Friday, April 27, 2012


This post effectively ends my run as 'Dining Rumor' for the foreseeable future, and I feel as though I owe some sort of explanation.

Firstly, there are a few strictly personal reasons that interfere with the time and effort with which I am able to contribute to this blog.  One is simple:  I am in the process of making some living arrangements that are going to interfere with accumulation of and knowledgeably writing about the service industry chit chat going on around town -- ultimately, I'm going to be out of the loop.  The other reason is a bit more complex, and honestly none of your damn business.

In addition to that, I'm also making moves to get out of the service industry, as much as it is possible.  I've been doing a little freelance writing, and while the income isn't something I can live off of, I enjoy putting my schooling to use.  There is a certain measure of contradiction in the fact that I will no longer be writing this blog because I am trying to be writer, I get it.  At any rate, I'd feel as if I wouldn't have the right to author a blog like this, not working in the service industry in the same capacity anymore.  If I tried, I wouldn't have the same street cred; I'd be living a lie! A shame!

The biggest reason that I'm a quitter comes down to my profound disillusionment with the service industry in Buffalo over the last couple years.  My inability to make any headway as a Person of Value, or someone that warrants treatment as a human being from customer and employer alike has not just been crushing me, but really putting limits on my ability to pay bills, live independently, and generally survive.  As much as we, in "this thing of ours," like to bitch about customers, we know that it comes part and parcel with the job -- it's all, to some degree, a little bit tongue in cheek, despite all the affectations of outrage we like to adopt.  But when you get more respect from a public that is often on its best day some form of pleasantly apathetic and ignorant than you do from your own bosses, who should know better....burning out is going to become an inevitability.

I'm bitter because I was ready to love it; service industry work is the only thing I have on my resume, and while I'd never dreamed I'd spend the rest of my working life in a restaurant as a child, I'd started to get comfortable with the idea.  There is that element of uncertainty that my untamed streak craves:  meeting the challenge of an unforecasted busy night with my fellow co-workers as a team, celebratory late night drinks, the next day's hungover tales of debauchery.  Not to mention that if food is the new entertainment thanks to celebrity chef TV and foodie culture, restaurant work becomes slightly more respectable.  And if this was what I was going to do with my life, why not really own it?

After recounting a recent string of job mishaps, my bartender friend told me, "Maybe you should try another line of work."  At first, I was indignant.  This is what I DO. Are you implying I'm not GOOD at it?  He wasn't.  I'm no all-star;  but I know what I'm doing and I provide solid service.  We'd worked together, so he knows just what my strengths and weaknesses are.  He wasn't telling me I'm not good at it.  But if I was as qualified as I am and I still can't make things work for me, maybe "The Universe" was trying to tell me something.  Maybe I should start looking at other options, use that college education, get out now before I start flipping tables on customers and kicking busboys in the nuts.

He has a point.  My laughably bad luck was perhaps a sign -- maybe not a divine one from on high, but the signal of a trend.  And I'd be stupid not to listen.

Of course I can't just up and quit the industry in a huff.  I'm not real qualified to do much else.  It might take a couple years to make a full transition, and I might never be out of it completely.  But I can't stake my life on something so unreliable; despite my eagerness, it just won't ever look out for me. 

If the same bitch breaks your heart enough times, eventually it's your own fault for stickin around.



Tuesday, February 28, 2012

This Acropolis Business

Back on the horse.

Somebody, please, describe to me how this fuss over the Acropolis expansion makes any sense.  As is evident by their article today, the Buffalo News has finally caught wind of the story, and whether fair or not, seems only to add fuel to the flame.  The scary part is that it seems ever more apparent to me this conflict isn't just going to halt expansion plans for owner Paul Tsouflidis, but bring them crashing down around him.

But then again, what do I know? Well, nothing. I'm just a blogger.

Ok, that's not entirely true.  I do know Paul.  I met him through my patronage of the Acropolis and I know him through several mutual friends as well.  As a private citizen, I don't know him overly well, but Paul has always impressed me as a business owner.  Hang around an owner-type long enough, and they'll regale you with all of their plans to reinvigorate, remodel, and revolutionize their little corner of the food and beverage industry.  And the tales are interesting, creative, exciting even. "Yes!" you'll think as the lowly server, "Yes! that's exactly what you SHOULD do! and we'll be packed six nights a week and we'll all be making more money than we know how to spend! we might even have to splurge on another bus boy...let's DO this," and that's how you're meant to respond.  As company that is almost as cheaply bought as your labor, you're meant to be a yes-man.  But soon that beer buzz wears off, and with it, all of your owner's wonderful, exciting, and sure-to-be-moneymaking plans...and as weeks stretch into months, the talk never stretches into anything but more talk.

But Paul has never been that kind of owner.  By the time I was hearing about his plans to alter not just the look, but the feel of Acropolis, its very place in the community and amongst its fellow Elmwood avenue businesses, I was already jaded enough to expect the Great Big Nothing as far as follow up was concerned.  I got showed up, big time.  And I loved it.  What Paul was doing was what he said he was going to do -- a beautiful remodel on the interior, and extensive exterior refacing as well, all at what looked to be at great cost.  And whatever that cost, the expense has been out of his own modest pockets -- a far cry from some of the money coddled inheritors in this town that throw around their weight and wealth in less productive fashion.  The jump in the quality of food, without an extreme jump in pricing, was jaw dropping.  I was hesitant about the concept when i'd heard it -- healthy, traditional style Greek food, replacing my favorite diner-fare? Bollocks!  Yet the guy can cook, and since the menu change, I've never had a meal there I wasn't happy with.  When the big test rolled around, the ever elusive liquor license procurement test, I had, at that point, faith in Paul's tenacity, and even his willingness to submit to long suffering.

How does this matter?  Anyone who was at the Acropolis community meeting in the basement of Lafayette Presbyterian Church, read comments sections in online articles, or just generally paid attention to all the ballyhoo, has heard the cry of the detractors:  "The question here is not about Paul's character, or whether or not he runs a good business -- the issue at hand is how the intended changes will adversely affect the Elmwood Village residential community."

This is the complaint, put as succinctly as possible, and it is this complaint alone that needs addressing.

So, how does Paul's quality of character or quality of business relate to the question of how a "new" Acropolis will affect Elmwood Village living conditions?

DIRECTLY.  The negative response from "Elmwood Villagers" is  emotional, irrational, and just plain fearful if they are going to, as many of them do, concede the points that Paul is a) a man of character, integrity, and upstanding citizenship and b) that he runs a quality business.  My question is -- how does updating, renovating, increasing, or altering Acropolis's business imply that Paul will attend to the new aspects of this business with any less quality or integrity than he attends to it in its current form?  Will he be less conscientious?  Will he care for it less as it grows?  If Paul's a good guy, and he runs a good business, how will the expansion change the acceptable manner in which he's run his business to this point?  Unless this is just lip service, to ease the criticisms of Paul's business into people's ears.

Which it may very well be.  Complaints also include dealing with the drunken public -- doorway pissers, lawn pukers and the like -- as well as increased noise from late night events.  To address the noise complaint in any length is a waste of time.  It's silly, Acropolis has never been cited for illegal decibel levels, and has clearly tried to work to keep noise down.  Some people can't be satisfied, and cities are supposed to be noisy.  End of story.

The complaint of drunken rabble, carousing down Elmwood Avenue due to a DJ event hosted by Acropolis is patently ABSURD.  In the walkable three blocks of Elmwood on either side of West Ferry there are over a dozen establishments with liquor and late night hours.  To say that Acropolis featuring a DJ or serving liquor poses a singular threat to peace, quiet, and clean lawns in the Elmwood Village is ridiculous.  The Blue Monk churns out a college crowd hopped up on high octane beer...hipsters, twentysomethings, and thrill seekers rove the streets from Bullfeathers to Thirsty Buffalo to Faherty's and back again...even Cecelia's has played host to the occasional late night, out of control frat party.  Why is Acropolis being singled out?  The names of the owners of those other establishments don't come up in a discussion of the behavior of their piss-drunk patrons;  no one is giving them quite so much hell. 

It seems obvious, from the Buffalo News article, that when compared to other Elmwood establishments (Epic and Toro are mentioned specifically), Acropolis is being treated with "selective enforcement" of regulations, as Paul points out.  A commenter on the Buffalo News article (Frank Wyglondalski, Depew, NY) suggests this is due to the fact Paul hasn't been "greasing" the right people. I assume he means city employees, or even politicians.  We pretend like that's not the way things work in the world sometimes, just so we can all get along, but maybe Frank isn't so far off the mark.  Or maybe it's something else. 

What I've heard in the pipeline is that the two establishments flanking Acropolis, Elmwood Pet Supplies, owned by brothers John and Tom Higgins, and Mother Nature Plant Emporium, owned by Bob Petrik, have been the most vocal detractors of Paul's expansion.  I imagine that they learned, as I did, of Paul's plans from Paul himself while patronizing his restaurant.  I imagine that upstairs renovations came up, possibly a "Champagne Room" to retire to in the evening hours, the liquor license, revamping the diner into a culturally significant arts-and-music destination.  I imagine being of middle age and upwards -- and as their business hours don't allow them to benefit from the additional foot traffic it would provide -- these fellows didn't have much interest or excitement about such plans.  Sure, they enjoy the breakfasts, but this was not someplace they wanted to be for a late night cocktail.  (Which I think is really how you can easily draw the line between supporters and non-supporters -- people who like the sound of heading to Acropolis for a classy drink during  young-people-drinking-hours, and people who don't.)  When hours proved to be too late, and noise too noisy, I imagine these flanking business owners, who either reside or have tenants in their buildings, had something to say.  And I imagine if personal appeals failed, they would search out legal options.  But really, the only thing they've been able to trip Acropolis up on legally is the music license.  Big effing deal.  

The darker whispers I've heard imply tenants and residents have been encouraged (enticed?) by the business owners to vocalize their criticisms of the Acropolis expansion, but the worst indictment of Paul that they can manage to muster is his cold demeanor.  Can you blame him? It's more of a courtesy than I'd be able to extend in his situation, in which case saying little or nothing is peferable to the alternative of explosive verbal altercation.  Bob Petrik's "Acropolis Testimonial" at Lafayette Presbyterian was enlightening.  I've met Bob before too; his flower shop is top quality.  He's a nice guy.  A little too nice.  Nice in the same way laughter only metaphorically describes the sound a hyena makes.  Does it not seem antagonistic that he's decided to continue to patronize Acropolis on what sounds like an almost daily basis, when everyone in that restaurant knows he is one of the most vocal opponents of the expansion?  Is there not something a little bit sick about exploiting Paul's civility while flaunting the stranglehold he's helped to bring down on the man's business?  I'd never be so quick to eat at a restaurant owned by someone I've pissed off that badly, but that's just me. 

The Higginses? Some light internet stalking yielded a few hits of note (see comments by BuffaloByChoice), one in particular being this: a business profile, that, for whatever reason, lists political associations and even possible campaign contributions.  The amounts of "possible contributions" aren't really as significant as to whom they were made, one Congressman Brian Higgins.  Huh. Can't say for certain if there is any family relation -- the Congressman's bio does not include them amongst the listing of immediate family members.  Now, I haven't researched much further than that, and I honestly wouldn't know where to begin to discover whether or not these are of any relation...but if they are?  Well.  Then there may be more behind LoCurto's "no" vote than we realize, and its pretty clear which way this is going to go.  This is, of course, complete speculation, and an indulgence of my penchant for conspiracy theories.  But by whatever logic LoCurto's using to equate an upstairs bar -- a service bar much the same as the one found on the first floor, mind you -- with a "Chippewa-style nightclub," is beyond me.  The implied fear, here, is with "hip hop DJ's," and a "Chippewa" atmosphere, we'll all soon be in danger of shootings, stabbings, and general menace from folks who don't look like they belong in a place that's supposed to be a "Village." There are several irrational jumps in logic here that are disturbing, which makes me wonder what force is at work in the decision making process...because it sure isn't a rational one. 

I find it sad and a touch ironic that of all the jackasses who've built successful businesses in the Elmwood area on back alley deals, insurance fraud, and the like, that the guy who's trying to be forthcoming and transparent about what he wants his business to be is the guy who's getting jerked around the most. 

It's mind boggling how blown out of proportion this has all become. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Future of the Eights: an interview with owner, Peter Rouff

After the flurry of activity on the Dining Rumor Facebook Page, it seems clear that this was inevitable.  It was Dr. Peter Rouff, owner of the Eights, and the building in which it resides, that initiated contact with me, in order to quell some of the confusion and answer some questions about the current state of things at the Eights Bistro.  By the time I had gotten the questions off to him, however, about a third of them were obsolete, as he is currently in the midst of signing a deal with the new ownership, which he hopes will take over in March.  He was kind enough to answer all the relevant questions via a series of e-mails, and that interview is what follows here.

DR: What can you tell us about the Eights parting ways with Amelia?  Was there a specific conflict or event that led to her departure?

PR: There is no animosity between Amelia and I – she wanted to make a change and has my full support for her next endeavor.   I have absolutely nothing negative to say about either her or Martin.  They gave notice in early December that they were leaving to pursue a new project.  I did not ask any questions - so I am as in the dark as everyone else.  I read (I believe on your FB page) a rumor of a rift between Amelia / Martin and myself:  I consider the split completely amicable. I gave her free reign to run the restaurant, so I am hard pressed to come up with any reasons either should have hard / hurt feelings.

DR: Was this parting of ways at the Eights what inspired you to put the location on the market?  Are there any other factors for doing this?

PR: Immediately after they gave notice, I contacted my commercial real estate agent @ CBRE to put the location / restaurant space up for lease.  I never had strong desires to be in the industry - I love the building and my investment is in that real estate. 

DR: If your intent is to rent to another restaurateur, why stay open as the Eights in the meantime?

PR: The wheels turn slowly with Buffalo real estate - [if] I have no idea how long it will take to find a suitable tenant...I either shut it down (as I stated above: not an option) or keep the lights on.  I do not look at the present direction as half measures.  I do not want to paint myself as any kind of do-gooder: I have been blessed with amazing staff and want to give them an opportunity to not only keep their jobs, but enhance their skills and resumes.  Chris has been a very dedicated and loyal bartender-promoting him to bar manager was a natural step. I have been incredibly impressed by Rachel (former sous chef - now head chef) - so giving her a chance to run a kitchen is a merit based promotion and hopefully leads to bigger and brighter things. 

DR: What is your response to the many adverse reactions to the new, post-Amelia menu?

PR: Hell hath no fury like a scorned vegan.  I wish the vegan community well in finding a replacement establishment in city limits.

DR: Is the loss of income from the rental property at all a factor in staying open?

PR: No. Much like a home sells "better" when it's furnished and looks lived in, I have been advised that it's easier to sell (or rent) an open and operating restaurant than a closed / shuttered establishment. Even if an ideal tenant was located and a letter of intent signed today, by the time the lawyers dot the i's and cross the t's - I figure (maybe pessimistically) it's a minimum two months before someone takes over: a long time to leave the space vacant.   So why am I staying open?  Loyalty to employees, A desire to maintain a positive presence on the 800 block of main and the hope that an open establishment will facilitate finding a new tenant.

DR: What will your relationship to the next restaurant of that location look like?

PR: The new tenant will be just that – an independent tenant.  No agreement other than a straight lease:  They pay rent and will have free reign.  888 Main Street is a real estate investment.

DR: What is important to you about housing a restaurant in some capacity in that location?

PR: I do not want to be the cause of a shuttered property in Buffalo, so my goal is to operate until the beginning of the new tenant’s lease.  Who would not want to purchase fair market realty in the fastest growing area of Buffalo?  As I shared with you in my initial email: I will not shutter the space.  So many positive things are happening in and around the medical corridor, I will not allow any property that I own to detract from its neighborhood

DR: You've mentioned that one reason why you wish to stay open as the Eights until you find a new tenant is out of loyalty to your staff. What happens to them once a new tenant is found?  If the current staff may have to look for other employment, what is keeping them from doing so before the change over happens?

PR:  Our present head chef is already fielding other job offers and if she leaves, I will seek a guest chef for February.  I have been as upfront as possible in respect to future plans with my employees and each should take the best action for themselves.  I am aiming to close the establishment as close as possible to the start date of the new tenant’s lease, but if I can not staff – admittedly, that would be a problem.

DR: Do you foresee yourself ever being directly involved in the restaurant business sometime down the road? 

PR: The Eights was my first attempt at owning a restaurant.   I will not say it’s the last time that I will invest in a bar or restaurant, but for the foreseeable future, I do not intend to stay in the industry.

DR: Can you tell us whether or not you're close to a deal with anyone?  If so, can you tell us with whom, or what sort of establishment may being going in?

PR: I am presently having an attorney drawing up the lease for a new tenant (they are local well established restaurateurs whose vision is an ideal fit for the medical corridor).  Hopefully, we can make the announcement by the end of January - expecting a March start date.

While I haven't heard yet who the new tenants with be, I'll be keeping my ears open, and plan to be in touch with Peter down the road in the event he is able to share any more information with us.

As always, I appreciate the time and the effort Peter has taken to oblige my questions, and indulge our curiosity.  

Thanks for reading, 


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Not a year end list: teasers for 2012

it's a bad year for the world to end.

here are some snippets about what to look forward to in the new year that will perhaps grow up to be full fledged stories all their own, some day.  If the fiery Mayan apocalypse doesn't get to them first.

New Years Evolutions

Tidings of Good Will -- Bistro Europa's Chef Steven Gedra and the Nickel City Notable Christa Glenny-Seychew are joining forces for a charity event in hopes to offer assistance to the local farms that need some help keeping Buffalo's restaurants in high style with their home grown products.  Locavores unite!  More as this story develops...

Football and Food -- The Buffalo News reported earlier in the year that the Left Bank crew is opening an establishment on Hertel Avenue.  It has recently come to light that the bar's theme is said to derive from European style soccer bars.  Not sure what style of cuisine they'll employ yet, or how upscale it will be, but i'm sure they'll have no trouble packin it in come World Cup season.

Cheese Goes High Tech -- Nickel City Cheese is slated to be the first in Buffalo to start working with a new, iPad based POS system from the guys at the Falcon Tech Group.  As higher ups at Falcon Tech put it: "We think this system can and will be a big hit with Buffalo area restaurants due to its ingenuity (all wireless/web based back end/online ordering, etc..) and the fact that the price point is almost 50% of a comparable system from Micros or Aloha." Check out how it works here, it actually looks pretty awesome.

Fat Bob's Changes Barbecue Covered Hands -- Tony Piccione, the owner of the beloved Buffalo BBQ joint has in fact, already retired, leaving the business in the care of his nephew Patrick Ryan.  Maybe as his first order of business, he'll dim the lights in there a bit.  This is Buffalo, we're not used to so much light.

Into the Mix -- The old location of the Royale Pheasant on Forest Avenue, across from the Richardson Complex, is playing host to a new establishment simply titled "Mix."  The bar is said to be themed around a cocktail list heavy on the mixology.  Calling all Tom Cruises...

Clean Slate -- Word on the street is that Vera Pizzeria has, in the short while it's been open, paid off the loan it was supposed to take five years to pay off.  Five YEARS.  Congratulations, Vera crew.  Way to kick off what should be an excellent first year.

P.S., anyone interested in starting a pool on whether or not the SLA gives Cantina Loco, NoNoo Ramen, or French Quarter Cafe their liquor licenses before the sky rolls back like a scroll and the moon turns the color of blood?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Setting the Record Straight: An Interview with Mike Andrzejewski

A couple weeks ago I made a post here speculating on Cantina Loco's delays, based on conflicting information I was receiving.  It seemed to rouse the frustrations of Loco's Mike Andrzejewski, who very rightly pointed out that instead of mucking up the internet with my hare-brained theories, he was available to answer questions if I'd but direct any to him.

So, a change of shorts later, I did.

The following is an interview conducted with Mike A. via e-mail.

I very much appreciate his taking the time to participate in this exercise -- professing to be not much of a computer guy as it is, and having already had to contend with giving an interview with BuffaloEats this past week, I am doubly grateful for his efforts.

I begin, naturally, with the issue of the liquor license....

DR: What information can you tell us about the liquor license delays or any problems you may have had with the SLA while trying to open Cantina Loco?

MA: The entire process has been torturous. Everything started off well enough and deteriorated quickly. When filling out the original application I made one somewhat honest misrepresentation and a major oversight in reporting our location in reference to other licensed restaurants. Although it was unintentional, the powers that be felt I was less than honest, and we had to begin the process over, with a second application, correct information and legal documents. It is now pending and we’re hoping it will be accepted.

DR: I reported a couple weeks ago that I heard that Cantina Loco had received the liquor license.  Two prominent industry associates of mine alerted me separately, and considering what I know about them, I had no reason to doubt them as sources. Any idea why they may have had what appears to be mistaken information?

MA: There is nobody out there who has any information about licensing prior to the actual license being approved and given to the principals, or denied and listed as inactive., anybody who claims to have anything more in the way of information is frankly full of shit. And anyone can check the status of an application in the SLA website Public Query section.

DR: Have there been any other delays?

MA: Some delays are always expected when doing a project like this; we ended up making some changes in our original plans, and ended up with more work and expense with things like HVAC and mechanical improvements.

DR: Is the dining area complete yet?

MA: Right now the dining room is 96% complete.  Kyle Mackewicz, my partner designed most of it. It’s really great.

DR: How are you describing the decor?

MA: Very warm and comfortable, yet very unique and contemporary at the same time. Great lighting and a killer bar. The bar top is an interpretation of classic Day of the Dead art style by my tattoo artist Derrick Hendrickson. Reproduced to about 35 feet long. The windows give a panoramic view of Allen and Elmwood, and that is one of the most vibrant cityscapes in Buffalo.

DR: Will you maintain the take out window after the full opening, or will that be absorbed into the rest of the floor plan?

MA: The take out area will remain an important part of our plan; we can serve customers with takeout more efficiently, while causing less congestion/confusion in the bar & dining room.

DR: What has been the response to the food so far?

MA:Truthfully we've had some mixed responses to the food, a lot of good, some bad, some justifiably so. Customers expect a lot more from us, and we really take honest criticism to heart and try to improve our food every day. Sometimes though, I think that there is an little too much self-serving bullshit out there, and although I know there's room for improvement some people take themselves way to seriously, whether they have ever actually accomplished anything or spend their time just bitching really remains to be seen.  I’ll do my very best to provide the best food I can, if someone really doesn't like it - don't return, It may not be for everyone and I'm all right with that. I'm not all right with some tool or tool-ess (is that a word?) telling everyone that they're from (fill in the city, usually L.A. or N.Y.) and they KNOW Mexican, sushi, steak or whatever. Believe me I’ve had some real shit there in your town too, both food and service.

DR: I’ve heard and seen some things about the menu that suggest not simply Mexican food, but Mexican fusion.  What influences are you bringing to the table?

MA: The style of food is just going to strive to taste good. I'm sure there will be some fusing of flavors and techniques, but not a real conscious or cloying effort to do so. Obviously Spanish / New World flavors and ideas will prevail, but not really fancy or overly intellectualized. More emphasis on simple and good.

DR: What makes a Polish guy from Buffalo NY consistently search for and seek out things that are "different" like Sushi or Mexican or even classic French style food preparations?  What makes you go beyond traditional preparation and into new territory?

MA: I'm often asked about how a Polish guy ends up making sushi etc. I guess the only answer is really that I’m American. I really like to eat, and I eat and cook what I find most exciting. The common thread in all this is really just a love of food. I am thankful every day that I found something I truly love to do. I know that sounds corny but that’s it. I’m a cook, and there isn't much to me after that. I think maybe I just expect more out of myself and my profession, and work at it every day.

DR: How do you see Buffalonians as a "food audience?"  Do you think that we are more willing or less willing to try different or new things than your average American (whatever that means)?

 MA: The Buffalo food "audience” is overall, from what I can tell, really a reflection of Buffalo as a whole. Somewhat cautious, not really fooled by trends or fashion if it doesn’t make sense to them. Economically I think people here work very hard for their income and expect to be treated well if they choose to give it to someone. I definitely know expectations have risen over the last ten or so years, which is good! I have been lucky enough to work in places that gave me the opportunity to offer a little bit more unusual or unique products, and know it's kind of what people expect from my cooking. I really welcome that.

DR: Given the trends in the foodie world and the inability to grow avocados in Buffalo, how local and regional do you plan on making your menu at Loco?  Can you do this and keep the price point where it is (low to very moderate) on the take-out menu?

MA: In a perfect world we would all get our food from the farm down the street. It doesn’t happen here, especially in certain cuisine / styles. I’ll get the best tasting things at the best prices I can. Period.  Face it, if someone can bring me great cilantro and peppers for a couple of months, I certainly give my money to him, but in January it’s coming from far away. Just the way it is. I'm not gonna source, octopus, or tuna or reasonably priced skirt steak at Elmwood Bidwell market. So FedEx remains my most useful kitchen tool.

DR: We have an idea of what you'll be doing with the food at Cantina Loco, but what can you tell us about what you're doing with the bar?  Will it be higher end? Will it focus on cocktails? Or will it be a beers and shots type of place?

MA: I'm committed to keep prices to a really affordable level, no thoughts of big check averages or fine dining. We want to provide a place that guys who work in restaurants can afford to eat after work. And were going to stay open later a few nights and offer Restaurant Workers Discounts and drink Specials.  The bar itself for the most part will be also really reasonable. Although we will offer some really high end Tequilas, and Mescals, as well as flights and specialty cocktails. But if you’re gonna want a stiff one after a rough Saturday service this will be the place to go to. Good beers in frozen mugs, good bartenders, clean bathrooms.

DR: Do you have any comments you'd like to direct to people who are complaining that the name "Cantina Loco" is not proper Spanish?

MA: As far as the name goes, Cantina Loco not being proper Spanish ... Really? No Shit? Guess what- neither am I- or are most of you. It's a name that most of us dumb gringos understand and is purposely a tongue in cheek chuckle at ourselves.... If you want to pick a name, work for about thirty years, put everything you own into your businesses, and work twelve plus hours a day.  Buy a Restaurant.  But when some asshole says that things like the spelling of Cantina Loco "represent everything that's wrong with Buffalo" and yes someone said that, they can go screw themselves. If the lack of correct language etiquette bothers you, then drive down Delaware.

DR: You have a steakhouse in the works as well as Loco, so, by summer, you will be running a raw seafood joint, a Mexican place, and a steakhouse...what's next, Andrejewski's Ethiopian?  How hard is it to move thematically between these concepts without going crazy? Is there something about food and the art of making it that transcends all of these classifications and binaries that we attempt to label restaurants or chefs or cuisines with?

MA: Sorry Ethiopian doesn’t do it for me. But why such diversity? I don’t think I've ever planned it that way, it just grew. Generally speaking, cooking and eating different foods and styles of cuisine seems somewhat natural to me. Although I won’t ever pretend to be an expert in anything. I think that if you approach food from a very basic level, beginning with good techniques, and being honest about your skills what you can do, and practicing what needs improvement is the starting point. Try to get a little bit of understanding where the culture of any given cuisine comes from makes you appreciate it more. Looking for better ingredients, respecting what they are, and learning how they react and how you can manipulate them without destroying what makes them good in the first place. Be critical of what you make, and think about how you can improve it. (It’s almost never "good enough") For God's sake TASTE EVERYTHING! There are no secrets or alchemy in anything we do, mostly common sense. Hard work. Some Chef's like Susur Lee or Robuchon or Jose Andres may have magic but for us it's really just about trying a little harder and getting a lot of joy out of making good food for our guests.

DR: Is there anything we haven't covered that you'd like to touch on?  I’d like to open the floor to give you a chance to speak your mind.

MA: All in all I've been really fortunate to have worked for the people I’ve learned from and very happy that I’ve been as accepted by the dining public in Buffalo. I get quite a bit of publicity and notoriety and try not to take it for granted. Most people here are really appreciative of our efforts and that’s really rewarding. I'm really looking forward to the Lafayette project; I truly think it will change Downtown on a huge level. I'm actually honored to be a part of it. There are many really great things happening here, I just hope everyone involved knows when to get out of the way and let Buffalo reach its potential.


Monday, December 19, 2011


it is 4:47 am.

i get back to my hotel room.

i sneak in as quietly as possible.  cigarette smoke practically billowing off of me, the smell, the unsteady steps, even the faint glow of the cell phone should on their own all have been enough to disturb  my restless  nephew and my sister from the ersatz sleep into which they've lightly settled.

i feel like a cartoon mouse, tiptoeing across the room so as not to rouse the waking ire of a slumberous cartoon cat.

i shed my topcoat, shove its reeking mass into the cleft between bed and wall, and collide into my bed, as noiseless as a creaky hotel mattress will allow.

i have just come from a 24 hour franchise diner across the parking lot, and the taste of a texas toast breakfast sandwich lingers, and will linger, in my mouth until morning.  sausage from god-knows-where-or-what-animal.  molten plastic american cheese.  it is cheap, greasy, its eggs slightly overcooked.  disgusting.  i relish it.  i want the taste of mayonnaise in it, but it doesn't occur to me to ask.

i sit at the counter and i drink regular coffee with it, because being this sauced, it won't matter either way.

the waitress is five nothing, rail thin.  her hat and her uniform make her look like an awkward scarecrow's daughter.  her accent places her as being from somewhere in Hickville, on the banks of the Hick River,  in Hickansas.  i make suitably awkward conversation with her.  i note that she is working a crappy shift.  i try to signal that i too, am in this industry.  i am not sure she catches on, but most likely she simply does not care.  she is not at all my type, but i find myself trying to find some way to flirt with her, if i can.  it occurs to me that she is probably banging the cook, so i lay off.  she reminds me of someone from home, a little bit.

i drink my coffee.

she gives me my check, and it is under $5.
on the back, a line next to "you have been served by:" bears her cursive scrawl: "Spud."  i think: maybe i am too drunk, and i'm reading this wrong.  perhaps i am too drunk, but i am not mistaken.

i wonder what her real name is, and how she got tagged with such a potato-y nickname.

i find it adorable, but say nothing and just keep pouring coffee into my mouth.

i only have $10, and i leave it all.
i mean, her name is Spud.
that's worth at least a $5 tip.

i leave.
i cross the parking lot.
i sneak into my hotel room.  the electric lock is not quiet.

it is 4:47 am.

i want nothing more than to write about my shitty breakfast sandwich, as if it were unique and momentous, and about my weirdly cute hick waitress.

but i don't.

i crash into bed, and i don't write for days.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

grist -- The Eights, no more.

  • Fully equipped bar / restaurant available 1/1/2012 in downtown Buffalo / medical corridor. $3000 per month NNN: rent includes all FFE (dishwasher lease transferable), 3600 sq. ft first floor + full basement storage.

    Ad Placed By: Agency/Locator Service

    Main Street at Allen (google map) (yahoo map) HMMMMMM.......... Who Could this Be?????

a few days ago, the above post showed up on the DiningRumor Facebook Page, courtesy, obviously of Kevin O'Connell, Jr., son of famed local personality Kevin O'Connell, and chef at O'Connell's American Bistro. the post was the body of a listing which was found here on, but has since been removed by its author.

you might remember this post, from October, in which i mentioned that O'Connell had been in talks with the ownership at The Eights Bistro.  It seems he remembered it too, as that is what he's apparently referencing.  I held onto the post for a few days, not being certain this unnamed restaurant was really referencing the Bistro we all know and love for its often creative vegan and vegetarian offerings.

thanks to the info from a rumormonger/industry associate who took some initiative to get to the bottom of things, we're left with no doubt: The Eights is finito.

some things to consider:  the craigslist listing is an ad for restaurant space -- the business itself is not for sale, so this is a real estate ad.  the next business to show up there likely won't be affiliated or connected with the Eights, unless that's part of their business plan.

also, that the ad has been removed already is pretty interesting.  apparently, in the last four days, there's been enough interest in the post to warrant its removal.  i'm sure it's been snapped up, and i'm keeping my ears open.  i wonder:  how soon could we see that place flip?  the availability of the space begins New Years day, but it's unrealistic to expect anything up and running that quickly.

let's just hope it doesn't stay empty.