Buffalo is blossoming into an entrepreneurial city, and nothing supports innovation more than a strong cup of coffee. Buffalo’s coffee scene has grown exponentially in recent years, with staples like Spot Coffee and Daily Planet charting the way.
The options are anything but cookie-cutter.
Bridget Morris, COO and general manager of Undergrounds Coffee House and Roastery, is equally enthusiastic and amazed by “the vast number of quality cafes that have opened and are continuing to open.”
Undergrounds was established in 2016 in an old funeral home in the First Ward Community. Owners Bill Metzger and Sara Heidinger brought new life to the space but wanted to ensure the original concept of the building was preserved.
“Bill, Sara and I spent a good amount of time in New Orleans, a city known for their celebration of death by honoring life,” explained Morris. The theme of rebirth is present in everything from Undergrounds’ logo (a neon skull with flowers for eyes) to the menu items, many of which are named after people who made notable contributions to Buffalo’s history.
The “Tim Russert,” for example, is comprised of egg and bacon on a grilled cinnamon roll, topped with homemade icing and maple syrup. The dish was named after the Buffalo-born, long time moderator for “Meet the Press.”
“We knew many potential customers from the neighborhood had been in the building to pay last respects to a loved one that had passed,” said Morris. “So, we wanted to honor the space.”
Andrew Trautman similarly repurposed the venue now known as Remedy House. The cafe, situated on the corner of Rhode Island and West Utica, began as a pop-up bar. During the initial days, “everything was boarded up and still under renovation,” recounts Trautman. “We literally took off the wood boards on the front door to get in and wheeled in the pop-up bar. We wanted to show off the work being done and show people what the space could become.”
The temporary shop and its coffee were so well received by customers that it gave Trautman, and his business partner Justin Smith, the confidence to transition from pop-up to permanent.
“Everyone has been so supportive since day one,” he says, “we’re seeing new faces every day. It’s a credit to Buffalo’s support of small businesses and entrepreneurs that we are seeing such growth and creativity in the restaurant and cafe industries,” said Trautman.
A thriving coffee community
Sense of community has always been important to Buffalonians; which is why Angela Kunz, owner of Grateful Grind, chose to establish her business on Main Street.
“I really liked the diversity of the neighborhood and felt it was beginning to change and merge into a more progressive area of the city,” she recalls. Much like Trautman, Kunz relied on local mentors throughout the establishment of her business. Kevin Lin from Sun Restaurant and Sarah Nasca and Angelo Ashker from Ashker’s Juice Bar were instrumental in Grateful Grind’s initial set-up, providing insight and advice regarding equipment, financials and customer service.
“We are fortunate to be surrounded by a landscape that promotes change and encourages new ideas and initiatives,” said Kunz.
The concept of new ideas is prevalent in their coffee, with unique offerings like Nitro coffee, which is brewed, transferred to a keg and infused with nitrogen gas. It’s slightly carbonated with a frothy head.
Julie Leone, director of operations and marketing at Perks Café, was part of the first wave of Buffalo’s transformation.
“Perks opening in 2013 really meant we were just at the beginning of the Buffalo Renaissance,” she says. The cafe, a staple in the Elmwood village, opened second location on Main Street this year.
Leone, too, said the community has helped bolster her business.
“Everyone supports each other, especially in the industry,” said Leone. She relies on Fairy Cakes Cupcakery for vegan products; Two Wheels Bakery for gluten-free baked goods; and Elmhurst Nut Milk for non-dairy products.
“A rising tide lifts all boats,” said Trautman, “I hope the trend continues.”
Reasons to go
Undergrounds Coffee House and Roastery
Go: Because the flavored coffee infusions are to die for.
Go: For the pastries and $6 mimosas.
Go: For the Nitro coffee.
Go: For the atmosphere and art.
Story topics: Food + Drink