When Gary Sankes bought Scrufari Construction in 1990, his mother wondered aloud if he would be changing the name of the company. Sankes told her he didn't plan to because the company had such a following of loyal clients.
He smiles as he recalls the conversation. "I told her I didn't need my name up on the billboard," Sankes said. " So many people are attracted to the Scrufari name. That's what they're buying, the name and the good will."
For 100 years Scrufari Construction has been building noteable structures in the Niagara region, including the Winter Garden, the Turtle, the Holiday Inn, the Aquarium of Niagara, Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital and the Seneca Niagara Casino. Outside of Niagara, they've completed millions in construction at the cogeneration plants in Somerset and Lockport, the two largest projects ever in Niagara County. They were also the contractor that built the much talked about renovations at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
When Scrufari Construction completes the B. Thomas Golisano Center for Integrated Sciences at Niagara University next year, the structure will take its place on a long list of notable projects completed by the Hyde Park Avenue company which is celebrating its 100th year in business and which has evolved into one of the largest general contractors in Western New York.
When Brandy Scrufari was a boy, he remembers standing outside the Aquarium of Niagara and telling a friend that his father built the aquarium. He heard the man standing next to him say, "Wow, these kids today have such imaginations."
These days Scrufari still enjoys looking at all the buildings his father and grandfather built, including the maternity wing at Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital where Brandy was born. "When I go around town I see lasting monuments to them," he said of his father and grandfather.
Brandy, whose full name in Bruno A. Scrufari III, worked in the yard of Scrufari Construction as a young man. The work wasn't really for him, although he used the skills he learned fixing company's radios to become a certified communications technician. He went on to a 27-year career in the radio business and is currently employed on and off the air at Star 102.5. His older brother, Chuck, also worked for Scrufari Construction as well, but went on to a career as a software designer. But, while neither brother followed their father and grandfather's footsteps, the two Brunos left an impressive legacy for the family to take pride in.
Brandy describes his deceased grandfather as a quiet, unassuming man, but noted that his father, Bruno A. Scrufari, also deceased, was born for the business. Bruno Jr. , Brandy said, was a former Marine who represented local contractors in a 1970s meeting with President Gerald Ford. "My father just had an absolute passion for the business," he added.
But, it was the more reserved Bruno Scrufari who began the 100-year-old legacy of Scrufari Construction. He was only 13 when his family in Italy sent him to Austria to learn masonry. He traveled to Niagara Falls in 1909 when he heard there was a need for stone masons to build Holy Trinity Church. Within four years he had founded Scrufari Construction on 15th Street. His business thrived thanks to the industrial prosperity in the region.
In 1928 the company took it's first of nearly a century's worth of projects at Niagara University, constructing a gymnasium. The most recent Scrufari project, the $28 million state of the art Golisano science center, is slated to open in early 2013.
Entering the modest building that currently houses Scrufari Construction at 3925 Hyde Park Blvd., it surely doesn't look like the digs of a company that has finished far more than $1 billion in construction projects in Western New York, Pennsylvania and Florida.
But, a walk through the office suite reveals walls decked with drawings of some of the company's most impressive projects, including the $200 million Lockport Cogeneration facility and the $1.2 billion Somerset Cogeneration facility.
If the company's headquarters look humble, it may be due, in part, to the nature of the current president, Sankes, who who fills a doorway with his 6-foot-6 frame, but puts a visitor immediately at ease with his laid-back personality.
"We're comfortable here," smiles Sanke, whose office is decorated with photos of his family including his wife of 46-years, Heidi, and his sons, Josh, 34, who at 6-foot-7 was a basketball player in the European league before becoming a financial planner in Florida, and Matthew, 31, a former football player, also resides in Florida and is a general manager for Ferguson Enterprise there.
Gary grew up on 13th and South Avenue before his parents moved to DeVeaux. He went to high school at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute and after getting a degree at Valparaiso University, he got an MBA at Niagara University and took a job with Price Waterhouse in Chicago. Later, he returned to the region to work with a former steakhouse chain, York Steakhouses, before being hired as a controller at Scrufari Construction in 1975. He bought the company with Thomas Warda, vice president and project manager, in 1990.
Sankes credits Bruno Scrufari, II, for continuing the legacy of service and credibility begun by Bruno Scrifari.
"The name is golden," Sankes said. "You could shake their hand and you had a deal."
The company now averages about $40 million in volume annually and employs about 150 people including subcontractors.
The careful selection of the subcontractors is one of the reasons they are able to maintain their reputation, according to one client.
Shortly after they finished the $24 million Niagara Street School, the company was selected by the city school district to roof Gaskill Prep and enhance a parking lot at 79th Street School. They won the jobs after the original low bidder couldn't meet a ten-week deadline, according to Joe Dolce, consultant for the district during the projects. "At the end they had so many guys on the job, they finished in less than ten weeks with no problem ... that's how good they are," Dolce said.
Over at NU, where Scrufari crews are finishing the science center, vice president for administration Michael Jaska ticked off some of the projects Scrufari has done for the university, from a new Vincencian residence to a new addition to the theater in the Elizabeth Ann Clune Center at Clet Hall.
"They've been very helpful to the university , " said Jaska. "We seek their advice before we even begin to plan a project because of their level of experience and the trust we have in them.
In the long run, it appears the 100 years of good will Scrufari Construction has generated may be just the steam needed to drive the company into the next century.
"They're a good group of folks," said Bill Mahoney, vice president of Ciminelli Construction. "They're a good sold reputable contractor that's done a lot of work with us on many different projects and if they continue down the path that they have, I'm sure they'll be around for another hundred years."
Contact Features Editor Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.