Martin Cooks a Case Study for Buffalo’s Success in the Digital Age

By Griffin Jones

A great many local restaurants have struggled in the digital age. For decades, national chains have been able to cut their margins so low, local eateries have been engaged in a price war they can’t win. Many are still trying to fight that battle. Most lose.

Trying to produce as much food for as cheaply as possible is a tactic of the Industrial Age. It ignores the benefits that small businesses have in the Digital Age. People’s interest is only captured when they find something remarkable, litterally something that causes them to make a remark. When they do, they can share it with more people than ever before.

Photo from martincooks.com.

Photo from martincooks.com.

Martin Cooks fits that definition. They don’t sell $6 meals because Chili’s sells $7 meals. They don’t do breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner buffet, seven days a week. They sell $60 dinners, twice a day, four days a week. They also serve lunch five days a week. The result? They have been packed since their Grand Opening in May 2013.

“I knew it could work,’ chef Martin Danilowicz said of the prix fixe menu and open kitchen environment. He thought of the idea a few years ago. When he saw the concept work in Brooklyn, with Brooklyn Fare, and a few other restaurants, he was eager to try something new in Buffalo.

The menu, which is 90% vegetarian, changes weekly. Food critics have acclaimed Martin Cooks since Day 1. “We have a twist on just about everything,”

The food is part of the unique experience required for success in the digital age. The social experience is another. So Danilowicz gets everyone’s name on the reservation and introduces dinner parties to each other. Of the open space kitchen, he says “it’s like a big think tank. We have an idea and it grows. We just keep talking about it until the dish goes from a 1 to a 10,”

The third reason to remark about Martin Cooks is it’s location in the up-and-coming, lower west side, and the impact new businesses have there.

Danilowicz would like to see the area attract clothing stores, shoe stores, art galleries, and even more restaurants. “Competition is a good thing,” he says. But why?

“Restaurants make neighborhoods” he replied. “If you bring a good quality restaurant into a neighborhood, you can draw people in that aren’t from there,” Danilowicz says that’s why he pays for the landscaping at the apartments directly across from the store and his employees pick up around the neighborhood after the weekend.

You must be different enough that people will remark about you. The proof? Martin Cooks is already expanding in the Horsefeathers building after only five months in business. Most restaurants go out of business within their first six months. The more places like Martin Cooks, the more we have to remark about Buffalo.

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