When a crisis strikes a community, people typically turn to pillars of said community for support. In Buffalo, one of our pillars is Public Espresso.
Just a few years removed from being a pop-up project, Public has become a big presence in the local coffee scene. The company recently reopened its doors on a second full location in South Buffalo, a part of Western New York in desperate need of more good cafe options.
Located in the venerable Shea’s Seneca theater building, the new location opened last fall, shut for the COVID-19 lockdown and reopened this summer to serve both the local neighborhood and people from outside the area.
Maybe that’s the most unique thing about Public Espresso locations: They look like a destination, but they somehow pull off an everybody-knows-your-name neighborhood feel. It’s a balance that isn’t easy. A lot of downtown business owners say they want to be a neighborhood joint, but end up being mostly a destination for people outside the neighborhood, or even the city.
The new Public location eloquently drives home this balance. The destination-worthy decor is decidedly hip, 80s modern — with black-and-white tiled flooring, framed movie posters and a ‘statement’ neon sign. But on our visit, we found a cozy neighborhood vibe, not artsy and esoteric: Soft indie rock lilted in the background while a family enjoyed lunch at a socially-distanced table.
Of course, Public built their brand on great coffee and that hasn’t changed. The cappuccino we had was bright and crisp with a smooth caramel aftertaste. Our cold brew coffee with vanilla was surprisingly floral, with a perfectly balanced sweetness.
In early July, the new Public location was offering a limited menu — due to COVID-19, the lockdown and associated impacts. But we were able to score some pretty good cafe food nonetheless. Our tofu sandwich was full and deeply flavorful; more proof that Buffalo is killing it right now when it comes to vegetarian food. Leaning into cumin, paprika and other Spanish flavors, our chorizo hash ate like an elevated garbage plate, in the best way possible; essential hangover food.
All of our food and drinks were served in takeout containers, a precautionary measure related to the pandemic, co-owner Sam Scarcello told us over email.
“In addition to disposable serveware for the foreseeable future, we are following all state laws and regulations regarding face masks and sanitation,” he added. “Our hours are set in a way to minimize the number of employees in each of our cafes and to allow adequate time for cleaning when we open and close. We are also offering contactless service, with our full food and beverage menu available for preorder at publicespresso.com.”
The reopening menu was also quite limited and Scarcello said there are plans to bring back the full menu if the phased reopening continues apace.
“When possible we will add donuts and pastry back to daily service,” he wrote. “Right now, donuts are only available for weekend pre-order (online). We are also working on some collaborative experiences with our Seneca Street neighbor, Bottle Rocket, that we hope to announce soon!”
2178 Seneca Street, Buffalo, 14210
Hours (may be affected by COVID developments): Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Saturday (Brunch) 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Sunday (Brunch) 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.