Mike A on Advancing Buffalo: “It’s Kind of Working”

By Griffin Jones

I thought popular Buffalo restaurateur Mike Andrzejewski had a calculated plot for re-energizing Buffalo’s urban core. Apparently not?

Andrzejewski said he’d like to say it was all part of a master plan, but it was more a great coincidence of timing. “I just take advantage of it, and do what I can to help it along,”

Mike with members of his team at Sea Bar.

Mike with members of his team at Sea Bar.

Andrzejewski grew up in the suburbs but says he has always been drawn to the architecture and the character of the city. He and his wife had decided they wanted to relocate downtown because they liked the excitement and the vibe. They met developer Rocco Termini while catering an event at the lofts on Ellicott Street in 2008 . In short time, they had a place to live and a place to open their hit sushi restaurant, SeaBar.

In 2011, Mike said he benefited from timing once again. He opened the rave Cantina Loco at what he calls the most visible corner in Buffalo, at Allen and Elmwood. In 2012, he opened Mike A’s at the  Hotel LaFayette. He’s done so much in such a short time, that I forgot to even ask him about Tappo, his most recent success (this time Italian) that opened on Ellicott Street in June 2013.

Mike says he is very impressed by others in the food community here and with the people’s associated with. “I never thought I would live to see where Buffalo is now. To see what’s happening now, is so thrilling,”

What does he mean, SEE what’s happening? He IS what’s happening, I thought. Then I realized, Mike didn’t open four restaurants in five years because he’s a leader. He’s a leader because he opened four restaurants in five years. Andrzejewski is the perfect example of Buffalo’s second marketing attribute, one person with a few small changes can have a deeply significant impact here.

“People are tired of waiting, so they’re doing it themselves”. Andrzejewski  visits Toronto about once a month and Chicago a few times a year for inspiration. He wanted a big city food scene so he made it happen. “Buffalo is a Do It Yourself city. I opened a restaurant,”

I interview people like Mike to find out how people who are less involved can contribute more to the process. How do we get started? Andrzejewski’s simple advice was in line with every single person I’ve talked to.

“Respect the area. Respect each other. ” He agrees that corporate contributions are wonderful,  but we have to take it upon ourselves to improve the area. That can be as simple as maintaining a clean city. “Little things help. It’s kind of working,”

So what’s Mike’s vision for Buffalo’s near future?

“Selfishly? I’d love to see a few more skyscrapers. I know it’s not practical at this point, I’d just like to see a skyline that reflects how great this place is,” Well said, Mike. Well done, too.

B Team: Buffalo’s A Side

By Griffin Jones

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.–Margaret Mead

Ruthlessly stolen from B Team's twitter.

Ruthlessly stolen from B Team’s twitter.

In 2008, I complained that nothing was going on in Buffalo. The same year, a group of five or six friends felt it was both their civic responsibility and within their power to improve the region. I whined. They formed B Team Buffalo,

Current chairwoman, Liz Callahan moved back at the same time I did. I said there wasn’t enough young people in Buffalo.  She decided to get immersed in the culture of young people who were creating the environment they wanted live in.

Someone responded to one of my videos saying that it will take a lot more than volunteering to restore Buffalo. I bet B Team knows that. I bet they also know volunteerism is most important when it seems like there’s nothing we can do.

“When people are excited they want to be involved. When things are stagnant it’s hard to be the first,” says Callahan.

I was stagnant. B Team contributed to as many causes as they could take on including their own signature events.

Each year, B Team hosts City of Light, a December festival where B Team volunteers decorate an entire neighborhood and host a large dinner at the local community center. The chosen neighborhood for 2013 is the 10th Street area on the lower west side.

Callahan says City of Light makes it easy for people who have never volunteered to test the waters. “If you give up one day a year, that’s ten times more than doing nothing. It doesn’t feel like work because we’re all having fun,”

That’s the lesson to learn from B Team. We’ve seen a lot of progress in Buffalo, but when we run into obstacles, we have to become the people who will take action before resources and before success.

Callahan knows. “Everyone thinks that what they’re involved in is what’s going to save Buffalo. We need everything in case we hit a snag,”

We will hit snags. Progress isn’t a straight, predictable line. This is Buffalo, after all. But I’m not the only one who’s been inspired by B Team and so many others like them. We won’t whine. We’ll get to work.

To get involved with B Team Buffalo , visit http://bteambuffalo.com/join-the-team/ and follow @BTeamBuffalo.

The Eyes of the City: Look What We’re Doing, Buffalo

By Griffin Jones

Part of Buffalo’s success is all of the new developments taking place around town. The other part, is that we’re finally discovering what we’ve had all along. The Mid-Day Club of Buffalo is a hidden jewel on the 21st floor of the Liberty Building’s western tower.  It’s one of the amazing relics of Buffalo’s past that fits perfectly with it’s bright future.

The Mid-Day Club of Buffalo's Uncanny Panoramic View

The Mid-Day Club of Buffalo’s Uncanny Panoramic View

The membership lunch club opened in 1936 in a stock exchange building that no longer exists. In the 1950s, it moved to the Liberty Building. The club’s board chose the western tower for its view of the Lake . That view, by the way, cannot be overstated. The cozy dining/social area boasts a 280 degree vista of the city of Buffalo for miles.

They host unique events like the “Serial Killers as Celebrities” Lunch Talk on Halloween, that allow the public to experience the intrigue of the club. And it gets better: To get there, you have to take the elevator to the 19th floor, head down the hall, and walk the remaining two flights of stairs.  It all adds to the Club’s allure as the gem in the sky.

General Manager, Jim Mackowski, has been at the Mid-Day Club for 12 years. He’s watched the city’s progress first hand in that time. “We see everything from here. We’re the eyes of the city at times. We don’t just hear about it, we actually SEE the growth happening,”

That’s exactly this little lunch club’s “forever” value to Buffalo. We want to SEE the progress we’ve made. We want to look over the work we’ve done, to reflect over the struggle of thousands of people who put their heart and soul into bettering our city. “People want to make changes here,” Mackowski says of Buffalo. Yes, we do. And sometimes we deserve to sit back and marvel over it all. The Mid-Day Club is just the place.

Three Easy Ways to Find New Things in Buffalo

By Griffin Jones

I am going to write a blog post dedicated to B Team Buffalo, but B Team chairwoman Liz Callahan gave me a short piece of advice that is worthy of it’s own post. There are so many amazing things happening in Buffalo, but sometimes we’re completely unaware of them until after they’ve past. On the other hand, many people want to be more involved, but they don’t know where to begin. Here’s what Liz recommends:

1). Twitter: Follow people who are active in the community. @BuffaloDotCom, @ElmwoodVillage, and of course @Bflo_girl are good places to start

2). Sign up for mailings. Instead of giving some groups (the worthy ones at least) your 12 year old AOL address, give them the one you actually check.

3). READ things. You would think this would be included in steps 1 and 2, but too often, we have heard of the cool things happening, we just didn’t pay attention to them.

 

The City of Good Neighbors: The Brand We Earn

By Griffin Jones

“The City of Good Neighbors” has to be the best damn nickname for any city, and Buffalo owns more than its fair share of exceptional monikers. Whether it’s earned or not, it certainly carries an obligation to earn it. From guilt, or from pride, seeing the sign on a Buffalo border street be the nudge your conscious to push someone out of a snowbank.

Reflecting on it even further, could make you want to get involved with the people at Journey’s End. Journey’s End is a Christian community based organization that helps refugees with education, employment, legal services, language learning, and probably more things than they can even think of. How perfect to activate the “City of Good Neighbors” brand in the 21st century.

Grant-Street-Buffalo-NY-murals

Refugees add value to Buffalo. For an area with a culture of often feeling sorry for itself, refugees bring a refreshing perspective. If you take one of Journey’s End’s informational tours, you’ll meet people who’ve suffered true tragedy, who are grateful and honored to be in Buffalo. Those are good neighbors to have.

We want our new neighbors wearing Bills jerseys. We want them painting murals on the west side. We want them volunteering for the same projects we serve. We can make (what has to be) a very challenging transition, a little smoother, quicker, and more meaningful if we greet them the way good neighbors do.

Volunteer at even just one event with Journey’s End, or initiate a welcoming conversation with one of the merchants at the West Side Bazaar. If you’ve ever been somewhere new and unfamiliar, you know what a relief it is when a welcoming host approaches with a smile. And what a relief for US…to have something we haven’t had in sixty years: thousands of people moving to Buffalo. Welcome, neighbor. You’re just in time.

 

 

Follow @JERSBuffalo to get on the list for the next available tour.

Follow @westsidebazaar to tell them how friggin delicious the food is there.

Advance Buffalo: It’s Okay to Leave

By Griffin Jones

Buffalo is experiencing a renaissance. The digital age has brought more opportunities to different areas than ever. But in some lines of work, there are only a few places to get to the top.

Dan Fisher is a Buffalo comedian who, with a number of local acts like Josh Potter, Shaun Murphy, Brian Herberger, and Jim Kurdziel, has contributed tremendously to Buffalo comedy. I would argue that without the contingent of young talented comedians who have formed their own scene, that  a place like Helium Comedy Club probably wouldn’t have come to Buffalo.

File photo

File photo

We have a richer entertainment culture in Buffalo because of Dan Fisher and his friends. But in comedy, despite its omnipotence in digital media, the very top is relegated to a scarce number of places. So Dan Fisher will leave Buffalo for New York. And that is a good thing.

Fisher is at the highest level of comedic talent. He should be on Conan, Fallon, and Comedy Central. The only way he can bring more to Buffalo entertainment is to leave Buffalo.

It will greatly benefit Buffalo when people like Fisher may be able to get to a place in their career where they can work at the upper echelon from anywhere. But sometimes they have to leave first. We want and need the best and most connected people here. To everyone advancing their career elsewhere, you’re welcome home invitation is standing and it always will be.

Best of luck, Dan.

For a couple yucs:

@_DanFisher

@JamesRadio

@iamshaunmurphy

@brianherberger

@J_Potter

The #1 Piece of Advice for Buffalo Repats

By Griffin Jones

Among my favorite people that I’ve met this year who are improving Buffalo are the people behind Silo City Rocks and BFLO Harbor Kayak. Co-Owner Jay Schwinger and Marketing Director Alex Farrington are two repatriates to Buffalo  who perfectly articulate how someone returning from an area with no shortage of things to do, finds fulfillment in the City of Good Neighbors.

Jay has a concept, “Paint the Apartment”. To paraphrase: if you live in a dingy apartment, and the very act of looking at the disrepair makes you loco, buy a cheap bucket of paint and paint the walls. The quality of the apartment will slightly improve, and more importantly you will feel better about living there.

Alex says more importantly still, is that it inspires further progress. She says that being personally involved in Buffalo’s revitalization is what makes moving back to Buffalo so rewarding.

Become as engaged as you possibly can in Buffalo’s progress, and its shortcomings will cease to bother you. Take it from Jay, the guy who brought the very first business to the new Canalside. He isn’t daunted by depending on the large-scale result of rehabilitating an entire city. His approach is that of the repat, “I do it for my own sanity,”

Rust Belt Marketing: Promote the Category

By Griffin Jones

There are no awards for the thinnest kid at fat camp. Making fun of Detroit doesn’t make us (Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, etc) any skinnier. We don’t look attractive and cool when we refer to Detroit as a shit hole. We look like the pathetic loser who tries to lift himself up by humiliating his only friend.

Motorcycle companies don’t advertise that other bike makers are more likely to crash. Cell phone companies don’t warn that tower signals from other providers will give you cancer. Hurting the value of their category only damages themselves.

Buffalo’s first new marketing attribute is the value proposition that binds all Rust Belt Cities. If we want to limit destruction to the planet, then people from everywhere need to care about rehabilitating these urban spaces. The same could be true of any city in need of renewal, but the Rust Belt brand allows us to attach geographic strength to a very strong idea.

New England, the Pacific Northwest, Cali;  all are brand names that give each area within them more brand power. Each city is different, we still have our own unique marketing position. Buffalo is attractive because it is small enough to change, there has been so much progress, and it’s tipping point is close. But promoting others in the category strengthens all in the category.

Detroit is amazing. For entrepreneurs, urban farmers, and artists, it’s a beautiful playground. I encourage everyone to go there. I brag about the patriots who have committed themselves to the amazing cause of rehabilitating our planet by focusing on one small part of one enormous city.

No one’s doing themselves a favor by casting stones from their abandoned glass house. We are all comrades behind the same cause. There is more profit in working together.

Opportunity Detroit.

Opportunity Detroit.

Advantage Detroit.

Advantage Detroit.

Celebration Earth: Buffalo’s Event Marketing

By Griffin Jones

WingFest, held last weekend, has done a great job of championing Buffalo’s old brand, now it’s time to grow capital events that activate Buffalo’s new, more valuable, marketing attributes.

City of Night is the cardinal event for Buffalo’s artistic value. It perfectly showcases the unique artistic opportunity and culture of art creation in Buffalo. Now, there are two upcoming events that Buffalo should look to grow into the flagship event for its first marketing position: environmental stewardship.

What would it mean for Buffalo's value if this symbol represented Buffalo as much as the Bills or Sabres logos?

What would it mean for Buffalo’s value if this symbol represented Buffalo as much as the Bills or Sabres logos?

Tour de Farms is an outstanding day-long event that incorporates two of Buffalo’s signature advantages, the cycling movement and urban farming. The 300+ person bicycle tour of both urban and suburban farms is on Saturday, September 14, 2013. By bringing together the Massachusetts Avenue Project, GOBike Buffalo, and a few corporate sponsors, Tour de Farms has reinforced sustainability as part of Buffalo’s brand.

The Conference on the Environment will be held in Buffalo next month (Oct 3-5, 2013). Peter Rizzo, the conference coordinator, said the last event held in Buffalo (2003), was one of the best attended conferences ever held. People from Canada, South Africa, and Australia will be in Buffalo for the bi-national summit focused on environmental protection, sustainability, transportation, and the quality and the ecosystem of the Great Lakes.

Both the conference and the Tour de Farms equip Buffalo to work toward a signature event that embraces her position as an agent of environmental protection. They’re both doing it the right way. The Tour makes a party of a bicycle ride with locally grown food and locally brewed beer. The conference is starting with a rock star. Gord Downie, lead singer of The Tragically Hip, is the keynote speaker on the first night of the conference.

This is the way to think of  the culture of environmental sustainability. The same way that ethnic and music festivals make a holiday of their cultures, Buffalo has that opportunity with environmental citizenship.