The Buffalo boom

Cranes fill the skies in downtown Buffalo

Cranes fill the skies in downtown Buffalo

The terms “renaissance”, “rebirth” and “growth” are being used by local and national media alike. It seems like every week a new story makes its way around the local social media sphere showcasing the “new” Buffalo.

So what exactly is the Buffalo boom?

Here’s a break down of the region’s renaissance:

New jobs – At the end of July, it was announced that close to 700 new jobs would be coming to Buffalo with new companies investing locally. These types of announcements have been happening with more regularity, offering jobs in many different fields.

Additionally, the 43 North business plan competition will bring great start up ideas to Buffalo this year!

Population growth – For years, census reports showed a steady decline in the population of Buffalo but the past few years have started to show a reverse in that trend.

While we cannot boast a population increase, the decline has stalled and there has been an upward trend in one key demographic:  20-34 year olds.

As cited in a Buffalo News article from April 2014, “The uptick in the number of young people in the Buffalo Niagara region during that six-year period from 2006 to 2012 – the most recent data available – has been among the strongest among all of the counties in New York and easily exceeds national growth in that age group.” 

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Redevelopment is underway at the Richardson Olmsted Complex

Development – Where to start? In most areas of downtown Buffalo, new developments are popping up and cranes are filling the skies.

The Harbor Center project, a new Canalside, new builds on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and new Riverbend projects, are just a few of a long list of current development efforts.

Along with all the “new” it’s important to preserve the old – and so much money has been designated to our historical gems (like the Richardson Olmsted Complex) to maintain and reuse what we are fortunate enough to have here in Western New York. Did you know that of about 2,500 national historical landmarks, Buffalo has eight of them??

Buffalo’s landscape is changing and offering Western New Yorkers (and visitors) with more possibilities than ever before.

Enthusiasm – One of the most welcome changes has been a change in attitude.

The people of Buffalo believe in the city, want to get involved and are going out and making a difference. It is a palpable change that has been building over the past few years.

Nationally, there has been an attitude shift resulting in numerous positive news stories, including one going as far as calling Buffalo the new  “it city”.

While the changes taking place in Buffalo are a great start, we need leadership and continued momentum to continue to propel Buffalo back to its glory days. We are not quite there yet. Buffalo is one of the poorest cities, we need to work on education, diversity issues and more to get us on a path to sustainable growth.

Change takes time. The amount of change I’ve witnessed in the past few years has been incredible. It leaves me very encouraged that we can continue to turn around the Queen City we love and help ensure the rest of the country takes notice!

It’s an exciting time to get involved in Buffalo and find YOUR way to make a difference. Whether holding politicians accountable, volunteering, or even just spreading the “good news” of Buffalo, we can all play a small role in Buffalo’s renaissance. They say it takes a village. I’d say it takes a city.

Let’s Go Buffalo!

2014 Pride Week In Buffalo

logoThis week Buffalo is celebrating its PRIDE, with the week long Buffalo Pride Festival. For too long, the LGBTQ has lived under the radar, across the country, and here in Western New York. Pride Festivals have been taking place in Buffalo since 1971, but look far different today from what they were like in the 70’s (mostly behind doors seminars). The message they share during Pride Festival Week is one Buffalo, and the country needs to take note of year round.

I had the chance to interview Corey Mohr, one of the organizers of The Pride Festival, who offered great insight on the LGBTQ community in Western New York and beyond.

Q: Why is PRIDE week in Buffalo so important to the community?

A: “Pride is so much more than a festival, it’s a show of support and celebration of coming to terms with our identities, especially in instances where that seems impossible. Whatever is the obstacle in your struggle, we’re here to show WNY that members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) are part of every enclave, and that life after coming out can and does get better.” 

Q: Speaking of coming out, how has the LGBTQ community been treated in Western New York? 

A: Attitudes were not always as welcoming as the are today, and even today, we face challenges with hate crimes, bullying and bigotry. But things have gotten better over the years. In 2010 the City of Buffalo passed a domestic partners law that allowed city employees to put their partners on their health insurance plans, and in 2011 when New York State became the 6th government to pass marriage equality, it was a proud time to be a Western New Yorker. 

Q: That definitely seems like a step in right direction! That being said, what are the biggest issues facing the LGBTQ FlagRaisingPage_5community in Western New York today?

There is still work to be done, even in a progressive state like New York. While some in the LGBTQ community has protection, not everyone does, most notably transgender individuals. When the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was passed in New York, transgender individuals were left out. It turned out that while some legislator had buried their biases towards lesbians and gays, they were too squeamish to include gender identity. There are no laws against discriminating based on gender identity, and thus no housing protections or employment protections, what we often consider basic rights. However, we remain hopeful and committed to ensuring all persons are treated equally. In time, with support from our straight allies, we believe we’ll get there.  

 Q: I wasn’t aware the transgender community was left out! What else may Buffalonians not know about the LGBTQ community in Western New York?

A: It may surprise you to know that WNY has long had a strong LGBTQ network. As far back as the 1960s an LGBTQ Community Center was established, and citizens organized to form an LGBTQ newspaper called 5th Freedom. In 1971, the local gay community celebrated the first Buffalo Pride Festival — a series of behind door seminars — which looked very different from today. And in 1972, local LGBTQ activist and historian, Madeline Davis, became the first openly gay speaker at the Democratic National Convention.

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In wrapping up my conversation with Corey he put it so simply: “We are the WNY community, and the WNY community is us.”

The Buffalo Pride Festival is an excellent opportunity for members of the LGBTQ community as well as all Western New Yorkers to come together to gain understanding, share stories, celebrate and have some fun. It’s an opportunity to learn, inspire and share experiences.

Events are taking place the rest of the week; here are some upcoming ways to participate:
The Gay 5K on Thursday, 5/29
The Dyke March on Saturday, 5/31
The Allen Street Festival on Saturday, 5/31
The Pride Parade on Sunday, 6/1
The Canalside Festival (Pride Festival) on Sunday, 6/1

Join the conversation on Twitter using #BuffaloPride.

Buffalo, Cancer Can’t Win

RideLogo_WESTHERR_FULL-COLORIf you are reading this, the odds are pretty good that you have been touched by cancer. Whether a family member or friend is currently battling the disease, you have gone through treatment yourself, or you have lost someone close to you, cancer is everywhere. It infects all of our lives.

In 2001, I lost my Grandma Carol Sondel, three weeks after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In three weeks, our world was turned upside down.  She went from one of the most vibrant women I know – volunteering her time as an usher at Shea’s, cheering on the Buffalo Bills at every home game, and frequenting every dance recital and soccer game we took part in.

It’s why I decided to start “Riding for Roswell Park” two years ago. It’s why I continue to reach out to those I love for donations. It’s why we can’t let cancer win.

We need to find a cure. The hardworking doctors, researchers and medical staff at Roswell Park is working – around the clock, to find cures and treatments for cancer. They continue to make strides, but haven’t gotten there yet.

Just yesterday in Buffalo, we received word that the beautiful boy who captured our hearts, Ben Sauer, passed away from cancer at the young age of five. Five.

Cancer touches us all in different ways, and here in Buffalo we are fortunate to have Roswell Park in our backyard to be able to turn to when crisis strikes. They offer a place of hope, a place of care and a place of comfort for those in need.

This year’s Ride for Roswell weekend is Friday, June 27th & Saturday, June 28th. I am blessed to be able to participate in the Peloton ride this year – a 12 mile ride from Roswell Park to the University of Buffalo – North campus, with 199 other riders who all raised at least $1,000. On Saturday, I will ride another 30 miles in memory of my Grandma Carol Sondel.

There is still time to register for the Ride, donate to a rider (like me), or sign up to volunteer. Whatever you can do, please do.

Thank you to all those who have been so generous and donated to my Ride for Roswell. I have a few weeks left to get to my $1,000 goal and invite you to make a donation in memory of your loved ones or in honor or someone you know who beat the odds and survived.

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Women Who Move The City

On Thursday, April 10th, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County is hosting the very first “Women Who Move The City” event to honor and highlight women making a difference in our community.

“There are not enough events that celebrate women and volunteers. We thought this would be a great opportunity to honor the dedicated work of volunteers all over Western New York.” Amy Carter, Development Coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County told me.

After a call for nominations and a selection committee, five women will be honored with the very first “Women Who Move The City” award. The event will be held at Pearl at the Webb and will run from 6pm – 9pm. In addition to the awards ceremony, attendees will have the opportunity to check out around 20 local vendors, enjoy an open bar, hors d’oeuvres and receive a swag bag. Tickets cost $40 in advance and $50 at the door on Thursday, with proceeds benefiting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County. It’s a great chance to network with other local volunteers and find out about different organizations you can get involved with.

K Maxian WNY Ovarian Cancer Project AI had the chance to speak with one of the award recipients, Kathleen Maxian (left), President and Co-Founder of WNY Ovarian Cancer Project, Inc., and asked her to share her inspirational story!

“When I woke up in a hospital bed after radical abdominal surgery and a diagnosis of Advanced Stage Ovarian Cancer, I thought I would soon die from the disease. I searched the internet for survivor stories, looking for some Hope, that somehow I might live. I never found those stories, I never found someone here in my own community to talk to, and I did not meet someone that had long term survival for over 10 months. When the opportunity presented itself, I knew the right thing to do was to found a local organization that not only educated women on the symptoms and risks of ovarian cancer but empowered them to become their own best health advocate!” Kathleen told me.

The WNY Ovarian Cancer Project, Inc. offers education and awareness, provides support groups and networking opportunities to those in need, offers numerous medical resources and advocates to ensure funding for ovarian cancer research is in the budget.

Did you know that one in seventy women in the United States is diagnosed with ovarian cancer? Knowing the symptoms can be life saving.

“Last year, our organization raised over $9000 which supports our Comfort & Hope Tote Program. These are bags with everything  a woman will need for chemotherapy and a note that tells her we are here for her withlots of stories of Hope. These bags are given to every woman in WNY free of charge through her gynecologic oncologists office when she is first diagnosed.”

In the spirit of National Volunteer Week, The WNY Ovarian Cancer Project, Inc. is always looking for volunteers. Interested in joining the fight against ovarian cancer? Check out their volunteer sign up form, HERE.

Congratulations to Kathleen and the four additional recipients of the first annual “Women Who Move The City” award. WNY is filled with so many incredible female leaders, and I am thrilled to see a handful getting a moment in the spotlight.

Check out the Big Brothers Big Sisters Facebook page for more information on the additional award recipients and stay tuned for their call for nominations for next year.

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Volunteering In Buffalo

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It’s National Volunteer Week, and with so many incredible volunteer opportunities available in Buffalo, it may be hard to figure out where to start.

Here are 5 tips for getting involved in WNY:

1.) Decide what you enjoy. Do you like working with children? Senior citizens? Animals? Can you build things? Do you enjoy heavy lifting? Whatever you like to do, odds are there is a volunteer opportunity out there for you.

2.) Utilize Volunteer Center WNY. Type in some keywords, add your zip code and opportunities pop up that fit your criteria. It’s as simple as that!

3.) Bring along a friend or family member. Signing up to volunteer with a friend can be a great way to stay motivated and take away any anxiety you may have joining an activity or organization where you don’t know anyone else.

4.) Volunteer for one time events. Don’t have the time to commit to something every week? Start small! Organizations are always looking for special event volunteers. Reach out to your favorite non-profit to see if they are in need, or check out an organization like B Team Buffalo, who always have one time opportunities.

5.) Get to know other volunteers. Take the time to reach out to other volunteers working with you. It’s an opportunity to network, make new friends, and to learn new things. Odds are, you will get more out of volunteering than you ever could have expected.

I’ve written a lot about volunteering over the past year. Here are two popular posts that both talk about getting involved in Western New York!

Things You Can Do To Make Buffalo Better Now
Volunteer & Change Your Life, Buffalo

GiveBack

I decided to take my volunteer questions to the “street” (or more accurately the Lovin’ On Buffalo Facebook and Twitter pages) to see where people are volunteering and why. The responses I received, nearly brought me to tears. I asked each person below three easy questions: Why they volunteer, where they volunteer and what volunteering means to them. Nearly everyone gave me paragraphs and paragraphs on their volunteer experiences. It was truly refreshing to read. While I couldn’t include everything everyone wrote, here were some great answers.

Matt Davison:
Explore & More Children’s Museum

“I am a big believer in “community vision” and contributing to a larger group objective.  Sure you can sit on the couch and watch television or surf the web after work, or spend time on hobbies and personal interests, or hit the bar…But you can also give just a few hours a month, make a difference, and find time for all of those other things too.  Eventually, those other things aren’t as attractive and tend to fade from the daily schedule.

The beauty about being in Buffalo is that you can find a volunteer opportunity at almost any level, whether you want to serve soup, organize events and fund raise, or make decisions on a board level.”

“I believe that grassroots citizen action is a powerful tool for change and that everyone should ACT to make a better world. Especially in Buffalo, I’ve found there’s a deep sense that the actions we take together will accomplish meaningful change.Things become “our problems” or “our successes” rather than “someone else’s” problems and successes. There’s a lot of injustice and horror in the world, and volunteering feels like pushing back against the dark. Volunteering is a way to take large visions like world peace and make them a tiny bit more real in small, personal, every-day ways.”

Frank Gullo:
Volunteer Firefighter & EMT for Reserve Fire Hose Company

“I think fundamentally we’re all in this together and (individually) benefit and are fulfilled by helping others. Personally, I feel a tremendous sense of purpose and satisfaction when I’m able to help others on emergency calls. Volunteering in the fire service also puts matters in perspective. When you’re sweating the small stuff in daily life and suddenly respond to a scene that is literally life and death, you realize what’s really important and are reminded where your priorities should be.”

Kate Heidinger:
Junior League of Buffalo

“Volunteering is essential to understanding the potential of Buffalo and WNY. Sometimes it forces you out of your comfort zone, and sometimes it leads you to a new path in life. I’ve seen many volunteers take their experiences and turn them into careers, become invested board members, and even become the link to bringing in critical funding that allows for growth of a program. 
Volunteering also means gaining the experience to make you a knowledgeable ambassador about the needs of our community.”

 

Christina Horowitz
Girl Scouts

“During a recent visit, my 5-year old, Madeline said, “my heart is so happy when I am here because I make people smile.”  Being a leader to these girls makes my heart happy as well.”

Ryan Taughrin:
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Erie County
B Team Buffalo

“Growing up in a single-parent home that relied on the help and assistance of others, it’s important to me to find ways to give back to the community and region that has done so much for me. I cannot always give back financially, so I give my time and skills as often as I possibly can. When volunteering or giving back, I am doing so with absolutely no expectation of anything in return. To me, volunteering means being a small part of something much, much larger than anything I could do by myself.”

Jennifer Westerholt
Literacy New York Buffalo Niagara

“The presence of passionate, dedicated volunteers- literally made/makes Literacy New York Buffalo Niagara who we are. They are how we exist. We would not be in business without them.

Likewise, our Adult Tutoring Program asks volunteer tutors to complete a 12 hour training and commit to meeting with a student for at least two hours a week for one year. That is a significant commitment. The level of passion and dedication are evident, and we are beyond grateful to all of them.”

A few hours a week can truly make a difference in Western New York.
I encourage you to find an opportunity that matches your skill set and get out in our community today.
It’s the first step in making Buffalo a better place.

Restaurant Week Review: Torches in Kenmore

IMG_7417We wrapped up Local Restaurant Week at Torches on Saturday evening. Located on Kenmore Avenue in Kenmore, it’s been on our WNY restaurant bucket list for a long time.

They offer reservations online through Open Table, and we scheduled ours for 5:30pm. They open at 5:00pm and we were surprised upon arrival that the restaurant was almost full. The restaurant is small, with about twenty tables of varying sizes. They also have a decent sized bar. The decor is understated, with bold red walls, and windows across much of the front of the restaurant.

They decided to only serve the Restaurant Week menu, and our waiter walked us through all the menu items in pretty good detail, giving his suggestions along the way. The special included either soup or salad, an entree and a dessert. This was a menu where I could have chosen anything and been very happy with my choices.

After debating, I opted for the Torches House Salad, Filet Mignon Tournedos and the Bourbon Poached Pear. My boyfriend had the Baby Spinach Salad, Chicken Milanese, and the Makers Mark Drunken Trifle. We also really wanted to try the Rusty Chain Beer Cheese Soup, so we paid extra ($4) for a bowl of that.

They also offer a diverse wine menu and some great cocktails. We each had a glass of wine (most glasses were about $7 – $10, with bottles ranging anywhere from $23 and up).

Our service was spot on the entire night, but some of the tables around us were not experiencing the same. One couple was not waited on for about 10 minutes after being seated, and another was brought out the wrong meal. I will say, they handled both situations incredibly. Customer service is definitely a top priority.

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Torches House Salad

At many restaurants (especially chains), the salad course is usually overlooked and thrown together with bagged lettuce. The salads we both had were incredible, and included many of our favorite ingredients. The House Salad (which I’d go back to Torches for alone), was a combination of romaine hearts, candied walnuts, grapes, dried cranberries, and a large piece of fried goat cheese with a walnut vinaigrette. That is pretty much my idea of a perfect salad, and it tasted fresh and the goat cheese on top added a perfect bite of crunch. The Baby Spinach Salad included hard boiled egg, green apple, pickled red onion and a bacon vinaigrette tasted like you were eating bacon with every bite. We were pretty thrilled with our meals, and still had a ways to go!

Our entrees were both very large portions. My filet included two tournedos (cooked perfectly to medium), smashed red potatoes and broccoli. I’m not a huge mashed potatoes fan, in fact I only ever eat the ones my boyfriend makes, but these were great. They were a good combination of butter and potato and were the perfect complement to the steak. The Chicken Milanese dish was topped with an arugula salad with tomato, fresh mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese. The combination of flavors with the crispy piece of chicken and arugula worked well. We both completely cleared out plates.

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Filet Mignon

The desserts were the perfect ending to a great meal, both with a beautiful presentation. We left feeling full, but it was not the full we felt the evening before at Orazio’s (more of an OMG I can’t eat another thing full). After our meal at Torches we were so happily full.

It is evident that the chefs (brothers JJ and Kevin Richert) put a lot of thought and preparation into every dish on their menu. Their choice of ingredients and pairings make this contemporary cuisine a must try in Western New York. We haven’t checked out their other restaurant, Smoke On The Water, yet, but it’s moved up our bucket list after our visit to Torches.

What another great week in Western New York. I hope you had the opportunity to experience local cuisine this week. Even if you didn’t, give some serious consideration to checking out a local restaurant the next time you plan on hitting up one of the many chains our region has.

The countdown is on to our next Restaurant Week later this year (usually in October). Thanks to the founders of Restaurant Week and the whole team there who has continued to find a great platform for showcasing all the great cuisine we have here in Western New York.

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Chicken Milanese

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Baby Spinach Salad

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Bourbon Poached Pear

Makers Mark Drunken Trifle

Makers Mark Drunken Trifle

Restaurant Week Review: Brioso by Butterwood

IMG_20140403_184921_680Tucked away inside the first floor of the new Wyndham Hotel on Main Street in Williamsville, Brioso by Butterwood, is where we headed for Restaurant Week last night. Brioso is a South American inspired restaurant offering breakfast, lunch and dinner. They offer a more upscale dining experience with entrees starting around $15.

The restaurant looks and feels brand new. There are a combination of rounds, two tops and booths with ample seating. A row of windows surrounds the outside of the restaurant bringing in a lot of natural light.

Upon arrival, my boyfriend and I grabbed a drink at the bar before settling into our table with the rest of our party. I was in the mood for wine, so we ordered a bottle of Riesling. They have a large wine list, with many $20 bottle options across the board. What really impressed me was the cocktail list! We had already ordered our wine before taking a closer look at it, but the cocktails looked inventive and fresh. We will definitely be back to try them out.

The Restaurant Week menu was the only menu we were given, so I am not sure if they were running a regular menu as well, but we all planned to order off the Restaurant Week menu anyway. Their special included four courses; chips and salsa to start, choice of appetizer, choice of entrée, and then a raspberry cheesecake brownie for dessert.

Chips and salsa came out first, and it really hit the spot. Salsa at restaurants is hit or miss for me, but this version was full of flavor and had the perfect hint of lime. For my appetizer, I chose the fried cauliflower with a honey chipotle glaze. The cauliflower was cooked perfectly, and the glaze was the perfect amount of sweet. My boyfriend opted for the calamari, and while I’m not a huge calamari fan, it was seasoned perfectly, and did not have a fishy flavor to it at all. The other appetizer entrée was a salad and while I only had a bite, the roasted corn salsa really set the dish apart from other salads I’ve had before.

For my entrée I chose the seafood crusted salmon served over herbed risotto with a saffron crème sauce.  As far as salmon dishes go, and really as far as any entrée dish goes, this was just plain phenomenal. I’d even go as far as to say, it’s the best entrée dish I’ve had in a long time. Maybe ever. The salmon just fell apart as I dug my fork into it, and the combination of flavors made for one delicious bite after another. The only criticism I can find is that this dish is not on their regular menu. I’m not a big fan of restaurants creating special menus just for Restaurant Week, because I feel they should be showcasing their daily menu items. Here’s to hoping the chef sees this post and decides to add it to the menu!

Seafood crusted salmon

Seafood crusted salmon

 

My boyfriend opted for the chicken dish, and the chicken was fantastic too. Those who had the other entrée option (chimmichurri herbed NY Strip) were raving about their dish, too! The other guests in my party have gone out for many Restaurant Week dinners with me, and we all agreed, this was the best meal we’ve had for Restaurant Week!

You didn’t get a choice for dessert, but the raspberry cheesecake brownie sounded great to me. It was a very generous portion, and the brownie pieces were mixed in with the cheesecake. It was a denser cheesecake, and topped off with a great raspberry glaze. I was getting full, so I only managed to eat about half of it, but it was the perfect ending to a near flawless meal.

From Main Street, you may pass Brioso right by without realizing it is there. It’s definitely somewhat of a hidden gem in Williamsville (although the place was packed last night for dinner!).

I was feeling a little down about Restaurant Week this time around. The food at the Roadhouse Grill wasn’t that great, and when we went to The Lodge for lunch on Wednesday, the service was slow. (I’ve been there twice now and will write down some of my thoughts in a blog post soon).

Brioso by Butterwood was a perfect place to celebrate with some great friends. Our wait staff was attentive, offered great suggestions and made us feel at home. While the week is almost over, Brioso does have some reservations still available this weekend. If you are free, make it a point to check out this great addition to the Village of Williamsville! If you can’t get there this weekend, add it to your WNY Restaurant bucket list. It’s an absolute “must try”!

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Raspberry cheesecake brownie