When it comes to the restaurant scene in Buffalo, things are starting to heat up (again) in Allentown. Doing their part, Matt and Courtney Gunther are preparing on opening one of the city’s more unusual concepts, in the form of a 12-top, single seating, 9 course tasting menu, that will be open three nights a week.
How they came up with this concept is pretty interesting. It all started when the couple was living in Brooklyn.
But before we talk about Brooklyn, let’s talk about Buffalo.
Matt and Courtney have been together since high school. Matt worked at sandwich shops and cafés, and realized early on that the restaurant business was one of his best options because of his passion for food. When he asked Buffalo restaurateur “Mike A” about possibly going to culinary school, he was told to “go get a job in a great kitchen” instead. Matt’s brain began to spin, with thoughts of working at places such as Momofuku or Contra in NYC – places that he could only dream about at the time.
Upon arrival to NYC, one of the first things Matt did was to walk into Craftbar, Tom Colicchio’s restaurant, where he promptly and earnestly said that he wanted to learn how to cook. The staff asked him if he had his own knife and non-slip shoes. He told them that he had a knife. “I went out and bought the shoes, and ended up working that night for free, staging (an unpaid internship). But I got the job the next day, and worked there for two years. It was wild. Then I went to the Gramercy Tavern – I just walked in one day, and they called me two days later. It’s one of the most iconic restaurants in NYC, and I felt that I needed to give it a shot. I was a line cook for a year, and a sous chef for a year.”
Matt also worked for Gabriel Kreuther at The Modern in midtown, which he helped to open in 2015. He told me that that experience was a good gig, and very humbling.
After learning the ins and outs of professional cooking in fine dining restaurants in NYC for years, Matt decided to change things up. He went to work in the cafeterias of Google and the Gap, where he said that he was given creative control, in more relaxed and forgiving environments. More than anything else, the new work schedule gave him the freedom to pursue his own venture that he would embark upon with his wife, Courtney, who was expecting a child.
The new venture (adventure) was to create a nameless supper club in their Brooklyn apartment. It started off with the two telling some of their friends and coworkers. Matt was doing the cooking, and Courtney was working the front of the house – the format was pay what you want and BYOB. Before long, they were getting word-of-mouth requests from people that they didn’t even know. Matt told me that the change in course allowed him to get back to more thoughtful and creative cooking. “I needed to get the ideas out of my head, and onto a plate.”
In order to pull all of this off, Matt would leave his job each day at the GAP (just after lunch), and shop at markets along the way home. Then the two would prep for the big night, which they agreed was “nuts,” at the time, but they had even bigger plans in the back of their minds.
With the birth of their son Ezra, they decided that it was time to move back to Buffalo, after being in NYC for 10 years. “NYC would have been such a challenge,” said Courtney, who had spent her time in NYC managing business operations in the tech industry. “We were ready for a new experience, and we knew that Buffalo had a very supportive community, with a [blossoming] dining scene. The supper club in our apartment was a good practice run – to understand that it was possible. We did that for a year and a half, which helped us with our restaurant concept. It was also a good test drive, not only to see if the idea would work, but to see if we could work together.”
After forging ahead with the Buffalo restaurant concept – called Bidwell – Matt and Courtney decided that the time had come to take the next step. Upon moving home, they began to look for the perfect location to open Bidwell, which was loosely based on their supper club format. That location turned out to be 242 Allen Street, at the corner of College Street.
Once open, Bidwell will be an intimate and personal experience, where all 12 guests will be treated to a 9 course menu, composed of 3 smaller starter plates, five savory course dishes, and two desserts. Diners will eat seasonal foods prepared by Matt, with no substitutions. “This worked well for us at the supper club, and people are already telling us that they are excited to not have to choose the dishes,” Matt and Courtney told me. “A party can reserve all 12 spots, or smaller parties of 2,4, etc. can reserve tables, until the seating arrangement is full. The goal is to have all 12 seats filled through reservations only, with no cancellations (hopefully).”
“By serving everyone the same menu, we will know exactly how many portions to prepare, and how much food we will need to purchase,” Matt explained. “We’re excited to introduce people to different foods, sourced from smaller and reputable farms and producers that people might not know are found 40 miles away. Our meat will always be from ethical and humane farms – the integrity of the food is the driving factor. We plan on supporting the local economy year round.”
The breakdown of the restaurant concept is found in its name – Bidwell. Not only does the name pay homage to the farmers’ market at Bidwell it is also a “redivider word” – to bid (someone) well. It’s the ultimate idea of hospitality, akin to inviting someone into one’s home to eat. Instead, Matt and Courtney are inviting us into their extended home, for delectable food, and beer and wine pairings, in an intimate setting that will be as much experiential and palate quenching as it is satiating to the soul.