CHAE HAWK OF TEAM RADIO

Rapper Chat Hawk of Buffalo Hip Hop Collective Team Radio

Why aren’t you listening to Chae Hawk right now? This Buffalo NY based rap cinema artist and founder of hip hop collective TeamRadio has been producing some of the best progressive hip hop to ever come out of WNY. Be sure to check out Dance Party for The Heavy Hearted on his website (especially his track Chin Ups featuring another past subject of mine  – Keith Buckley of Every Time I Die.)

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The Guitarist – Mick Hayes

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Mick Hayes .

Guitar slinging, soul, blues, and rock singing badass Mick Hayes is the subject of one of my most recent shoots!

It’s always a treat to get to photograph someone who has shared stages and billing with stars like Stevie Wonder, The Doobie Brothers, Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, Steve Vai, and Los Lonely Boys, and I’ve been lucky these past few years to work with Mick on a bunch of still and motion projects the include the release video and cover art of his most recent album.

More than that, I’ve had the pleasure of actually seeing the man play a few times, and it’s a revelatory experience to see live. Mick can play, sing, and put on one hello of a show. His astounding stage presence, steeped in the influence of his musical roots and coupled with his raw enthusiasm and skillful playing , is one of the reasons he’s endorsed by brands like Hammond  and Knaggs Guitars.

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The Illustrator – Mickey Thoren Harmon

Illustrator and designer Mickey Thoren Harmon is the co-creator of "The Life and Times of Grovey Cleves. A humorous retelling of the life of "near great" President Grover Cleveland.

Most people know Grover Cleveland as America’s only President to serve two non-consecutive terms. Fewer know him as the former Mayor of my hometown of Buffalo NY, and later as a Governor of New York State who was  praised for his honesty and constant opposition of political corruption.

But now a new story is being told about Grover Cleveland, one that takes a “mostly accurate” look at the life of this “near great’ President and mustache enthusiast who continues to fly under the historical radar. The Life and Times of Grovey Cleves is a collaboration between outspoken illustrator Mickey Thoren Harmon and writer Scott Mancuso that tells the story of Cleveland’s days as a young bachelor and foodie in Buffalo during the city’s rise to prominence; to his rapid and reckless political ascent from Mayor to Governor to 22nd (and later 24th!) President of the United States in just three years.

Originally envisioned as a small exhibition Harmon’s drawings that revolved around his fascination with the political figure, the concept later grew into a more fully fleshed out publishing project with the involvement of Mancuso and the fabulous Western New York Book Arts Center who helped produce the limited edition work.

While you may no longer be able to get your hands on a print copy of this unique examination of the history of one of America’s more interesting but lesser known Presidents, you can still learn a little bit more about the man himself by checking out a digital version of The Life and Times of Grovey Cleves here.

 

The Illustrator – Mickey Thoren Harmon

JAMES HARRINGTON FOR SUPER LAWYERS

WNY Attorney James Harrington

Defense attorney James Harrington for Super Lawyers Magazine. This WNY based lawyer has, for the past few years commuted between his home office in Buffalo, NY to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where he has been involved with one of the most notable cases in recent American memory – the defense of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the man once known as “The 20th Hijacker”

Harrington is sometimes reviled by critics for his role in the case, but just as often celebrated for his dedication to the American legal system and the ideal that all accused, regardless of of how heinous that alleged act, deserve competent representation and a fair trial in court. I think his philosophy can be best summed up in a quote he gave to the magazine I shot tis assignment for: “If the law doesn’t work for the worst of us, it doesn’t work for the best of us.”

JAMES HARRINGTON FOR SUPER LAWYERS

LES AMIS FENCING CLUB

Christine Gallisdorfer of Buffalo Les Amis Fencing ClubJodi Hamann of Les Amis fencing Club

Christine Gallisdorfer and Jodi Hamann of Les Amis Fencing Club – a member-owned and non-profit training club in Buffalo NY that has been offering classes and camaraderie to those interested in the sport since 1982.

Competitive fencers themselves, Christine and Jodi serves as the treasurer of the club and shares her experience as an instructor to the club’s intermediate students, while Jodi teachers the beginner level classes.

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PAMELA NICHOLS FOR BUFFALO SPREE MAGAZINE

Portrait of Pamela Nichols atBuffalo SPACE for Buffalo Spree Magazine
My latest editorial for Buffalo Spree Magazine had me creating portraits of designer Pamela Nichols at Buffalo SPACE – a creative and event venue attached to Buffalo’s historic Pierce Arrow Automobile Factory. You can take a look behind the scenes of this project below to see a little of what happens on set with me and my team.

Portrait of Pamela Nichols at Buffalo SPACE for Buffalo Spree Magazine

PAMELA NICHOLS FOR BUFFALO SPREE MAGAZINE

ALLEN STREET POUTINE COMPANY

Jake Fraser - Co-Owner of Allen Street Poutine Company in Buffalo New York. Serving the classic Canadian dish of fresh cheese curds, french fries, and hot gravy.
Owner of Allen Street Poutine Company Jake Fraser

What’s your favorite comfort food? Is it homemade mac and cheese? Smothered meatloaf? A big breakfast of biscuits and gravy? Your mom’s tuna noodle casserole? When I’m craving something that’s filling and bad for me after a night at the bar or a day in the snow I turn to something that reminds me of my childhood in Canada – Poutine.

For those not to speed on this cheesy, gravy drenched mound of Canadian comfort food – here’s an overview. Poutine is a dish that originated in Quebec and at its most basic is composed of three primary ingredients: french fries, hot gravy, and cheese curds. And within that essential structure a million permutations exist – allowing an individual plate of poutine to exist anywhere on the spectrum from late-night heart-attack bar food to fine dining fare featuring a host of luxurious add-ons. The fries should be crispy and in that perfect medium between too thick and too thin – I’m partial to the hand cut kind that leaves the occasional bit of potato skin intact on the fry. The gravy will often be a thin turkey or chicken gravy, though veal and beef-based gravies are also popular. This gravy needs to be served just hot enough to soften but not totally melt the final element, which are the squeaky tangy fresh cheese curds (which, if you live in Canada or any of the US border states, you are probably already intimately familiar with. And for those of you who aren’t, it’s something you should seek to remedy as soon as you can – I suggest ordering some from Western New York purveyor Yancy’s Fancy or even trying to make your own at home, because when it comes to making the perfect poutine the freshness of the curds is key.)

Prior to opening Allen Street Poutine Company, Jake Fraser owned two chip trucks at Sherkston Shores in nearby Port Colborne, Ontario, just across the Peace Bridge from Buffalo. He spent his summers serving fries to tourist crowds on the beaches and hitting the bars with friends at night, nights that often ended with a late night plate of Poutine. He wanted to bring that experience to a more permanent venue, so he teamed up with business partner and longtime friend Konstantine Kentros to bring poutine south of the (Canadian) border. “I knew that poutine was the late night bar food of choice in Canada, but was something of a novelty in The States. Despite being known as The ‘All America City’ there are a ton of expats here and there’s a strong connection between Buffalo and Southern Ontario. There’s a great bar scene, the weather is cold, Buffalonians love to have fun, and there was a need for more great late night food options – Poutine is a great match for that culturally. On top of all that, being in the heart of a bar and music-rich area like Allentown is such a natural fit for us.”

The Montreal Smoked Meat Poutine at Allen Strett Poutine Company in Buffalo, New York
My actual lunch on this shoot – Montreal Smoked Meat Poutine

When I first moved from Canada to the US as a teenager it was a rarity for me to come across poutine. What had once been nearly ubiquitous everywhere I went was now mostly relegated to a rare treat that I got to indulge in on family trips back to the homeland. I spent a lot of time trying to explain to my friends exactly what this mysterious dish was, and convince them that “no, you’ll love it if you try it” (I also spent a lot of time wondering why so many of my friends, despite living mere minutes from another country, had never set foot in Canada – though that quickly changed when we all approached adulthood and started taking advantage of the fact that the drinking age in Ontario is 19, at which time poutine became everyone’s favorite post bar food). Thankfully, Jake and Konstantine are changing that perception – Poutine is becoming less of a here-and-gone trend as it has been in the US in the past and becoming a true fixture of the WNY late night bar scene – just as it should be.

As the dish has evolved it’s become something of a framework, much like hotdogs and pizza – a basic structure that’s informed and reinvented by the experiences of the people preparing and eating it. Much as I’ve enjoyed Sonora dogs that capture Southwestern/Mexican flavors, or binged on amazing Georgian Khachapuri, I’ve run into poutine that pulls flavors from all over the world: Indian Poutine with butter chicken and paneer, Trinidadian inspired versions with curry goat, poutines featuring foie gras and foraged mushrooms that would be at home in a fine French restaurant, and Jake even told me of a Korean remix of the dish with kimchi and bulgogi that he’s come across. As a dish that originated in a country that often celebrates its diversity and multiculturalism, it’s no surprise that those varied experiences and palettes have had an influence on its cuisine.

Jake Fraser - Co-Owner of Allen Street Poutine Company in Buffalo New York. Serving the classic Canadian dish of fresh cheese curds, french fries, and hot gravy. Allen Street Poutine Company’s menu features both the classic rendition of the dish as well as regularly updated offerings based on a variety of regional and international influences. Among the highlights are Buffalo-centric versions like a Buffalo chicken poutine and a beef on weck variety featuring slow roasted beef, caraway, and coarse salt as a topping. Sloppy Joe, Philly cheesesteak, and a pulled pork with red cabbage slaw poutine round out the slate of American inspired flavors. Poland is represented by a poutine adorned with pierogi and sauerkraut, Greece comes strong with a rich poutine seasoned with feta, tomatoes, and oregano. A spicy General Tao’s chicken represents the Asian flavor profiles, and a nacho-style poutine brings little Tex-Mex heat to the party. And of course Canada brings it strong with what, in my opinion, is the restaurant’s signature dish – a Montreal smoked meat poutine covered with the restaurant’s signature cured brisket and pickles (and it’s one of the few places in the States I’ve come across that you’ll even see Montreal smoked meat on menu). There’s even a vegan poutine available to make sure no one is left out of the fun.

After a few rounds of drinks on a cold winter night in Buffalo, it’s comforting to know that there’s somewhere me and my friends can go that hits all the right notes: open late, warm, welcoming, and with great food and beer. It doesn’t hurt that for me it’s like having a little slice of Canada sitting right there inside one of my favorite Buffalo neighborhoods.

ALLEN STREET POUTINE COMPANY

THE CHOCOLATIER: BLUE TABLE CHOCOLATES

 Ben Johnson of Blue Table Chocolates - An Artisinal chcolate maker from Buffalo NY who hand crafts unique and colorful chocolate truffles in a variety of flavors, both exotic and classic

I often seem to get dragged along to local markets on mornings when I have no business being awake or even attempting to interact with others, but these always seem to be where I find really interesting small businesses that end up fascinating me. This was definitely the case one morning last year while visiting the Horsefeather’s Market on the West Side of Buffalo. Amongst the produce vendors, small shops selling coffee and handmade dumplings, and an interminably busy brunch spot — was a small table piled with tiny boxes hiding treasures. You could have easily walked past it if it weren’t for the electric colors of the actual product drawing you in. These simple and unassuming cartons were filled with selections of glossy Technicolor chocolate truffles — bright blooms of gold, red, and purple, bisected asymmetrically by a single bold line of color. A metallic dusting leaving them looking a little a starry midnight sky. But don’t for a second think that these truffles are too precious or delicate to eat, their intensity of flavor and uniqueness demands that they be sampled. And honestly, all this romanticized and pseudo-poetic language about chocolates is coming from someone like me — WHO DOES NOT LIKE SWEETS — so you know they have to be pretty good.

The man making and selling these chocolates is Ben Johnson, the owner of Blue Table Chocolates, and he got his start in chocolate as a way to fill his days while looking for a job. Ben came to Buffalo from Boston, MA, where he had been working for over a decade in the non-profit sector with an initiative focused on building affordable housing. Ben’s wife was the catalyst for a move when, as an academic, she was offered a job teaching at the University of Buffalo. “I started looking for the same exact thing here and it wasn’t coming up. So just to fill the day I got a job working at Choco-Logo on Broadway downtown, worked there for about three months, just working the line along with Buffalo’s Burmese community and just got hooked, just got totally hooked until I got another desk job, and you know, ‘say good‑bye, this was fun, you know, take care, guys, I’ll see you around, but I have to go back to my real life now.’ But I never really stopped.” Ben told me.

“So I would be working sixty, seventy hours a week in the non‑profit world and just be completely stressed and burnt out. After work I would get home at nine o’clock at night, say hi to the wife, put the kids to sleep, walk the dog, and then just be all amped up and would make chocolate until two or three in the morning. And I just did that in our kitchen for about four or five years and it got to the point where we would go to dinner parties and bring stuff I’d made along and our friends would ask ‘This is great, where can I get some?’ And there was no answer — like ‘Oh, no, this is just for fun’. The job I was in just got more and more demanding as time went on and I started thinking ‘Why are you doing this? You never see the kids, you never get to go to soccer games, you have no summer breaks.’ So we sat down, had a hard talk about what happens if I do this, what happens if I actually do what I enjoy doing — and the whole conversation was ‘well, what’s the next step, what do you do five years down the road? What do you do ten years down the road?’ And I thought ‘let’s just put that aside, let’s forget about five years, ten years — what do we want to do now? And then it will figure itself out’ So I said my peace and gave two months’ notice so they could start another search to fill my position. I think it was about two and a half years ago, I just started do this real small, some private events, online sales, and it’s just been taking off since then.”

Aside from the immaculate taste, the aesthetic of Ben’s truffles are a big part of the appeal. These chocolates are gorgeous, and not in an overly baroque or ornamental way. The simplest elements of design done well are on display here: line, color, and shape. There aren’t any fancy ornaments or overlaid patterns, just a clean and perfect structure to convey delicious chocolates to your taste buds. A simplicity that is perhaps owed to Ben’s own education in design and architecture. “I studied at UVA for four years. I had a lot of fun. The thing is, and I didn’t even think about this until long after it happened, but every architecture school has got its own assets and quirks, I think. UVA was known to not rely on color in renderings and the models and all that, because that was seen as something of a cheap out. It should be about the design proportions. At most you might add something like a single red line to define a section because it’s that single restrained moment that makes everything else pop more, and that kind of ended up as the aesthetic of Blue Table — don’t get all crazy with fifteen different colors, the rainbow tutti fruity, just have one clean line, and that’s sort of the become the look.”

Ben Johnson of Blue Table Chocolates - An Artisinal chcolate maker from Buffalo NY who hand crafts unique and colorful chocolate truffles in a variety of flavors, both exotic and classic

Much like the architecture he once studied, there is a language to the design of the truffles that Ben makes — a syntax of colors that imply flavor and define expectations. Sanguine crimson with a splash of eponymous color for blood orange, passionfruit is the color of a tropical sunset crossed with a cream color that reminds one of sand. Salted caramel is a regal purple shot though with pure white — royal colors for Blue Table’s best seller. Boxes are accompanied by a flavor guide that explains all this, but it’s much for fun to eat your way through a collection, learning to recognize your favorites by sight. And there’s always the surprises — monthly flavors that are based on the season, ingredient availability, what experiments Ben has ben toying with — sometimes for years. The current monthly offerings are french toast and maple bacon, while past months have included flavors like St. Germain, pumpkin caramel, blood orange, lavender, rosemary pine nut, banana rum, yuzu-ginger, and Pop-Rocks

As a fledgling business, gaining a foothold in the community was important for Blue Table Chocolates, especially since their creative approach to truffles is a little out of step with the ubiquitous presence of sponge candy and chocolate pretzels in Buffalo. Rather than be slavish to tradition or trends, Blue Table has decided to embrace other elements of Buffalo’s shifting culture, including its growing immigrant and refugee community. One of the first major events that Ben got to flex his creative muscles on was a fundraiser for The International Institute of Buffalo — called Buffalo Without Borders – an opportunity that found him creating chocolates with flavor profiles al little outside of what you might find in any of Buffalo’s more traditional chocolatier’s catalogs. ”The idea was to find some sort of bridge between local Buffalonians and the refugee population. There are Burmese families all over Buffalo, as well as refugees from other areas, but it’s really segregated and there’s not much crossover between the communities. So the point of this event was to offer something that was influenced by the Burmese or the Bhutanese community, but was accessible to local Buffalonians as well, and the thought was that chocolate could be that medium.”

“I worked with three families, one from Burma, one from Bhutan, and one from Iraq — and over the course of three of four months of meetings I got to know their stories, their history, and what they like to cook at home. I would go back with a few small Tupperware containers that had samples of ganache — perhaps something like a date and white chocolate ganache with a touch of tahini for a Baklava inspired truffle. And these families were brutal, which was great. Sometimes even if they liked it they would feel the recipe had no real connection to their lives in Buffalo or back in their previous homes — so I had to start over and rethink what I was working on completely. So these families were incredible and really let me know when it wasn’t working. Ultimately I went through four or five versions before settling on something they really liked. For the Bhutanese family I created a toasted basmati rice pudding truffle that was similar in concept to an India rice pudding, but they toast the rice first in peanut oil which gives it a brown color and a great nutty aroma. We also added some toasted cardamom and golden raisin to round out the flavor a bit — which ended up being so specific and unique — but it totally nailed the flavor of this dish.”

“The Burmese truffle was an interesting process because the Burmese culture doesn’t really have a set dessert course in its meals — so instead we based it off a traditional Burmese tea salad, which is a communal event that brings together a lot of small dishes to accompany tea, and guests just sort build their own thing from what’s available. So we worked with coconut milk, chilis, and tamarind paste while omitting other elements of the service like the preserved fish and dried shrimp. It’s a truly unique truffle that’s a little more bitter than what we normally create, and certainly a lot hotter, but It appealed to the palettes of my hosts who kept pushing me to build stronger hotter flavors that they were accustomed to. We’ll be doing that event again this year, so I’m interested to see what I get to create this time.”

It may be a harder road to walk, but by eschewing trends and chasing what interests him, Ben has begun to carve out a loyal following — amongst both fellow obsessives and casual fans. Each season brings a constant evolution and refinement of Ben’s truffles, which he still produces by hand himself. Blue Table Chocolates have become something of a treasure to those that love them — something they will gladly seek out as they follow Ben’s market schedule, order directly from him, or even by opting to one of the subscription plans that Ben offers that featuring both his classic and special monthly flavors. Speaking for myself, it’s the uniqueness of the flavors that Ben creates that drew me to his chocolates — And while you won’t find sponge candy or other classic local favorites amongst his wares, you can be sure that Ben is awake, probably much later than you are, and working on something even cooler to excite you.

THE CHOCOLATIER: BLUE TABLE CHOCOLATES

SARAH SCHNEIDER OF HANDLEBAR

Sarah Schneider is the Owner of Handlebar - a bicycle themedbar and pub located in The Hub development center in Buffalo, NY
Want to get on your bike and meet somewhere for a pint? I know the perfect place.

Sarah Schneider is the owner of both Merge and HandleBar in Buffalo, NY – the later location being both her most recent venture and her gastronomical ode to bikes, beer, and simple but delicious food. This cycling themed pub has fixed its sights on Buffalo’s two-wheel set, and in a city that embraces events like the Skyride and becomes more bike friendly all the time – that’s a growing crowd.

With gears embedded in the bar, stools adorned with pedals, bike chain chandeliers, and the Penny-Farthing inspired logo that never fails to remind me of The Prisoner, HandleBar creates an environment that is equal parts industrial and organic, vintage and modern – a bright and inviting space for riders (and occasional enthusiasts of alternative forms of locomotion) to meet up and refuel. I’d be decidedly happy having some post-shoot drinks with crew and clients anytime.

Sarah is an avid gardener, raises fowl, and has a strong interest in sustainable food that has always been reflected in her hospitality ventures, so the crew and I were truly excited when we found out that she would be bringing one of her beautiful birds to the shoot. I’m used to having animals make an appearances in my images but I think this is the first time a chicken has made a cameo in one of my portraits, thankfully it was a quiet summer day with wonderful morning light coming in through Handlebar’s windows, so our feathered friend was a well-behaved and welcome addition to the images we were creating.

I’m excited to visit HandleBar again soon, the place has a cool and relaxing vibe that pulls you into the culture it has built itself to serve. Whether you are coming for the food, drinks, or to meet up with like-minded riders, HandleBar should be a regular stop on your route – and frankly, knowing there’s a cold one waiting for you at the end of a ride is a great motivator to start cycling more.

Sarah Schneider is the Owner of Handlebar - a bicycle themedbar and pub located in The Hub development center in Buffalo, NY

SARAH SCHNEIDER OF HANDLEBAR

STEVE GEDRA OF THE BLACK SHEEP

Chef Steve Gedra of the Black Sheep in Buffalo, NY.

For a long time Steve Gedra has been my favorite chef cooking in Buffalo.

With the two restaurants he’s owned in the city alongside his wife Ellen – their former Elmwood Avenue spot Bistro Europa, and their current restaurant The Black Sheep, Steve has cemented himself as one of the most exciting figures in the Buffalo dining scene, and I’ve got a lot of reasons to appreciate what he does – some culinary, and some a little more personal.

I love the fact that his menus often reflect things that I grew up with that tend to be a little harder to find on most local menus: head cheese, pig ears and pork liver aren’t uncommon things to see when you look over the menu at The Black Sheep. A lot of these are things that remind me of meals I shared with my dad before he passed way (coincidentally – I think he would have really liked Steve’s food).

I love that he works so closely with local producers to pass on the area’s best to his customers.

I love that Steve constantly mixes it up, often inviting other local chefs into his kitchen to collaborate as part of his monthly Midnight Mass events.

I love that Steve can convert some of the pickiest eaters I know – namely my fiancée. As an avowed pork hater she gets mad if I even cook bacon in the house, but she will gladly chow down on any number of porcine goodies if Steve is serving them.

I love Ellen’s deserts – even if for some mystifying reason you don’t eat anything else on the menu, just order dessert and you’ll be happy.

And I love that when I was recovering from a really nasty surgery that kept me from working for quite some time Steve invited Erin and I to Bistro Europa for what was, at the time, the most relaxing and stress free meal we had been able to enjoy in a while – he’s a genuinely welcoming and caring person who wears his love for his customers on his sleeve.

It was amazing to finally have a chance to create this portrait of Steve in the front bar of The Black Sheep. It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon before a weekday dinner kicked off, so we had some wonderful light coming in through the windows while we set up this shot and enjoyed some of the fantastic Chemex brewed coffee Steve made for us. Steve and Ellen put a lot of care into the design of the restaurant, including the intimate front bar that then opens up into the larger rear dining room, which is where we decided to photograph Steve enjoying a coffee and a few seconds of quiet prior to service.

STEVE GEDRA OF THE BLACK SHEEP

ON ASSIGNMENT: LIVEBETTY

Image from LiveBetty Training campaign

I’ve been working with Buffalo, NY based startup LiveBetty, an empowering tech company that allows people to create and manage their own home messaging businesses, to create images for a variety of training and branding uses. The first project I tackled with them was creating aspirational portraits of company spokesmodel Lulu Robinson. We had to find the perfect location for this shoot that looked just like the dream workspace of a successful LiveBetty member, and we found it at redFISH Art Studios in East Aurora, NY. Turns out that the space has the most beautiful apartment upstairs – white wooden floors, beautiful but simple furniture, art EVERYWHERE. I’m not going to lie, if I had my way this is pretty much what my office would look like too – except I’m sure it would probably still be cluttered with knee-high stacks of photo books and LP’s for me and my dogs to weave around just like it is now. LiveBetty head John Wolf has a very cool vision for the growing company and I’m excited to keep working with him on developing the look of the brand.

ON ASSIGNMENT: LIVEBETTY

THE SPORTS FANS – OXFORD PENNANT COMPANY

Oxford Pennant Company Let's Go Buffalo Pennant

I’ve got a really cool pennant that says “Hustle” in bold golden letters hanging in my studio. It’s part conversation starter/part reminder to get off my ass and get working on whatever project I’m trying to launch at the time. If you look at little closer you’ll find a tag on it that proudly exclaims “It’s an Oxford!” which has become the rallying cry for a young business that’s taking a prototypical piece of sports memorabilia and breathing a new sense of style into it. CEO David Horesh and Brand Manager/Designer Brett Mikoll are turning the simple and classic felt pennant into something that’s equal parts Cal Ripken and Kanye West.

Oxford Pennant got its start on the road – specifically the long stretch between Buffalo and Boston where David and Brett were traveling regularly for business while working for another Buffalo entrepreneurial powerhouse, City Dining Cards (and as I’ve said before – their Buffalo Drink Deck is a thirsty and frugal photographer’s very best friend). The pair found themselves inspired by the preppy aesthetic and eye for visual merchandising of the stores they were dealing with that rolled together sports, local pride, and a keen intuition for pop culture. While bouncing ideas off of each other over drinks one night they began looking for a vehicle through which they distill all of their varied interests into one medium – and they knew they didn’t want to make t-shirts. Brett elaborated “We decided we want to do one thing and do it really well, that we wanted to be Oxford Pennant, not the Oxford brand.”

Oxford Pennant Company "Let's Go Buffalo" Pennant

Somehow during the course of their trip the idea of creating pennants took hold, and Dave realized that there was a void in the marketplace for a modern and well-made pennant that focused more on the culture, aesthetics, and nostalgia of athleticism and civic pride than it did on a specific team. “We made a Buffalo pennant, a Boston pennant, and a Pittsburgh pennant to start because we had friends in those cities, and produced about one hundred of them. We figured that we could at least sell them or give them away as Christmas presents and that would be fine. So we quickly launched an Instagram and a Shopify store. I remember laying in bed on Christmas night 2013 registering the domain name and our timeline to launch from there was just about a month,” David told me during one of our many discussions about Oxford.

A month from inception to launch may sound crazy in this era of multi-volume business plans, cap tables, and overwrought marketing campaigns, but it’s indicative of the earnest and intuitive business that Oxford is building – one that embraces the scrappy, fight-to-make-it, mean-something-to-your-fans ethos of the sports legends that Oxford borrows so much from. Regarding their rapid genesis, Dave told me “We decided not to think about it too much, because if we thought about it too much we just wouldn’t do it. I remember sharing this idea with my brother-in-law who had just gone through a crazy period in his life of opening a business, getting married, having a child and moving to Rochester. When I asked him how he got through all this so quickly without going crazy he told me ‘go, ready, set” and go, ready, set is something that I think about all the time now. Sometimes you just have to do it and figure it out along the way, and in this case that worked in our favor.”

Brett from Oxford Pennant Company in Buffalo NY

The duo quickly pulled in project manager Pat Simons, another City Dining Cards alum, to complete Oxford Pennant’s core team. In the past year they’ve grown to a roster of approximately thirty strikingly designed and 100% made-in-America wool and cotton felt pennants that feature phrases like “Started From the Bottom Now We Here” and “Liberty or Death”, and pay homage to locales like Nantucket, Cleveland, and Seattle. One thing that you will immediately notice about all of Oxford’s designs is how minimal they are. “The people that are producing pennants use this rigid, hard, plastic feeling material that doesn’t move. We wanted something that was floppy, so we sourced American made wool and cotton for our felt, and created something that would actually blow in the wind like flag, because that to me is the iconic aesthetic of the pennant. I think that this is another one of those products where less is more, when you have a simple crimson or navy or forest green pennant with a one color print on it that says what you want it to say, it goes so much further than a complicated four color process. If you buy a football pennant now it’s going to have a helmet, and the quarterback throwing a pass, and a fan in the background eating a sandwich. I think that there’s too much in that. You really can’t look at it and appreciate the graphic quality of it.”

And there is something unique about their product, something that evokes that childhood feeling of going to your first game. Even if you were too young to follow the stats and lore of the sport, you knew that this was something formative. I think that there’s something in all of us that wants an artifact of that, something of the ephemera of the game that we could keep with us. For me growing up in Canada it was a puck at a hockey game, and if you grew up in a baseball, soccer, or football town, it was probably a pennant. Before we became consumed with facts and figures, anger about salary caps and trades, and resentment over bad calls and poor league decisions, there was something about the simplicity of the game and cheering for your team that had a much more innocent appeal to it. Oxford has taken that signifier and turned it into a design savvy medium for a certain type of consumer – themselves. ““I think that the reason the product is successful is because our customers are a lot like us. We’re some combination of hip hop, sports, hometown pride, and hard work and I think that speaks to a lot of people. Sure, it’s just a twenty dollar pennant, but we’re lucky to have customers who see what we see in the product.”

Pat Simons of Oxford Pennant Company

And some important people have seen just what David, Brett, and Pat have seen in their pennants, because partnering with other brands to create  items for their audiences is a fast growing part of the Oxford business. Since their launch Oxford has been creating custom products for entities like Burton Snowboards, Mitchell Bat Company, Ninth Inning Tx, Phish, and about sixty other companies and numerous bands. They’ve even collaborated with TSPTR on a Charles Schultz Peanuts Pennant. 

Like a lot of the conversations I’ve had with young entrepreneurs in Buffalo, the team from Oxford had some strong opinions regarding the changes that the city is seeing. Dave equates a lot of their success to being based in Buffalo, but is also wary of the “We exist because of Buffalo. It’s the reason we’re able to do this. I’m originally from Rochester, but Buffalo has become my home. A little company like Oxford can shout loud enough to be heard in Buffalo and that’s definitely helped our brand thrive. As a city, we’re so preoccupied with trying to figure out when we’ve finally made it back to our former glory. I think we’re in a sweet spot right where we are.” Brett added “Buffalo DOES have the prettiest logos in sports though. The Sabres classic logo and the Bills current logo are some of the best looking logos today, beautiful logos.”

Oxford Pennant Company CEO David Horesh

THE SPORTS FANS – OXFORD PENNANT COMPANY

THE FOOD TRUCK: BETTY CROCKSKI

Kate Hey of the Betty Crockski food truck in Buffalo, NY

Don’t tell my fiancée, but I’m carrying on a passionate affair with a very special lady – she’s boxy, red, and weighs about eight tons. Her name is Betty, and she makes the most amazing pierogi (she’s also a truck, but don’t judge – the heart wants what the heart wants).

Polish food means comfort for a lot of people in Buffalo, NY – pierogi, bigos, and golabki were regular appearances on a lot of tables. Even if we didn’t grow up Polish, a lot of us fondly remember eating these dishes at friends’ homes or picking them up at the Broadway Market around Easter as part of the melange of Eastern European, German, Italian, African-American, and Irish influences that much of this city was built upon. Yet for a town so steeped in Polish heritage it seems that there are only few a places that still serve these traditional tastes with any regularity (Peter K’s and Gadawski’s come to mind) and fewer still who have built upon these traditional takes to elevate and refine them into something truly special (The Black Sheep’s pierogi come to mind). Betty Crockski is straddling both sides of this line and bringing their own take on pierogi back to the streets of Buffalo.

The company’s proprietors, Kate Hey and Dana Szczepaniak, officially launched the truck, appropriately enough, on Dyngus Day 2014. Prior to this Dana had been working as CPA in New York City and Kate was working in marketing back in Buffalo, but some casual discussions at a Memorial Day party in 2013 quickly led to the pair writing a business plan and found Dana moving back to Western New York. Over the next eleven months the concept behind the truck and the recipes slowly developed. “We always knew we were starting a Polish food truck, both because of our backgrounds, but because we realized that Buffalo needed one badly. WNY has the highest concentration of Polish-Americans outside of Chicago, and there’s a strong sense of Polish Heritage here. We have the largest Dyngus Day celebration in the country, and we see it out in the community when people come to the truck and see our family names and tell us ‘I used to cut your uncle’s hair'” Kate told me after her portrait session. Long nights making test batch after test batch of pierogi for friends followed, becoming the method by which Kate was able to refine and finalize the recipes the truck served when it launched; Betty Crockski soon became regarded as one of the most exciting members of Buffalo’s young food truck community.

As part of their pre-launch process, the girls took a research slash eat-your-way-across-all-of-Poland trip to the old country to get a taste of some of the nation’s most famous restaurants as well as some now notorious upstarts that are completely reinterpreting the Polish food tradition. The trip wasn’t so much a revelation as it was a confirmation of what Kate described to me as Betty Crockski’s philosophy on Polish cooking – “We try to celebrate local ingredients and culture, as well as fill in the blanks in the polish dining scene here in Buffalo that’s very focused on the a mid-century style Polish-American approach to cooking and preparation. We had our own ideas and vision about what these dishes could be and were totally vindicated by our trip when we saw that these great polish chefs were already acting along these similar lines of thought and had been for a long time.” Dana added “We got to see so many different facets of both the traditional and contemporary Polish food scenes, not just from eating, but from being invited into restaurant and home kitchens and being taught the way someone’s father makes pierogi, or a contemporary style of making golabki that gets away from the low-and-slow traditional pantry style and takes a fresher, brighter, and quicker approach.” A food tour of Warsaw hosted by Magda from the blog Eat Warsaw turned out to be one of the high points of the trip, not just because of the food they experienced, but because of the context and history it provided about the evolution of dining out in Poland.

Dana Szczepaniak from The Betty Crockski Polish Food truck - serving homed pierogi and sausage in Buffalo, NY

The truck’s menu is small and perfect. Four kinds of pierogi: A cheese variety that blends local chèvre, farmer’s cheese, and BellaVitano; one that marries a mix of caramelized sauerkraut and house pickled plum in a bourbon glaze; a meystard braised pulled pork pierogi, and a spicy potato filed option with white cheddar and herb butter. This selection is punctuated by regular seasonal specials, like a turkey and walnut sage stuffing filled pierogi with boozy pickled cranberries, and bigos – a traditional polish hunter’s stew (think Poland’s answer to chili, where everyone has their own family recipe or twist they like to put on the dish pulling from their own experiences and tastes). They also feature their own fresh Polish kielbasa spiced with ginger, caraway, and marjoram.

There’s one other element in this Polish comfort food equation that diverges a bit from the Polish traditions that the truck sprung from, one that leads in a decidedly German direction. Betty Crockski sells this absolutely addictive mustard – they call it “Meystard” (and I call it “German Heroin”) and that name ties into almost 80 years of Buffalo food history. Kate’s family was the proprietor of the legendary Carl Meyer’s Hof, a German restaurant that was the first tavern in Buffalo to serve beer from old kegs. And while the restaurant has been gone since the early 80’s, the mustard served alongside the pierogi and sausage on the truck is the same homemade recipe that the Hof served for decades. Thankfully you can buy some to take home to help with the withdrawal you’ll start to experience when you can’t make it to the truck (or to go along with Betty’s new take-home packs of frozen pierogi).

If you aren’t one of the dedicated few who’s willing to brave a food truck in the deathly cold of a Buffalo winter (and if you aren’t, what are you doing in this city?) Kate and Dana shared some good news with me: Starting in February they’re going to be partnering with the South Side Social and Athletic Club to do a small weekly Saturday menu of small dishes. Less a pop-up and more of a gourmet Polish happy hour, it’s going to be something of a lab for the Betty team to experiment with new recipes and try out what Dana calls “bar food, Betty style” in one of Buffalo’s oldest South-Side neighborhoods.

Betty’s may still just be emerging from their first very successful year in business, but they’ve already become an important part of both the food and cultural landscape of Buffalo. I’ve hung out on the truck with Dana and Kate during a service in the course of this project and I’ve gotten to see people absolutely light up when they have their first bite of one of Betty’s pierogi and then stand by the truck’s window and chat with other diners about their own childhood connections to Polish food in Buffalo and abroad. I’ve gotten to hear Dana’s stories about tracking down the perfect cheese for their pierogi, and after so many iterations, finding the perfect one produced locally by First Light Creamery by pure chance once day. While these stories are important, this isn’t just a chronicle of prepping sausage and making pierogi dough at two a.m., which is fascinating in its own right – but is quickly transforming into a story of how a sense of adventure and risk allowed such a new business to be integral in reconnecting a city to one of its most important culinary heritages.

THE FOOD TRUCK: BETTY CROCKSKI

SHELTER PORTRAITS: DARLA

Darla20141128-1025-Edit

Meet Darla, a three-year-old Mastiff in Buffalo, NY that is looking for an awesome family to adopt her this holiday season. Currently she is in a foster program run by the HEART Animal Rescue and Adoption Team. Darla looks so much like one of my own dogs (Akasha – who was a rescue as well, and I’m pretty sure that Darla is a Boerboel just like her) that I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to help her out once I heard her story.

Darla has been adopted and returned twice through no fault of her own (changing circumstances did not allow the families to keep her in the long-term). Right now Darla is staying with a really great foster family, but because of her issues with cats and other animals she has to stay in the heated garage most of the time. The volunteers at HEART and her foster family have been working their butts off to find a great new owner and a warm fireplace for this tiny (for a mastiff) lady to curl up by for the holidays. Thankfully, once the new portraits I created of her hit Facebook and Twitter, her story was shared hundreds of times in just a few days. She still hasn’t been placed with a new home yet, but I’m hoping that if you are in the Buffalo, NY area and are looking for an amazing pet, or know a deserving family who is you will help spread the word about Darla’s situation and make her holidays marvelous.

She’s very sweet and affectionate, but she doesn’t always get along with cats (who can blame her – I don’t get along with them either) or other dogs very well. However, she is amazing with less furry, more human children, and would make an amazing addition to a family looking for that perfect first pet. People are really dedicated to helping Darla and because of that a friend of the foster family has agreed to pay the $150.00 adoption fee, in addition to that kick-ass donation I’m offering up to $100.00 for the new family to sign up for training classes in the Buffalo area with Darla after she is adopted as a great way to bond with her and get to know each other better. She’s up to date on shots, is heart worm negative, spayed, housebroken, crate trained, already microchipped, and devastatingly cute.

You can find more info on her at her Petfinder page.

SHELTER PORTRAITS: DARLA

THE CHEESE SHOP: NICKEL CITY CHEESE AND MERCANTILE

Jill Gedra Forster of Nickel City Cheese and Mercantile

There’s a strong probability that if you ask me what I want to eat at any given moment, one of the myriad examples of a specific intersection of milk, bacteria, and time is going make an appearance on the list – In other words, to take a cue from Monty Python, I love me some cheesy comestibles.

Cheese is one of those foods that is both simple comfort and elegant luxury – the variety of milks, styles, additions, and ages create a universe of flavors that accompany us through so many moments in life from quiet and simple dinners to ravenous post-bar snacking to romantic interludes and fancy parties  (this is all starting to sound a bit Suessian – I would eat cheese in a boat, I would eat cheese from a goat..). But if you want the really good stuff you have to go a little further than your local mega-grocery – that’s where Jill comes in. Continue reading “THE CHEESE SHOP: NICKEL CITY CHEESE AND MERCANTILE”

THE CHEESE SHOP: NICKEL CITY CHEESE AND MERCANTILE

THE HABERDASHERS: BUREAU

Joe Stocker of Bureau

My earliest memories of buying a suit were probably as disappointing as yours.

Dragged under the headache inducing fluorescent lights of a department store by well-meaning parents so that I could be a fitted for the junior suit needed for some occasion – be it a wedding, funeral, first communion, juvenile court appearance… etc. I don’t remember where we were going, but I do remember hating the way the ill-fitting jacket clung to me when I moved, the shoulders were too tight, the stiff dress shoes hurt, the waistband dug in, and the shirt – despite being massively oversized for my torso was so tight on my neck that the top button couldn’t be done up. Looking back I think that an old maxim from carpentry “If it doesn’t fit, force it” had been wrongly applied to children’s formal wear. This continued to be the driving philosophy behind most of the suits I wore through the 80’s and 90’s (And there were so many tragic examples from those decades, and by that I mean that we will under no circumstances, ever, discuss what I wore to any high school formals). Continue reading “THE HABERDASHERS: BUREAU”

THE HABERDASHERS: BUREAU

THE BREWERS: COMMUNITY BEER WORKS

Rudy And Ethan - Partners in Community Beer Works nano -brewery

There’s a giant Mogwai tour poster hanging on the office wall at Community Beer Works when I sit down to interview Ethan Cox and Rudy Watkins that serves as a reminder that these guys have great taste in music as well as beer – which is fortuitous because it was primarily the relationship between beer and music that first brought this young Western New York Brewery to my attention. The first of their brews that I tried was More Information, a special one-off batch that Rudy had made for a Swans show at Buffalo’s Tralf Music Hall (their first concert specific brew was Preacher Man, a Godspeed You! Black Emperor inspired American Black Ale). I love beer and loud music, and when a bartender is telling you about a new local brew made specifically for one night and one particular show, it’s hard to say no. Continue reading “THE BREWERS: COMMUNITY BEER WORKS”

THE BREWERS: COMMUNITY BEER WORKS

THE PROJECTIONIST: KEITH HARRINGTON

Video artist Keith Harrington

Keith Harrington makes his art big – really big.

Red Rocks big, Silo City big.

Big.

It’s also fleetingly temporary. As a video & installation artist-DJ-VJ-audiovisual mixologist masher-upper guerrilla projectionist all-around culturally informed kind of guy  (how many hyphens do you need before you can simply be listed as awesomely multi-talented? Or as Keith described it during our interview – Artistic Batman), Keith’s focused interests have resulted in a prolific and varied but ephemeral body of work Continue reading “THE PROJECTIONIST: KEITH HARRINGTON”

THE PROJECTIONIST: KEITH HARRINGTON

THE PIE MAKER: DAMIAN PARKER

Damien Parker, owner and lead creative of Pie Mad and the English Pork Pie Company.

The first thing I learned from Damian Parker is that pies are sexy.

He’s not the only one who thinks so either: Disney, Google, and the US Military are just some of his customers.  The Telegraph named The English Pork Pie Company the Best British Shop in the World three years in a row. Even Gordon Ramsay is a fan of Damian’s products.

Not too bad for an English expat making meat pies in South Buffalo. Continue reading “THE PIE MAKER: DAMIAN PARKER”

THE PIE MAKER: DAMIAN PARKER