By Brian Couto and Hannah Steiner
Located along Niawanda Park and the Niagara River in North Tonawanda are two restaurants, both similar and unique from one another. While close in proximity, each have taken their own paths in becoming the community’s favorite restaurants. Old Man River and Mississippi Mudds are the heart of this township. I was lucky enough to sit down with the owner of Mississippi Mudds, Tony Berrafato.
Mississippi Mudds has been around for 86 years, formerly known as Helf’s Boat house but when the restaurant came on the market the Berrafato’s didn’t hesitate to jump on the opportunity. Of course, having two parks, Niawanda and Isle View, as well as the Niagara River, right across the street helps. In truth, the Berrafato’s were drawn to the restaurant because of its location in the community. The restaurant is a family business that is run by Tony and his three siblings built on the foundation of hard work and good food. Tony and his staff are proud to be a part of the community and even admit that the community is an integral part of their success. Their staff is made up completely of local employees and they regularly donate to local charities.
What makes Mississippi Mudds different from Old Man River? Mississippi Mudds has ice cream of course! They serve both Perry’s hard flavor ice cream and soft serve custard! You can also enjoy a rooftop patio on top of the restaurant that offers amazing views of the Niagara River while you enjoy your lunch or dinner and is a great spot for a selfie. They’ve also added an enclosed children’s play area for all the kids. While the menu is simple it’s one of the best around. All of the menu items are suitably named using a play on the restaurant's name. Using all fresh ingredients Mississippi Mudds makes some of the best hamburgers, Sahlen hot dogs and chicken sandwiches in the community. They also serve gluten free rolls and offer a kid’s menu!
The Berrafato’s are deeply rooted in the community, from their father’s pizza shop Prima Pizza and the Ruby Reds restaurant. He also founded Berrafato's, a hot dog stand on Main Street in Clarence, in the early 1980s. With his four children, the stand had become a true family affair by the mid-1980s. This early on family tradition is what the Berrafato’s built their family reputation on and led to what we know today as Mississippi Mudds, Old Man River and Berrafato’s catering. -Brian Couto [June 3, 2022]
Located along Niawanda Park in the City of Tonawanda are two restaurants, both similar and unique from one another. While close in proximity, both have taken their own paths in becoming the community’s favorite restaurants. Old Man River and Mississippi Mudds are the heart of this township. I was lucky enough to sit with the owner of Old Man River himself, Tom Berrafato.
OMR has been around since the 70s and was taken over by the Berrafato family 17 years ago. Since the beginning, this restaurant has been a family business. Tom and his three siblings have helped each other and this business succeed, accrediting a large amount of its success to the community's contribution as well. Tom immediately said “never” when asked if OMR would ever relocate. He and his staff are incredibly proud to be a part of this community and even claimed it’s integral to their success. Their staff is comprised of locals and they regularly donate to local charities. Family is a vital concept to Tom and it’s evident in the way he operates that he considers the community as his own family. His praise for his staff and customers, along with his own willingness to help out, is a sincere demonstration of the immense love he has for this community.
What gives OMR its own personality is the live music, the vibrant colors, and of course, the food. One can catch live music five days a week on the outdoor stage attached to the restaurant. They showcase all musical genres, supporting local artists every night. In fact, during this interview, two regulars had walked up to Tom and asked who would be playing that night. The live music alone makes OMR a popular place at night. The variety of colors painted on the chairs, tables, and umbrellas give a fun, quirky and even tropical twist to the outdoor seating. The stage is a fan favorite, with a tree covered in musical instruments and the fence along it painted like piano keys. And of course, the front patio is covered with a blue awning, to replicate ocean waves. This accommodates the huge wale, named Wanda, on the roof of the restaurant. The atmosphere of OMR is family-oriented, and accommodates for everyone’s liking.
And then there's the topic of OMR in comparison to other restaurants: the food. Not only is there an ever-growing menu with countless options, there's also a large variety of cuisines to choose from, perfect for groups of people with different cravings. OMR plays into the history of the City of Tonawanda with its large menu, having everything from Philadelphia cheese steaks to a rodeo burger to even clamshells. They also offer many vegan options, most famously the Bunny Dog, which is a grilled carrot on a bun. I highly recommend trying the sweet potato fries, they're my favorite. OMR’s famous Smokehouse BBQ and Seafood Shack are fan favorites, as well.
In the end, while they are both two separate entities with different menus and atmospheres, Old Man River and Mississippi Mudds is the embodiment of family helping each other out. The General Manager of OMR, Marge, is a perfect representation of what these two restaurants stand for. Marge is described as the glue of OMR, constantly helping everyone out and keeping the place in order. Tom, the staff, and the community are incredibly grateful for her dedication to OMR. -Hannah Steiner [June 3, 2022]