Walking into Sweet-Ness 7 Cafe, one is struck by the cool artsy vibe. The smell of fresh ground coffee beans and breakfast sandwiches permeate the air, at some tables locals and college kids chat, while others host people working on their laptops.
Sweet-Ness 7 is not located in the trendy Elmwood Village or Canalside but rather on Grant Street in the heart of Westside Buffalo. The Westside’s infamous reputation as a drug and crime infested neighborhood is changing dramatically.
One of the pioneers leading the change is Prish Moran, proprietor of Sweet-Ness 7. Moran opened the café about 7 years ago after the passing of her son, who had purchased a house in the neighborhood. To cope with her grief and connect with her son’s community she acquired the former bakery and adjoining building to renovate.
Moran is a gregarious woman who chats with every café visitor. She leads us to our seats and orders coffees. She insists we order breakfast, plates of Spanish scramble with chorizo sausage, caramelized onions, red peppers, jack cheese and hash browns with toasted bread are delivered. If that wasn’t enough she orders sides of the mouthwatering cinnamon buns drizzled with cream cheese icing. As we dig into the food, Moran explains that everything is house-made using locally sourced ingredients. While chowing down on this amazing meal the cook insists we try the house grits. My first bite yields an explosion of flavor that’s hard to resist. The grits are cheesy with a spicy kick from jalapeno. The flavor profile is fantastic. Happily munching away, we’re stunned to learn none of the cooks are formally trained.
Sweet-Ness 7 is not the first project Moran has rescued from demolition in a decrepit neighborhood, but it’s the first that was restored with a deeper meaning. The idea behind the café was to create a gathering place for the community. The top floors of the building have been converted into apartments. Moran’s reputation as a buyer and restorer of at least one property a year is well established in Buffalo.
Grant Street: A Destination to Discover
Moran leads us on a walking tour of the Grant Street neighborhood, stopping first at Global Villages run by Louise Sano, who emigrated from Rwanda in 2007. A graduate of the Wedi program (training for people who want to start their own businesses), she opened her first shop on Grant Street which sells gifts, clothing and jewelry from around the world.
The neighborhood is a melting pot for refugees and immigrants. The best BBQ, Freddie J’s BBQ, on Grant Street is not served by a southerner but rather by Freddie Daniel who hails from Liberia. The converted garage restaurant seats 12 people inside with a few tables outside and a takeout window available for people on the go.
Press Raw Food & Juice is one of Moran’s go-to places. The owner Esther Pica, who hails from East Village, New York, creates a special juice Elixir for Moran each morning to give her vitality for the upcoming day. Pica brings her “green” practices to the store by using biodegradable juice cups while juice pulps are distributed for gardeners to use as compost.
Pica blends a number of juices for us to taste: Give Thanks (aka Sweet Potato Pie)made with carrot, sweet potato, apple, macs and spices. Before leaving the store, Pica passes me a tasting of pure coconut water. It’s cool and refreshing and extols its health benefits.
We finish our tour at the Westside Stories, a used bookstore run by husband and wife team Joe and Jeanenne Petri. Books line the walls in this small attractive store that’s quickly becoming a community go-to destination for the latest used books at a reasonable price.
We jump into Moran’s turquoise and white Volkswagen Van, a car straight out of the 60’s. I laugh to myself as the “Van” completes the picture I’ve come to view of Moran. A true bohemian spirit!
The Upper Rock, Niagara Street
Moran drives us over to another emerging area known as “Upper Rock” on Niagara Street. Formerly housing factories, the abandoned buildings are now slowly being transformed into viable businesses. The mastermind behind this is Bill Breezer, a man who once had a vision of revitalization that would bring people back to the city. He explains how he began buying buildings 17 years ago and now owns much of the Niagara Street block.
Resurgence Brewery is located in a industrial brick warehouse converted to house the brewery. Resurgence brews high-quality beers and provides entertainment space with long communal tables inside and a German style beer garden outside for patrons. Jeff Ware, owner and brewer, created 10 different varieties of beer including a few for non-beer drinkers like myself. After tasting the light “Loganberry Wit” beer with its berry flavors I begin to understand the appeal.
Breezer’s other buildings include a doggie daycare, BT&C Art Gallery, a kennel and restaurants. Community Beer Works just a block away from Resurgence Brewery is also becoming a go-to destination place to buy Nano-brewed beer.
Young couples; new immigrants, college kids and empty nesters (like printmakers and paper artists Barbara and Peter at Abaca Press) are all grabbing a piece of the Westside and reviving the once abandoned landscape.
For more information Visit Buffalo Niagara Tourism website.