The next time you walk into a local restaurant, or any restaurant for that matter, take a minute to look at the staff; working away at mostly thankless jobs. For many of these people, waiting tables, tending bar, or chopping vegetables is just a stop-gap until they start their “real job”.
But for some, this is their real job. Every day, they work toward the idea that someday, this will all be theirs. They will have a bar or restaurant of their own. They will happily write checks late into the evening, then heroically smoke cigarettes alone in a darkened, deserted kitchen because it’s the culmination of lessons learned over years of hard hospitality living.
For co-owners Alison Clancy and Chris Mendez, the new Mint Cocktails and Kitchen on Niagara Street in Buffalo is that kind of dreamy culmination. The result of countless hours on the clock; grinding away for someone else’s vision. Most notably, the partners have each worked for local hospitality luminaries in Mike Shatzel and Mike Andrewjewski.
Having spent formative years operating in successful restaurants, Clancy says the emerging generation of local restaurant owners is bringing a new outlook. Yes, based on formal experience, but also all that the industry has gone through in the past two years.
“I think this current wave of new owners is bringing a lot of new stuff to the table, especially having gone through COVID,” she muses. “Everything has just changed so much, and I think this new guard of restaurant owners has learned how to be very adaptable. I just think adapting is what you need to do in the industry right now.”
With adaptability in mind, Mint started as a series of pop-ups, building a brand based on a winning combination of empanadas and sparkling cocktails that recall the Cuban mojito.
“We got a lot of feedback, which was probably the most important takeaway,” Clancy says. “We had feedback cards that people were able to fill out comments about what they liked and what they didn’t like. We really took it all to heart.”
Decidedly not trafficking in traditional empanadas and mojitos, Mendez and Clancy adjusted recipes based on feedback, specifically the levels of spice and sweetness. The goal was to provide more of what customers were asking for without overly compromising the Big Idea of offering tropical ease and comfort.
One end result is a two-sided cocktail menu. On the mojito side, you can have the classic mint ($11 shaken/ $13 blended), sparkling strawberry ($12/14), honeydew ($11/13), pineapple ginger ($11/13) and a house daiquiri ($10). The cocktail side features spirit-focused drinks using traditionally Latin spirits such as rum, tequila and pisco. Think craft cocktails that go South of the (Non-Specific) Border. Non-cocktail options include craft beer and a small wine list featuring Spanish and South American wines.
There’s also a small empanada menu with chicken ($10), beef ($10), chickpea ($10), pork ($12) and shrimp varieties ($12). Sides include cucumber jicama salad ($7), pineapple rice ($6), jerk roasted corn ($6), chipotle cheese fries ($7) and “encurtido” pickles ($6).
If it’s been a minute since you went to Niagara Street on the West Side, you should know that the streetscape has finally been revamped. A dedicated bike lane is likely going to make places like Mint attractive summer destinations for many city denizens. With a massive outdoor patio, it’s no surprise that the new restaurant was packed out during most of its opening weekend.
Hours at time of publishing (Subject to change): Monday, Wednesday to Saturday 12 p.m. – 12 a.m. Sunday 12 p.m. – 10 p.m., Tuesday CLOSED
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