Western New York’s burgeoning economy has
transformed our habits, and it’s especially apparent
in the local food scene. More ethnic cuisine, the
prevalence of food trucks, and even the way we
shop for and prepare food at home have undergone
significant changes recently. Spree sat down with a
few local restaurateurs—some longtime players, some
newer to the game—to discuss how Western New
Yorkers’ food purchasing and consuming habits have
affected their outlooks.
Kevin Lin is head chef and owner of Sun Cuisines, which
recently added a Williamsville location. Lin, originally from
Dawei, Burma, has been in the food service business for twenty-five years and is credited with bringing the first black rice
bar to the United States.
Jonathan Rowan is part-owner of the Cheesy Chick. The
Cheesy Chick has a food truck and location at the Eastern
Hills Mall. He lives in Clarence and has been in the food ser-
vice industry for ten years.
Kujo Kumro is executive chef at The Mansion on Del-
aware. Kumro has been in the restaurant industry for over
eight years, and, as of October 2016, was Buffalo’s youngest
James Roberts owns Toutant and (soon to be) Dobutsu.
Originally from New Orleans, Roberts has twenty-seven years
of professional experience and graduated first in his class with
a culinary degree from Johnson and Wales University. He also
holds an executive chef certification from the American Culinary Federation.
With Buffalo’s renaissance comes an explosion of new
restaurants. Does WNY’s food scene ultimately benefit
from more restaurants, or is the market oversaturated?
Kevin Lin: Absolutely, customers benefit from more res-
taurants. It creates a variety of cuisines and dishes to try,
and it’s a positive push for WNY chefs to create more dish-
es to stand out.
Jonathan Rowan: WNY ultimately benefits from its plethora of great local restaurants. But, because there are so many
options, I believe that yes, the market may be starting to
become oversaturated. The concern for me is the disposable
income of WNYers has not gone up, yet the prices of food
and drink have. This is something I witness working on the
food truck. In any given week after a three-day weekend, I’ve
noticed our Tuesday lunches and events have dramatically
Kujo Kumro: I do feel as though the field has become a bit
overcrowded. The crowds are staying around, but I personally
think we need more incentives like happy hours or daily spe-
cials to introduce them to new places.
James Roberts: I think new restaurants are a great thing.
Oversaturation is a word that gets thrown around a lot, and I
don't think we are there yet. WNY is a really big total metropolitan area. People are getting out and trying new places outside their neighborhoods.
Do you see food trucks as competition to restaurants, or
are there enough diners to support both?
Rowan: Our restaurant and truck work really well with
each other. We have been able to build stronger relationships
with our customers because we don’t rush them at the truck.
Our social media numbers and interactions have increased,
our menu is bigger, and we are also able to offer sit down service, online ordering, and a relaxing atmosphere in the mall.
Kumro: I think there are plenty of diners. If anything, the
food trucks are more so affecting the chain and fast food restaurants that people resorted to when crunched for time. Considering most trucks tend to lean toward health and organic
trends, it’s a huge plus for consumers.
Roberts: I personally don't see it as competition to our
concepts because of our high levels of service. If they want to
eat standing outside or in their car, they can do that. I do it
all the time, and don't see my food truck experience as a substitute for my restaurant experience. It’s great to see some of
the more experimental concepts take shape on trucks as an
incubator, but now I see some establishments have them as
additional revenue streams, which you can't blame. There are
customers for both.
Are you willing to get out your crystal ball and predict the
next big foodie trend?
Lin: I see the emphasis of opting for healthier options such
coconut oil, black rice, acai, etc. Consumers are more educat-
ed on the health benefits of certain foods. So, I can see people
treating food as medicine.
Kumro: Color. Vibrant colors. More hydroponic cross
breeding of stunning vegetables that take the classic dishes
(that everyone loves) and turn them to something new and
Roberts: I'm banking, literally, on seafood being a bigger
part of our dining future and the logistics of global shopping
becoming easier to manage and more cost effective, especial-
ly for landlocked areas.
Speaking of trends, consumers are moving more
toward…not moving. Apps like Skip the Dishes and
grocery delivery options all cater to a growing number
of people who prefer to use technology to get their
meals delivered instead of going out. Have you seen this
effecting local restaurants? Do you think it will in the
Lin: I don’t see it affecting local restaurants. There are