What’s lost in the din of debate over the decision to build a new bus terminal in the Town of Niagara is the potential demise of John’s Flaming Hearth.

Unless you’ve lived in a Trappist monastery for the past 20 years, you’re undoubtedly aware that John Prozeralik has been the proprietor of the popular steakhouse on Military Road.

That could vanish with a wrecker’s ball under the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority plan for its long-delayed terminal.

For years the NFTA had a station at Fourth and Niagara streets until the Seneca Nation of Indians bought the property for a parking ramp.

By the way, the original restaurant on Military Road had widespread appeal even in the 1950s, when John operated the site then known as Swiezy’s Grove, complete with picnic ground, beef on week and steaks on a grill, near the softball diamond.

The story goes that Prozeralik bought that complex for $50,000 in 1954 and turned it into a million-dollar business. In the early 1960s, he borrowed nearly $280,000 to develop the restaurant.

In 1966, he was named the New York state businessman of the year. Some 300 people including civic leaders from throughout Buffalo-Niagara attended the ceremony when Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. presented the award.

On one memorable occasion, John’s reputation as a restaurateur went far beyond his local business. In fact, the story was carried on the international news wires.

It was the summer of 1967, when President Lyndon B. Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin were holding a mini summit at Glassboro College in New Jersey.

For a weekend break from the high level talks, LBJ made a presidential jet available to Kosygin and his entourage, inviting them to travel anywhere in the U.S.

The premier chose Niagara Falls where, before a VIP tour of the Niagara Power Project, the guests enjoyed a steak and lobster luncheon at John’s Flaming Hearth.

Amidst all the tight security, the army of reporters and photographers, and curious patrons, Kosygin and his party left the restaurant without anyone paying the tab of several hundred dollars.

Actually it wasn’t the Russians who stiffed Prozeralik. The U.S. State Department certainly should have covered the bill for the visitors, especially since LBJ had come up with the idea for the weekend getaway.

The unpaid tab never bothered Prozeralik. After all, the story of the Russian freeloaders was carried in newspapers around the globe. Eventually the tab was paid, according to the record, but that story ended up on inside pages.

Over the years, John also once operated the former Air Niagara, an airline service linking the Falls and Newark, N.J.; the United Office Building; the Hotel Niagara; the former Parkway Ramada Inn and the Inn on the River, Buffalo Avenue; the Days Inn at the Falls, Main Street; and restaurants in Lackawanna and Batavia. He also owned and operated Harding’s, Youngstown, for many years before Gene Parrone, a longtime and faithful employee, took over the business. (Ironically, the latter is now trying to sell the restaurant.)

In the late 1970s, John was honored at the annual Roast ‘n’ Toast Club at the Crown and Anchor Restaurant. For a solid hour, he was the butt of jokes.

Lenny Paige, one of the roasters, quipped: “You’re having a lot of fun here tonight, aren’t you, John? What you don’t know is that your employees are probably stealing you blind while you’re here.”