Thursday, March 24, 2022

Takeout containers take on eco-friendly form

 By Elijah Robinson and Thomas Tedesco

            Fat Bob’s employee, Pat Eagan holds one of the biodegradable food containers that the restaurant has switched over to because of the plastic foam ban in New York state.

Fat Bob's employee Pat Eagan with biodegradable container

            Walking into any West Side restaurat, those takeout containers stacked behind the bar or on the table have a different look than in previous years. 

            During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, restaurants had to close their dining rooms and their business was kept alive with takeout orders loaded in plastic foam containers.

            At the pandemic’s onset, however, legislation was brought up and subsequently passed to ban these foam containers in the 2020 state budget. 

            After taking effect on Jan. 1, nearly all businesses were prohibited from using packaging made of polystyrene, which is also commonly known as Styrofoam.

            Since several restaurants used this type of material with their takeout food containers, they were one of the most highly impacted businesses because of the statewide ban.

            Although the ban has posed some additional challenges, several local restaurants are supportive of the recent legislation.

            West Side restaurants, such as Fat Bob’s Smokehouse, 41 Virginia Place, have opted to alternatively use biodegradable containers in place of plastic foam.

            The restaurant has been using the biodegradable containers for about two years, which is around the time the legislation for the ban was first passed.

            “When the Styrofoam ban did hit, we were already kind of ahead of the bandwagon so that was very helpful on our end,” M.J. McEwan, catering and events manager, said.

            McEwan also mentioned that the decision was largely supported by the staff.

            “It was actually a more employee driven demand, because we wanted to become more eco-friendly,” she said.

McEwan, on replacing plastic foam containers:

            According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the main enforcer of the ban, plastic foam has several negative environmental impacts since it cannot be recycled.

            Foam packaging is one of the top contributors of environmental litter, causing negative impacts to wildlife, waterways and other natural resources, as well as littering our communities and natural areas,” according to the department website.

            Other restaurant owners, such as Shawntorrian Travis, who owns Lloyal’s Famous Lasagna, 1122 Elmwood Ave., said that plastic foam is not the best way to sell or carry his product.

            Instead of foam, Travis opted to use plastic containers to serve his lasagna. While the restaurant opened after the plastic foam ban went into effect on Feb. 1, he mentioned that he did not care for it in his previous years in the restaurant industry.

            “I think they’re cheap. I like my stuff to be really upscale, because presentation is everything,” Travis said.

            The restaurant industry, however, is not the only one to be impacted by the ban. -

            In addition to takeout food containers, plastic foam is also used to make loose-fill packaging, which is also commonly referred to as packing peanuts.

            This also has a significant impact on businesses that store or ship larger or fragile products.

            Abino Mills Glassworks, 255 Delaware Ave, has primarily been using a biodegradable version of packing peanuts for shipping glass products.

            “The peanuts that are made out of corn starch are a great answer,” Co-owner Connie Constantine said.

            Constantine also said the store employees are  trying to reuse as much packaging as possible and that the only time they preferred to use traditional packing peanuts made of plastic foam was to use up ones given to them by their peers.

            “I’ve never had to buy peanuts,” she said. “Everybody’s getting packages and stuff. Getting all these peanuts, what the hell do you do with them? So I say, ‘I’ll take ‘em’.”

            These biodegradable options, however, are more costly for businesses.

            According to Webstaurant Store, a restaurant supply company, a case of 200 plastic foam containers costs about $40, while the same quantity of biodegradable containers costs about $49. These costs add up overtime for business owners.

            “Unfortunately, because of production issues and shipping issues, I think that the price has probably tripled since the pandemic,” McEwan said.

            She said that to offset the rising costs of packaging, Fat Bob’s has charged an additional fee for its takeout order products, such as the disposable silverware.

            “We are definitely keeping it in mind of how to be greener and how to decrease our footprint with our to-go products,” McEwan said.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

New farmers market coming to Grant Street

             A new farmers market is coming to the West Side this summer.

            The Providence Farm Collective is a farmer-led organization with deep ties to the Somali Bantu community. Kristin Heltan-Weiss, president of the board and executive director, says that the 275 farmers have been working hard to open a market on the lower end of Grant Street.

            With a $477,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the team has three years to reach its vision. Heltan-Weiss said that the money is going towards building the market, including tents, tables, and transportation for vendors.

            “They were expressing an interest at a workshop last year for an opportunity to have a place or market for themselves to sell directly to community members within their communities,” Heltan-Weiss said.

            The organization is working out legal details to confirm a space and is considering two locations which will soon be confirmed. The market are on track for a soft opening on June 25 and the hard launch will be on July 2, running every Saturday from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. until mid-October.

            “Our farmers will have an opportunity to have a less crowded day to practice and we can be there to offer assistance and advice as the day goes on,” Heltan-Weiss said.

            Heltan-Weiss hopes that the event will become more than a market by including local business owners, other vendors, urban farmers, cultural events, and community organizations.

            “We are going to do it. And guess what? We’re doing it our way and we’re doing it ourselves. I think that is so incredibly empowering,” Heltan-Weiss said. By Nia Peeples and Zach Williams

PUSH plans 49 affordable homes on West Side


PUSH Buffalo is working alongside BestSelf Behavioral Health and Cornerstone Property Management to develop the West Side Homes, 49 units of affordable homes spread across the West Side. Dawn Wells-Clyburn, the deputy director of PUSH, says the $19 million project will provide sustainable homes for low-to moderate-income families and construction is expected to begin this summer. Wells-Clyburn said this project will address PUSH Buffalo’s goal of sustainability and weatherization in the West Side. All homes will be electric and provide no to little carbon impact. “We are super excited it has been a long time coming,” Wells-Clyburn said. By: Valerie Ryan and Peyton Fletcher.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Sidelined no more: Parade returns March 20


Co-owners at Sidelines Sports Bar and Grill, Adam and Hilary Collura are happy the wait is officially over. After two years of cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Delaware Avenue will return on March 20 at 2 p.m. After the parade comes to an end the fun will continue at Sidelines located at 189 Delaware Ave., one of the many businesses hosting Irish-inspired festivities. “The parade is amazing for business, especially because the pandemic is over,” Frank LiPuma, manager at Sidelines said. During 2020 and 2021 when events were canceled left and right and capacity limitations were enforced, Sidelines was only taking to-go orders during the beloved Irish holiday. LiPuma says the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day and the parade is “one of the busiest weekends of the year.” LiPuma and the rest of the Sidelines staff believe this year will be back to its usual “wall-to-wall” capacity before, during and after the parade.  By Natalie Gravino and Cait Malilay  

Sunday, March 13, 2022

West Side residents feel pain at the pump


Marcus Birthwright, a Forest Avenue resident and Buffalo State senior, fuels his vehicle at the Sunoco on 460 Elmwood Ave. amid rising prices. “The fact that it is $4.17 right now, I am about to start biking to school, especially with prices like this.” AAA Western and Central New York reports that gas prices in Buffalo are up an average of 28 cents since Feb. 28, which reached a city average of $4.03. Compared to last year’s average of $2.75, gas prices have increased to a point that has not been seen in over a decade. The AAA recommends avoiding peak times, combining errands into one trip, and use cruise control when possible to preserve fuel. Across the West Side, as of March 7, prices range anywhere from $4.18 to $4.40 per gallon. Elizabeth Carey, the director of public relations at AAA, attributes much of the price increase to the war in Europe. “Fluctuations in gas prices truly depend on the price of crude, which is under several stressors right now, most notably the Russian invasion of Ukraine.” By Zachary Williams and Nia Peeples

New restaurant serves up ‘famous’ lasagna

        A new West Side restaurant, Lloyal’s Famous Lasagna, is bringing a touch of soul to a familiar dish.

         Shawntorrian Travis, co-owner and founder said his distinctive restaurant, 1122 Elmwood Ave., opened the restaurant on Feb. 1.

            “There’s not a lot of lasagna restaurants out there that you can just pull up and get a nice flaming lasagna with a nice buttery bread stick and a nice salad. It’s nowhere,” Travis said.

            In addition to the lasagna, Travis said he wants to provide a casual and relaxing atmosphere for his customers while they eat their meals.

            “This is the perfect location, the Elmwood Village. It’s amazing how we stumbled across this building,” he said.

            Although the building had to be renovated when they first acquired it, Travis and girlfriend/business partner, - Jazzmon Truett, did not consider any other locations for the business.

                        “I had no other options, but this option,” Travis said. “We just put a little bit of work and tender, loving care into it.”

            Travis says he has so far received an overwhelmingly positive response from customers.

            “The clientele is picking up. They’re giving me five stars right now,” he said. By Elijah Robinson and Thomas Tedesco

Think Tank gives students business sense

 By Valerie Ryan and Peyton Fletcher

First-year high school students step out on stage, holding their head in their hands, hoping to not make contact with any staring eyes. Despite the audience being filled with big smiles and supportive applause, the students can’t seem to feel comfortable.

Fast forward a few years later,  those same students proudly walk out, with their heads held high, and their voice filling the room with confidence and power.

Lafayette International High School, located on the corner of Lafayette Avenue and Baynes Street, is the home of education for refugees and non-native speakers who have been in the United States for two years or less.

Lafayette holds a Saturday Academy, where students from various schools in the area can come and receive assistance in different school-related subjects.

This led to the development of Think Tank in 2017 at Lafayette, with the help of partnerships from Westminster Economic Development Initiative, Say Yes Buffalo, West Side Promise Neighborhood and the Rich Family Foundation. It's another program that meets at Lafayette every Saturday.

            Think Tank is a business competition where students are guided through the process of building their own business venture. The students then compete at the end of the program for a cash prize.

Thalia Rodriguez, the associate director of the West Side Promise Neighborhood,  wanted to support entrepreneurialism in minority groups, but also pay them.

The project begins in January and ends in June.

“We spend the fall semester talking with them and identifying what students within each grade level will compete. We started preparing them for their business ideas. Then they have an internal competition, 9th graders versus 9th  graders, 10th  graders versus 10th  graders, where they determine who amongst their class will go and compete at the school level,” Rodriguez said.

In 2020, Think Tank was put on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first time in two years the students will be able to present their business ideas.

All grades are welcome to participate in Think Tank and can continue being a part of the program until they graduate.

“The first prize winner this year is getting $500 cash, second prize winner is getting $400 cash, and then everyone gets a piece of technology. Everyone leaves with a laptop or tablet,” Rodriguez said.

Steven Pantoja is a business teacher at Lafayette, in addition to being a facilitator for Think Tank. Pantoja says he loves looking back at pictures of his students in ninth grade when they first step up on stage, holding their heads in embarrassment, as they present for a panel of judges.

“Then fast forward a couple years and they're jumping on stage and just commanding their presence,” Pantoja said.  


Think Tank is a program designed not only to help students bring their business ideas to life, but also an aid to educate and prepare students for higher education.

“As instructors we help them and support them with their business ideas. We walk them through the business plan, slogan, mission statement, marketing plan, some of the financials. It comes together really nicely, and the kids learn throughout that process,” Pantoja said.

Jacques Atel, an 11th grader at Lafayette, is a current participant in Think Tank and says he believes it's a great program to prepare you for the future and to learn how to start a business after graduation. 

“I don’t know if they have this in other schools, but they should have it if they don’t,” Atel said.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Bazaar vendors anticipate new, larger space

 By Cait Malilay and Natalie Gravino

The West Side Bazaar, which was launched just a little over a decade ago by the Westminster Economic Development Initiative, also known as WEDI, is best known for its unique apparel and accessories from all around the world and variety of authentic ethnic food kiosks.

Located on Grant Street, it’s become so popular that leaders decided to expand its retail and restaurant space by five times.

Garang Doar, co-owner of Nile River Restaurant, is just one of many who are excited for the bazaar’s  new and much larger location at 1432 Niagara St.

“A bigger kitchen is definitely like the one thing that I can hope for,” Doar said. 

The bazaar  will grow from 3,200 square feet to over 16,000 square feet.

“Everything’s going to be bigger in that they’re going to have increased capacity because we'll have more room for customers, which helps them make money and we’ll also have more room for storage for them because right now they don’t have very much room for space,” Erin St. John Kelly, WEDI director of external relations said.

The seating in the community cafe will increase from 35 to 82.

The new location is being funded through a capital campaign, the goal of which is to earn $7.5 million in a three-year period from 2021 to 2024.

The building was bought in 2019, but there were delays to even start the demolition due to the pandemic and its supply line, Kelly said.

The bazaar’s new location renovations is not the only thing that the pandemic stalled. Doar and his father were on the bazaar waitlist for five years until they officially opened in August 2021, which was a perfect time after the pandemic led to the shutdown of many businesses the year prior.

Garang Doar

Htay Naing opened up his Thai restaurant Nine & Night in 2016 and is just one of many vendors who witnessed COVID-19’s devastating effects on businesses.

“Now it’s doing much better than the last two years,” he said.

What inspired Doar and his father to open up their restaurant was to represent the Sudanese population in the community.

“For us it’s just a way to bring our culture, our part of the world, to the United States in Buffalo,” the 25-year-old said.

Doar’s father left South Sudan in the midst of a civil war and waited for U.N. refugee status in Egypt for three years until settlement  in Buffalo with the help of Catholic Charities in 2003.

Before the opening of their restaurant, Doar worked as a line cook in a country club for seven years and his father worked various jobs.

Doar said that because they opened up post-shutdown, they personally didn’t see much of an effect, but based on what they’ve heard from others who work at  the bazaar, it has changed the way people get their food.

“The traffic into the store has slowed down quite a bit, but with that happening it has jumped deliveries and online orders,” he said.

The bazaar has certainly gone through a long journey since its opening over a decade ago.

WEDI helped support over 48 small businesses, 54% of which have branched out and created their own retail front.

“My dad and I had the idea of doing a little bakery or something with it, so it’s not completely out of the question, but right now we’re just focused on building our business slowly but surely,” Doar said.

Renting its current Grant Street location, WEDI is hoping to begin construction at the new location this spring and open in 2023.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Hispanic center costs rise, start delayed

A vacant lot sits patiently on the corner of Niagara and Hudson streets where the Hispanic Heritage Cultural Institute has been awaiting its development.

The $10 million project was initially announced in 2019 and was intended to be up and running in 2022.

The unprecedented challenges, due to COVID-19, have set the project back to be completed in 2024 and the cost value has increased by $2 million.

This facility will be Green Energy efficient and will include a theater, art gallery, museum, learning labs, media centers and spaces for lease. The center is designed for the appreciation of arts, culture and learning.

The Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York is a non-profit organization that was established in 2010 when the founder, Casimiro Rodriguez , felt a void in the community around Hispanic culture.

“History is very important. Hispanic, Black, Irish or whatever history it is that’s American history because that is what America is made up of. A bunch of different countries and ethnic groups and Western New York is no different,” Rodriguez said.

The campaign has raised nearly $6.3 million towards the project through donations and various grants. In 2021, the project was awarded over $4 million from the City of Buffalo and Empire State Development.

“Help us so we can provide a real good future for our next generation,” Rodriguez said. By Peyton Fletcher and Valerie Ryan