UTICA, N.Y. — When Samir Merdanovic opened his new Milano Restaurant at the site of the former Dominique’s Chesterfield Restaurant at 1711 Bleecker St., he invested more than $1 million in the building and added 10 jobs to the community.
Andrea Gokey, manager of the new Italian and Bosnian restaurant, says it “adds to the revitalization of Utica. We’re taking an older building and we’re remodeling it. We haven’t torn it down. We’re bringing more jobs to Utica.”
Milano is the first restaurant venture for Merdanovic, president of CNY Insulation Plus, Inc. in Frankfort in Herkimer County, which installs insulation, heating, cooling, siding, decks, and patios.
Gokey notes that the building is structurally the same on its exterior except for a small addition put on the back.
“[Merdanovic] loved the building and he saw a huge amount of potential there,” Gokey says. “He’s very passionate about this kind of thing, taking something old and keeping the bones of it and making it a little bit better.”
Milano Restaurant opened June 4 with a ribbon-cutting event and then immediately opened its doors to the public.
When the restaurant opened, Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri said in a statement, “It is great to announce another new business, Milano Restaurant, will be opening its doors in Utica. As our city continues to grow, I am excited for future economic development in our community.”
Merdanovic owns the building, Gokey says. He purchased the building because it was well-known and available after the former owner of Chesterfield’s opened a new restaurant in north Utica called Chesterfield’s Tavolo.
“Samir has been a business owner for several years here in the Utica area,” Gokey says. “He worked primarily in construction prior to this, doing things like insulation and roofing. He is passionate about Utica. He loves Utica. When the opportunity arose for him to purchase the former Chesterfield’s, he wanted to revitalize something that was once loved and give it some TLC.”
Merdanovic asked Gokey, who is also the quality and food safety manager at DeIorio Foods, Inc., to come aboard as the restaurant manager and assist him with the project.
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed opening Milano Restaurant for a year, Gokey says. It was not financially prudent to open the restaurant during the pandemic when other eateries were closing, she says.
“COVID crushed a lot of businesses, unfortunately,” she says.
Milano Restaurant is open Wednesdays through Sundays. It has a banquet facility, and it can host weddings and other bigger parties. As part of the renovation, management put in a big, U-shaped bar. The addition created a space where up to 30 people can gather for a family-style gathering.
Gokey says that the Milano Restaurant adds a fine-dining option to the eastern part of Utica where there are not many restaurants filling that niche. The restaurant also can serve Herkimer County and is only a minute off New York State Route 5S.
She also says the downtown Utica hospital-construction project for Mohawk Valley Health System has added another potential market for the restaurant.
Chef Dina Krupic and her husband are the mainstays in the kitchen at Milano Restaurant, Gokey says.
In terms of the Bosian offerings, the eatery offers a rack of lamb and a marinated chicken sandwich served on fresh Bosnian bread called lepinja that is baked locally. The desserts are primarily Bosnian.
As for Italian dishes, “our chef’s meatballs are phenomenal, and we always get a lot of compliments on our rice balls and our bruschetta,” Gokey says.
The restaurant also has a “Sunday sauce,” a “really good red sauce” that patrons can order with their choice of pasta and their choice of meat.
Gokey says that she thinks Utica is going to follow the path of Syracuse in terms of its revitalization, and she is hopeful that Milano can be part of that path forward.
“Utica is growing,” she says. “If you look at the last 10 years, it’s got a lot going on. it’s a great community. It’s like a family.”