“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.”
George A. Moore’s words may sound a little cliche for a lighthearted piece as this, but honestly, he nailed it. You may travel the world over, experiencing sights and sounds of cultures far different than the one you grew up in. But the more time you spend away from home, the more you begin to miss it. And I’m not just talking 10-day vacation stints, either. I’m speaking on the people that grew up here and moved away … only to wonder what it would be like to live in it again - to own a business, raise a family, become completely immersed into the community.
You can certainly label Ellicottville a small town - a small residential population, an elementary/middle/high school all in one building, knowing someone almost anywhere you go - but the place certainly does project an impressive persona on its visitors.
It’s that persona that brought three originals back to the place they once called home. John Rounds, Nick Pitillo and Rick Jackson all grew up in our (anymore, not so) small town before moving to various places around the country. The allure of Ellicottville can’t be defined by material possessions, multi-million dollar homes or a single store or restaurant. It’s a remarkably diverse place where walks of all life congregate to enjoy a vibrant personality of ski resorts and beers and good food and awesome people. But when I asked Rounds, Pitillo and Jackson what brought them back, the answers were quite simple. “It’s home.”
As small business owners, they cater to the masses. While each offers a different service - food, retail and lodging - all three could see the same person at any given time.
ADVENTURE BOUND onthefly
If you’ve been coming to Ellicottville since before Michael Jackson was the King of Pop, you’ll remember Adventure Bound. Original proprietors Chris and Heidi Rounds sold what the name implied: adventure. Ski boots, camping equipment, and everything in between, many people remember Chris selling them their first pair of skis.
“Every week, we meet people who tell us they remember buying their first set of equipment from dad or the original store,” said (John) Rounds, who reopened Adventure Bound onthefly last fall. “The reception we’ve gotten has been absolutely incredible.”
When Rounds opened Adventure Bound in the fall, he expected a traditional Ellicottville winter - tons of snow, tons of people and heavy traffic. Then last winter happened.
“Growing up in Ellicottville and being around the winter sports market for such a long time, you think you’ve seen it all,” Rounds said. “Every day, we kept saying ‘next week it will get better.’ Obviously, that didn’t happen. But we never questioned the decision to come home and reopen AB, because it’s not strictly winter-specific. It’s designed to be a year-round retail operation.”
As Adventure Bound moved into the spring and summer months, they doubled down on their offerings of kayaks, paddleboards and fly fishing gear from Orvis. After a summer of scoping local fishing spots and waterways, they’re ready to go full-on with guided trips and tours.
“Speaking of guided tours, we’re getting ready for our ‘Almost Full Moon Snowshoe Tour’ on Saturday, Dec. 10th,” Rounds said. “We’ve got a full demo fleet of snowshoes from MSR that we love to get people out on to explore some terrain they might not see otherwise.”
Since Adventure Bound doesn’t sell snowsports hardgoods (skis, snowboards, etc.), they supplement the winter business with snowshoes, Patagonia clothing and camping equipment. This season’s newest addition might be a brand you’ve heard of.
“Sorel cold winter boots for men and women are currently in-store, and we’re thrilled to have a brand that carries so much weight. Between Sorel, Orvis, Osprey backpacks and Patagonia, we’ve got our brands really dialed in.”
Ask Ellicottville native Nick Pitillo what he said when Cheryl Kane approached him with the idea of opening a restaurant where The Barn used to reside.
“I believe the exact quote was ‘No way’,” Pitillo told me, laughing. “Maybe a little more colorful than that. But initially, the thought of opening another spot was the last thing on my mind.”
Pitillo’s journey through the food and beverage world has taken him around the country, from baseball stadiums to breweries to casinos. After leaving Ellicottville and getting a degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology, he jumped feet first into the restaurant world.
“My first job out of school, I worked for Darden restaurants - Olive Garden, Red Lobster, etc. - and after 7-8 years, I came back to Buffalo to open one at Walden Galleria. From there it was off to Arizona, then Indiana, before I ended up in Mount Snow, Vermont, where I ran food and beverage for their lodging properties. My first big event? The X Games. It was pretty cool looking up in your deli and seeing Tony Hawk. After a couple of X Games, I started to get homesick. So I came back.”
Pitillo helped the Seneca Nation with food service while they were opening their casinos around western New York, from Batavia to Niagara Falls to Salamanca. And finally, after countless hours working for someone else, he decided it was time to do his own thing.
“That’s how Osteria 166 happened,” he said, referencing his (stellar) spot on Franklin Street in downtown Buffalo. “It helped having two incredible business partners in Jeff Cooke and Ed Gurbacki. That’s the dream, man. Owning your own place.”
So we finally circle back to Cheryl’s question. Pitillo brought his wife (Kendra), daughter (Olivia), and pup (Jasper) to Ellicottville, visiting where his father is buried, hiking around Holiday Valley and generally scoping things out.
“I took Kendra into (what was) The Barn, and said ‘Honey, what do you think? For another Osteria?’ and she burst into tears. We’ve been married a long time, and I couldn’t tell if they were happy tears or sad tears. Thank the Lord, they were happy tears. Villaggio was born.”
The crew at Villaggio - young, energetic and determined to make it succeed - embody the fun and inviting vibe Pitillo wants to project. Things like Ellicottville’s Largest Disco and having dance crews perform Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ in the street at Halloween, Pitillo is constantly pushing the envelope on what the place can do.
“If we’re not giving someone a reason to come in or come back, then we’re not doing it right.”
THE ILEX INN
Rick Jackson left Ellicottville at the young age of 20, ending up with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department. Initially leaving because he wanted a change of scenery and to get his feet wet, Jackson ended up staying in the Sunshine State for a cool 25 years.
“I grew up here, moved away, then saw the Ilex was for sale. After 25 years on the force, I figured enough was enough. I filled out my retirement papers and bought the place. We’ve been here six years.”
Lodging in Ellicottville is about as diverse as the people that visit here. You can rent a massive house with 15 of your friends or come for a quiet, couples getaway. The Ilex Inn is the latter. A bed & breakfast that sits just outside of the village, it doesn’t define itself by just one season.
“Anymore, we’re busier in July than some of the winter months,” Jackson said. “I think a lot of folks love the ‘home getaway’ aspect of it. We’ve got six rooms and multiple sitting areas, and the pool is a big draw in the summer. All in all, it’s been a great six years.”
Remember earlier when I mentioned the diversity of the people that visit? Jackson validated that.
“The people that stay with us are always great, and it’s astounding how many different cultures and nationalities we’ve seen. We’ve had families from Jerusalem, Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia … all over the world. I don’t know if you’re seeing that in different parts of our county.”
Since Jackson’s family owns a lot of the land behind the Ilex, guests are free to hike around - there’s even access to a part of the Finger Lakes Trail, which circles the ridge around the village before ending up at HoliMont.
“My wife (Glenda) and I love being back here. I think what people that visit don’t see is how tight knit of a community we are,” he said. “She’s the secretary at St. Paul’s Church and we’re both volunteer firefighters. Everyone in the town and village does something to complement each other - very rarely do we hear complaints about service at any of the restaurants or shops in town. I think that’s what makes this place so great. We’re all in it together.”