Opening any business is a long, difficult journey, but the ordeal to open Steel Leaf Brewing reached epic, Ancient Greek levels.
Before settling on the old Dave & Buster’s site in the Eastern Hills Mall, owner Jeff Pitts went on a journey that makes The Odyssey look like a walk in the park. When the doors to the brewery finally opened on April 29, it marked the end of a seven-year journey that included looking at four different locations around Western New York, including a shut retail site in Allentown and a former Funk Lawn Care site in West Seneca.
All throughout that journey, Pitts and his team have built up a following on social media, hoping to one day serve these prospective customers.
“People who know about Steel Leaf have learned about us through either social media challenges or our public adventures in trying to find a location for the brewery,” Pitts admits in a recent conversation with us.
Pitts says he couldn’t have reached the end of his brewery’s long odyssey without the help of the local brewing community. When pressed to shout out one or two of his biggest helpers, Pitts refuses to single out any one helper, saying he got help from many different people in different positions at local breweries.
“When we talk about Buffalo being the City of Good Neighbors, it couldn’t be more evident when looking at our local brewing community,” he says. “From a mentoring and guidance standpoint, so many breweries have taught us along the way.”
Like other brewers, Pitts loves to talk beer and he says Steel Leaf will look to distinguish itself through unique beers. Right now, the brewery is developing beers based on classic American desserts like strawberry shortcake and orange creamsicle. Pitts emphasizes that the focus will be on developing unique beers that are most likely to have a broad commercial appeal.
“We’re experimenting with stuff that we think will become an amazing product,” he says. “We want to do something different but still be close to what most people are looking for in a beer. We want to be a place that people come to for a specific beer; one they can only get at Steel Leaf.”
With 35,000 sq feet of space to experience, Steel Leaf is more than just a place to grab a beer. An “indoor park” area offers games like Kan-Jam and cornhole. There are also bowling alleys that were left behind by the old Dave & Buster’s.
Like the beer menu, the food menu at Steel Leaf is designed to be different but approachable. Pub sandwiches and smash burgers will appeal to most people. The Mezze board and plant-based options are designed to appeal to those with specific dietary interests.
Local wine and spirits are available in addition to house-brewed beer. The service format is fast casual. Orders can be placed at the bar and then food is run out by service staff. This format is well-suited to a place like Steel Leaf, where customers tend to wander around.
Unlike some other local breweries where investment owners take a hands-off approach, Steel Leaf is brewer-owned and Pitts stresses that he’s intimately connected to the brewing process. This makes the brewery more responsive to what customers are saying, Pitts says.
“We’ve seen lots of examples of local breweries with hands-off owners being well-run and capable, but I think being brewer-owned makes a big difference,” he says. “Many people know what kind of hops are in beer. They know what specific yeast they’re looking for in a beer. Being an active part of the brewing process, I can take what customers are saying and bring that feedback directly to the brewing process.”
“I love having conversations with people who are interested in what goes into beer,” he adds. “It’s a craft that we’re all very passionate about in the area.”
Hours at time of publishing (Subject to change): Wednesday to Friday 5 p.m. – 10 p.m., Saturday 12 p.m. – 10 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Want to share info or news with us? Send us a note!