At a time when it seems as if a new bar or restaurant opening is a weekly occurrence, it’s important that we pay our respects to those that remain tried and true in the industry.
Caffe Aroma, located at the corner of Bidwell Parkway and Elmwood, is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this week. If you stop to think about it, two decades in the restaurant business is a pretty remarkable achievement. Restaurateur Dave Cosentino first got into the coffee business at a time when the closest thing to a coffee shop would have been a diner. Dave was one of the first to enter the race – a race that eventually became saturated with so many players that today there is a café on just about every corner in the city.
I recently caught up with Dave to ask him about the success and the longevity of Caffe Aroma. I figured that since the guy has been around the block a few times, he might be able to offer some insight into the ins and outs of the industry – and how he managed to remain so relevant over the years.
Dave opened Caffe Aroma with his partner Romola Massaro, around the same time that I opened a retail shop on Elmwood Avenue called Thunder Bay. I remember that, at the time, Elmwood was not nearly the bustling street that we know today. There was a laundromat at the corner of Bidwell, and a bar next door. The laundromat became Trattoria Aroma, and the bar became Talking Leaves – the two are now interconnected. “I wanted to create a European vibe on the corner – something that was different than anything else in the city,” Dave told me. “There was no such thing as coffee shops in Buffalo at the time – there were no Spot Coffees or Starbucks. I wanted to open an authentic European coffee shop… something that you might see in Italy.”
Looking back, Dave was way ahead of his time as he set out to establish a European-style café on the street, and he ended up helping to pave the way for many others to open in following years. “The concept of a café is very urban in nature,” Dave explained. “It’s a social and neighborly lifestyle. A customer of mine by the name of Jeff Meyers once told me [laughing] that before I opened, Buffalonians thought that a cappuccino was Al Pacino’s brother!”
It didn’t take long for Caffe Aroma’s European flair to catch on. Before Dave knew it, his customers were requesting to watch soccer games at all hours of the day and night. “One of the reasons that we’ve done so well over the years is that I’ve always listened to my customers,” said Dave. “We brought in beer and wine, a full bar, coffee drinks, and we became the place where soccer fans would watch the World Cup. Who knew that there were soccer fans in Buffalo?”
Today, the sport of soccer is synonymous with Buffalo. This city has one of the top National viewerships when it comes to the game. Between soccer viewership, coffee consumption, and everything else that Caffe Aroma helped to establish in the city, I would venture to say that Dave has done what he set out to do. He wanted to create a European vibe on Elmwood, but I bet that he never expected to be so influential in the process. “I consider myself very fortunate,” Dave told me. “I’m thankful for the support that we still get to this day. I’m also extremely grateful to those who helped to get Elmwood going in those early days – people like Michael Attardo from Get Dressed. Michael started Forever Elmwood, which eventually became the Elmwood Village Association. That guy was ahead of his time and understood the importance of issues such as traffic calming and place making. Those are buzz words today, but back then he was the guy who set out to establish Elmwood as a premier street in the country.”
After 20 years in business, and a strong track record to boot, Caffe Aroma deserves to be recognized as a frontrunner in the battle to return this city back to greatness. On Thursday, June 4, Dave will be celebrating the 20-year anniversary by bringing “the gang” back together. The café will roll back the prices back to 1995 (at select times) and will invite guest baristas back for a spell. Then, on Saturday, Dave will recreate the original ribbon cutting (see photo) by taking a current photo of the people that were there on that fateful first day of business.
“We were kids back then,” Dave recalled. “My wife was pregnant in that photo. Today my daughter is in college at Buffalo State. I am so fortunate. I am extremely thankful to all of the people who have supported us over the years. I’m also looking forward to the next ten or twenty years. The people of Buffalo continue to support small businesses over chain operations. This city is very unique because the residents would rather see a street full of independent businesses – people here support small businesses, and that is why Elmwood is such a special place.”
Caffe Aroma | 957 Elmwood Avenue | Buffalo, NY | (716) 884-4522 | Facebook