanently relocate to Auburn, NY, at the top of Cayuga Lake. At the time, Auburn was in need of some new energy, and Guillermo had faith in its potential – especially as a culinary destination.

“I have a lot of respect for the people in the culinary industry. Before I came here and started the restaurant, there was nowhere good to eat in the area,” says Guillermo. “Now we have young chefs who have traveled around the world and then they came back here because they see the potential in Auburn too. They put their character in and it makes [the culinary scene] better.”

All those years ago, Guillermo had a vision for what Auburn’s culinary scene could be today. After making a significant investment to renovate a restaurant space in downtown Auburn, Guillermo opened Bambino’s Restaurant on Genesee Street. It became a turning point for the area. “People came from all over. It was a favorite place for people from Skaneateles and other nearby areas,” he says.

A Canceled Project Ignites New Inspiration

In 2011, Cayuga County announced plans to develop a theatre project on State Street. Feeling inspired by what a landmark project like this would do for Auburn, Guillermo decided to close Bambino’s and open another restaurant, Osteria Salina, located across the street from the new theatre.

“I wanted to move to be right across from the theatre because there was going to be a lot of people coming to town for that,” he says. “At the time, I was the only one on State Street and it was scary,” he remarked.

Although the theatre project did not materialize, the area just across State Street from Osteria Salina will be significantly enhanced by the City of Auburn’s recent announcement this month of a new park and greenspace in the heart of the City.

In spite of the initial disappointment of the canceled theatre project, Guillermo wasn’t the only business owner in the area who still believed in Auburn’s potential. Matteo Bartolotta, Guillermo’s landlord, had such faith in the future of State Street, that he helped Osteria Salina stay afloat. When the theatre project fell through, “he was right next to me, always telling me ‘it’s going to be okay.’ Little by little, we made it. And today, Osteria is one of the nicest restaurants in the Finger Lakes.”

“By far one of the finest Italian restaurants in not only our region but across the State, Osteria Salina has become a culinary destination by itself, attracting customers to Auburn from all across the region,” said Mike Nozzolio, former New York State Senator and Chairman of LOCATE Finger Lakes.

Named for an island in Guillermo’s native country of Sicily, Osteria Salina is an old-world-style restaurant specializing in Wood Fired Cuisine. The restaurant also features an array of Traditional Sicilian dishes, Aged Steaks, Organic Rotisserie Meats, Tapas, Wood Fired Brick Oven Pizzas, and a nightly Raw Bar with Shrimp, Oysters, Clams and Lobster – just a few of the cuisine highlights. The restaurant is the only one of its kind in the area to have rooftop access and guests can enjoy live music during the week.

A Street that Feeds One Another

Since opening Osteria Salina nearly seven years ago, more small business owners have invested in State Street. “I think a lot of people saw that I took the chance and they believed in it too. Auburn is a beautiful spot,” Guillermo shares.

Part of what has made the area so successful is the support each of the surrounding businesses has given one another; “with the addition of establishments like Prison City Pub and Brewery at the end of State Street and Moondog’s Lounge [next door to Osteria Salina], guests can grab a drink while they wait for a table at the restaurant,” he says.

“We have professionals in the industry who are staying here [in the Finger Lakes] because they have seen the potential here too,” he continues. “When people visit the Finger Lakes’ wineries, they need somewhere to eat. We’re all part of the food and drink ecosystem… We feed each other,” says Guillermo.

Guillermo and his fellow small business owners share a deep sense of connection with each other and a new mentality of collaboration over competition has arisen. “It didn’t used to be like that but that’s what it is now and I’m very happy with what’s happening with the new wave of the Finger Lakes.”

 

The only way we’re going to be a culinary destination
in the Finger Lakes is if we all work together.

 

The Future Economic Development of Auburn

Guillermo knows how promising it is to see companies like Starbucks coming to the area. However, he is hopeful that the community will continue to support small local businesses and that the larger national chains won’t take over all that he and his fellow small business owners have worked so hard to establish in Auburn.

Guillermo is enthusiastic about the continued rise of Auburn’s local economy. He feels the next piece of the puzzle that Auburn needs is the development of more retail establishments. “There are beautiful apartments and beautiful restaurants. We have the volume of people to support retail business. That’s the only thing that we’re missing.”


Maureen Ballatori is a LOCATE Finger Lakes Business Journal contributing writer and a member of the organization’s board of directors. She owns 29 Design Studio, a Finger Lakes-based branding and marketing agency that specializes in food, beverage and agriculture. She is also a partner in Metro Collective, a collaborative network of people, ideas, and shared space communities in the Greater Rochester and Finger Lakes regions.

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