|Lucille Altieri at work in The Difference Kitchen|
By Kim-Moi Chin and Jahziel Delgado
Buffalo Review West Reporters
Lucille Altieri grew up working in her father’s restaurant Fat Franks, near the University at Buffalo. Admiring his hands-on philosophy, customer hospitality and his love of being in the kitchen, Altieri has taken those values and created a vision for herself by opening her own restaurant.
The Difference Kitchen, 272 Hudson St., opened in December 2018 and has been a years-long project in the making for Altieri, a veteran to the dining industry.
Altieri on owners being involved in their business:
A West Side native, Altieri is a SUNY Buffalo State alumna with a Bachelor of Science in Education. She began teaching in schools around the city and while at Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy, 315 Carolina St., a student whose father owned the Hudson Street building informed her that there was available space for rent. Altieri saw an opportunity to fulfill her vision of opening an authentic and inexpensive restaurant in the area she has long called home.
“Being a resident here, I saw the need for what I’m doing,” Altieri said.
Her menu draws inspiration from the diversity of the West Side. Being of Italian descent, she not only adds her cultural flavor to the menu, but also flavors from the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Central America; all cultures that contribute to the diversity of the neighborhoods she grew up in and where her restaurant currently resides.
Altieri’s accommodations for different ethnic and economic factors were heavily influenced by the lifestyles of the population surrounding The Difference Kitchen.
A study conducted by Partnership for the Public Good, a community-based organization partnered with Cornell Buffalo, shows that with the exception of popular districts like the Elmwood Village and Allentown, the West Side is more racially diverse and has higher rates of poverty and unemployment than other areas in Buffalo.
With this in mind, Altieri and her kitchen aimed to put a dent in the idea that unhealthy fast food choices are the only affordable food options in the area.
She admitted that accessibility to healthy food is scarce in low-income neighborhoods, which is why her menu’s pricing reflects her goal of providing nutritious options for nearby residents.
“It was very important that anyone could eat here if they had a couple dollars in their pocket,” Altieri said.
Her preparation process reflects the health-conscious ideals that are rooted in the restaurant. She takes pride in making sure her food is fresh with no artificial ingredients or gluten.
“There’s nothing in my kitchen that has preservatives except for mayonnaise,” she said. “Everything else I make comes from ingredients from the ground; from a plant, from a bean, from a meat. There’s nothing fake about what I do.”
Nicholas Gonsalves, the current sous-chef at The Difference Kitchen, is part of the two-person staff along with Altieri. Coming over from Altieri’s previous restaurant, Presto!, formerly on 59 Allen St., Gonsalves has developed both personal and professional admiration and respect for her.
“Lucille is a wonderful person as well as a wonderful business person,” Gonsalves said. “She is here to make money, make people happy, and do it at a good price point. All that together is a wonderful combination.”
Altieri can be found in the restaurant during business hours. She adopted the ideal of making herself available to her customers and community from her father.
She wants customers to know they are not getting a fake experience, and that is what puts the difference in The Difference Kitchen.
“The difference is caring; you don’t see a lot of it,” she said. “It’s the realness. I’m trying to keep it as real as possible and I think that’s what makes a difference and I think people miss that.”