For every corner bar filled with regulars ordering their usual, there’s a small cafe that serves up the same daily latte orders to their usuals. That might sound mundane, but every corner bar and cafe has their own personality, their own story.
At the new Jacks Corner Cafe in downtown Buffalo, the story of co-owner Leah Alles starts in the Southtowns, shifts to Puerto Rico, then comes to Western New York. Look just under the surface of the little cafe, and you can see shades of Latin influence, especially on the menu: red beans and rice, acai bowls and breakfast burritos. There are also cafe classics like quiche and avocado toast.
“We don’t make Puerto Rican food,” Alles tells me on a recent visit, “but I had a lady come in the other day saying we didn’t have enough American food on the menu!”
Alles moved to Puerto Rico about 4 years ago with her husband, who was born and raised in the capital – San Juan. While living in the US territory, she opened her first business, a cafe called Rising Roost. In January 2021, Alles, her husband and their infant son Jack moved back to Buffalo. Having success with a cafe in Puerto Rico, they then started looking to open a cafe in Buffalo, ultimately settling on Genesee Street in downtown Buffalo.
The centerpiece of any cafe is its coffee and at the new Jacks Corner Cafe, the beans come from Gustos coffee, which is grown and roasted in Puerto Rico.
“Being able to bring Puerto Rican coffee back to Buffalo was important to us, especially because there’s such a huge Puerto Rican population here in Buffalo,” Alles says. “One of the things we also like about the company is they pay fair wages to all of their employees. That’s important to us because we’ve watched people try to live off the Puerto Rican minimum wage of $7 an hour.”
Small espresso drinks are a big focus at Jacks cafe and that’s due to the island influence. Alles explains that cafe culture in Puerto Rico is a bit different than it is here in Buffalo. Maybe a bit more European in style.
“They don’t really drink drip coffee,” she says. “Everything there is espresso, and living there made me really start to love espresso. So we have more traditional drink styles. We’re not doing 16- and 20-ounce coffees. So you can get a 5-ounce cortado or a 6-ounce cappuccino.
“Some of the watermelon and other fresh juices on our menu I saw a lot of down there, and I’m not really seeing that here in Buffalo just yet.”
On our recent visit, my cortado was the perfect blend of foamy steamed milk and bitter espresso. The açaí bowl was a meditation on heat and textures: chilly açaí sorbet, crunchy coconut granola and tart supple berries.
We found the vibe at the downtown cafe to be familial and professional. Friends of the owners mingled with office workers on their lunch break.
Alles tells me she expects to see a growing clientele of people who live downtown.
“I know that population growth is coming down here, especially with all of the new apartments,” Alles says. “I think it’s fun that we can encourage people to start living downtown again!”
“There are already residents down here,” she adds. “We just have to target them and let them know that we’re here.”
Hours at time of publishing (Subject to change): Weekdays 7 a.m. – 2 p.m.
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