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Pok-A-Dot owner Phil Pastore passes at 93

By Howard B. Owens

Photo: Joe Marone, on the left, and Phil Pastore on the right. Marone and Pastore were partners in the Pok-A-Dot. Marone died in 2014. Also pictured, James Pero.

Philip Pastore Jr., who owned the Pok-A-Dot, a Batavia institution, for 65 years, passed away Tuesday at the age of 93.

Pastore was proud of his little diner that became legendary throughout the region and unique enough to be featured once on the Travel Channel.

In 2013, when celebrating the restaurant's 60th anniversary, he said, "It’s probably one of the greatest things in my life, to own something for 60 years."

Pastore died peacefully at the United Memorial Medical Center surrounded by his family.

He and Joseph “Trigger” Marone opened the Dot at the corner of Liberty and Ellicott as a hot dog stand in 1953. It quickly became a regular breakfast and lunch spot for locals and as the years went on, drew visitors from throughout the region, famous for its beef on weck.

The Gilmartin Funeral home is currently handling arrangements for the family.

Below is an article by Anne Marie Starowitz about the Pok-A-Dot that she gave The Batavian permission to publish:

Let’s Meet at the Dot: Remembering Philip Pastore

Every building has a story. The Pok-A-Dot has one that involves family, friends, bands, railroad tracks, ‘50s décor and thousands of customers.  All could add a page to the story of the Dot. My page would be going to the Dot in the ‘60s with my brothers and sisters and fighting over the swivel stools at the counter. Today when my brother and sisters’ families come home, the first place they want to eat at is the Dot! 

Prior to the establishment and construction of the “Pok-A-Dot” restaurant at the corner of Liberty Street and Ellicott Street in Batavia, a bandstand occupied the current parcel of land.  It was used for band concerts for the neighborhood residents. With the help of Congressman Harold Ostertag, and John Gioia, owner of Gioia’s Drug, the property was leased to Philip Pastore and Joseph (Trigger) Marone. They built what has been known as the Pok-A-Dot Restaurant.

They dug the foundation for the 20- by 20-foot “box type” wooden building in April 1953.  It was completed on June 6, 1953.  The sides of the building housed flaps, which were pulled down at the end of the business day. They were painted black with multicolored “Pok-A-Dots.” The idea for its name originated when they saw a house painted with polka dots. 

The first day the Pok-A-Dot opened, Philly and Trigger were ready with the cigar cash box, hot dogs and hamburgers for 20 cents and free ice cream.  At the end of their first day, the cigar cash box was overflowing with money. The tired, excited partners were guessing how much money they made at the grand opening. They thought at least $500.00. With eagerness, they began to count all of their money and were surprised that they made only $85.00. 

Added to the original menu of hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream and ice cold root beer served in frosted mugs came “roast Beef on Wick” and a pepper and egg sandwich (the first in Genesee County).  As the business grew, more items were added to the menu. The cooking of the famous Beef on Wick began in Leona Pastore’s kitchen, along with pasta fagioli from the very infancy of the Dot.

The railroad tracks ran right behind the new Pok a Dot building. The tracks were so close you could almost touch the train as it went by. The workers for the railroad enjoyed the Dot and would park the train down by Swan Street unhook the engine and ride it to the back of the Dot and go in for lunch.

Eventually, the building was enclosed with windows, which were removed at the beginning of the warm weather. In 1961 an enclosed dining room was added with red tables and wrought iron chairs. Added to the 1950s décor was a jukebox with the small boxes on the counter.

The Pok-A-Dot became a place for many famous celebrities to sit and unwind after their performances across the street at the well-known Roman Room Restaurant. People like Al Martino, Julius La Rosa, Tony Pastore, Dick Contino and many well- known bandleaders were among them.

When you went into the restaurant, you were not given a menu. Rather the waitress would say, “What can I get you?”  All your choices were on the menu wall. If it wasn’t up there and they could make it, they would. Over the years, many young people worked at the Dot, including all of Mr. Pastore’s six children. The waitresses over the years were very loyal. The current manager Jo Anne has worked at the Dot for over 25 years. Jennifer, Nicole, Lynette, Jo Anne, and Melody make up the rest of the current working staff. You can find some of these ladies working different shifts from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, and from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday. On Sunday the hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m..

The Pok-A-Dot has been featured in the book Sunlight Dialogues that was written by Genesee County’s most famous author, John Gardner, who frequented the restaurant as a young man. Each year in October the Pok-A-Dot hosts an evening of readings for the John Gardner Society from the great author’s books. Author and some time reader at these gatherings, Bill Kauffman, stated, “The Pok-A-Dot is the literary capital of Culinary Batavia.” The Pok-A-Dot has also been immortalized in the painting and calendar sketches of Batavia’s well-known artist, John Hodgins. Wanda Frank, a radio personality for WBTA made a CD, Grandpa’s Home for Christmas, which mentions the Pok-A-Dot in her radio play. It seems that the Pok-A-Dot is the setting for more than just a good meal.

To this day, people who grew up in and around the area and then moved away to different parts of the country return and make a special stop to enjoy the Beef on Wick for which the Dot has been famous in the Western NY region for 56 years.

In 1999 a business called Mail Boxes Etc. used a refrigerant technology to send perishable products in the mail. One of these boxes was used when a man came in and wanted to ship overnight a hot pepper sandwich from the Pok-A-Dot as a birthday gift to his brother. The brother used to live here and loved the sandwiches. There are many creative ways to ship the Dot’s food to different places.

T-shirts have been sold with the Pok-A-Dot logo and can be found as far away as California, Florida, Colorado and many more places.

The Pok-A-Dot has been a regular stop for thousands of people who want a good cup of coffee, good food and good conversation. “Meet you at the Dot,” is a well-known expression. You will always find the regulars and then you would find people like me who just go to the Dot to have a Beef on Wick, fries with gravy and root beer in a frosted mug.

In October of 2006, Phil Pastore and Joe Marone were honored at the Paulo Busti Cultural Foundation Brunch for Italians being in business for over 50 years.

October 2014, Joseph “Trigger” Marone died. Batavia mourned his passing.

Batavia mourns again. We lost Philip Pastore on July 17, 2018. Memories are swirling around in everyone’s mind remembering him and the Pok a Dot.  Our hearts go out to the Pastore family. 

Article published in "Back in the Day, Snapshot of Local History, The Way I See It," by Anne Marie Starowitz.

UPDATE: The Travel Channel show that included a segment on the Pok-A-Dot ran in Britain, called "American Times." The Pok-A-Dot appears at minute 29.

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