Today is a great day for lovers of fine coffee, design and architecture. At the corner of Jersey and Fargo, on the city’s Lower West Side, sits a wonderful café space that has been empty since the time owner Giles Kavanagh first headed up its construction a couple years back. After its “completion”, neighbors wondered what sort of food operation would roll into the space. Due to the fact that there was no kitchen, it was going to take the right operator get creative with the space.
Thankfully, that operator is now in place.
Jesse Crouse hails from the Chicago area, but he’s already a Buffalonian at heart. He’s a young guy who has had coffee dripping through his veins since he was fourteen years old. “I used to make lattes for my friends when I hosted sleepovers.” he told me [laughing]. “Since that time I knew that I wanted a coffee job.”
Sometimes it takes an out of towner to stir things up in Buffalo. That’s exactly what Jesse intends to do. The guy is all about high quality coffee and is not afraid to brag about it in his own humble way. After experimenting on caffeinating his friends in high school, Jesse went on to pursue studies in DT Chicago. That’s when he hooked up with his first real coffee gig at Intelligentsia Coffee – the pioneers of direct trade coffee. He started working the cash register, and within a year he was the barista trainer. That’s how quickly he got the hang of the coffee business. But it wasn’t necessarily the business that interested him – it was the industry that he was after.
Before long he was working in a quality control lab in Intelligentsia’s green coffee department, where he was receiving and processing over 300 samples a year. He would roast the samples, cup them and then log the quality scores. “My job directly impacted the growers, because I was making the decisions as to which farmers would get the contracts,” Jesse explained. “In order to do the job, I literally had to train my mouth to monitor taste and feel. I was a machine. I was tasting 80 coffees a day. This was the best job, at the best company. It was a dream for anyone in the industry.”
Jesse soon got the itch to go to other places in search of new experiences. He headed to Ithaca for a year where he roasted and oversaw quality control at Gimme! Coffee. “That’s when I fell in love with New York State,” said Jesse. “It’s also about the time that I realized that one day I would make Buffalo my home (he was dating a Buffalo gal at the time). But first I ventured to California where I worked at Verve Coffee Roasters – I oversaw quality control as head of operations. I traveled to farms four months out of the year. I was head taster, buying green coffee, and learning the industry inside and out. Then my wife and I had a son, and that changed everything.”
Being extremely close with his in-laws back in Buffalo, the decision was made to hightail it 3000 miles to the city that he believes is one of the greatest places in the world. “There’s something about Buffalo,” he told me. “It’s one of the coolest cities I have ever been to. It has small town appeal – it’s remarkable to see that so much is happening here. We can afford to live, raise a family, have a business, and be in a neighborhood that is a real community. There are gardens just down the street where we can get herbs, or plant on raised beds. It’s extremely walkable and bike friendly. I knew the second that I saw this space that it was what I had always dreamed of owning and operating. There’s even a wood burning stove – something that I had in my business plan before even seeing this place.”
Jesse says that the coffee that will be poured at Tipico will not only be the best coffee in Buffalo, it could be a better coffee experience than any café in New York City. But then again, coffee is subjective, he reminded me. He might sound like he’s bragging (and maybe he is), but when it comes to coffee, this guy lives it, breathes it, and is one with the bean. He’s a coffee hotshot who believes that he will make his mark on this city (for this city), starting with this location, with dreams (fingers crossed) of opening another café with roastery in the future somewhere in Larkinville.
Right now he’s procuring his beans from friends in the industry, including a roaster in Hamilton, Ontario. “We will be taking field trips to see how the operation works, so that my employees can understand what it takes to make great coffee,” said Jesse.”That experience will help with customer service, which is the biggest part of this business. Customers that come in here will be treated to an elevated experience. Not pretentious… it will be accessible while still producing absurdly high standards of food and coffee, whether a customer comes in for a Quick Cup or a pour-over.”
Jesse’s goal is to bridge the gap between the two people that are the furthest away from each other – the farmer and the customer. He has spent his life researching the coffee supply chain. He wants to keep the farmers happy because then they have the means to produce the best beans, which in turn makes the customer happy because they benefit from having access to the best cups of coffee (even if they pay a little bit more). “Honestly, there is no competition for what I am doing (coffee-wise), here in Buffalo,” he told me. “Along with coffee, we will be serving up toast from BreadHive, with house made ricotta and marmalade for example. We will have seasonal salads, hard-boiled eggs (sous vide), a couple of sandwiches and Butter Block pastries. The food will be wholesome and filling – I will be procuring ingredients locally whenever possible. When it’s warm, people will be able to pull up on bikes and order at an ice coffee window – I want to embrace the neighborhood and incentivize people to walk here. In the winter there will be a wood fire, heated by the Kang stove. The place will transform with the seasons.”
Speaking of the Kang stove, there are so many beautiful design elements within the space, especially considering its simplicity. There are splashes of color and vibrant pattern accents, which juxtapose against the (radiant-heat) concrete floors, the warm Medina sandstone and the worn brick. There’s a nice balance between the old and the new, right down to the sleek skylight, and the Thonet chairs that were picked out by the architects (see here). It’s a stunning space that has managed to attract a hot-shot coffee geek who wants to create something truly special that we can all be proud of. The long wait is almost over – the Fargo Estates Neighborhood will soon have a coffee destination that is worth its weight in the highest quality beans sourced from around the world.