Many of us WNY natives think of Syracuse in terms of college basketball, college football, old college roommates and the State Fair. But Syracuse has a vibrant restaurant scene, and one of the more successful Syracuse restaurants recently opened a second location 150 miles to the east, on Niagara Street in Buffalo.
Strong Hearts is a vegan restaurant that built its reputation near downtown Syracuse, less than a mile from the iconic JMA Wireless Dome. Owner Joel Capolongo says he was partly inspired to open Strong Hearts in 2008 because of the lack of vegan options he saw in the 90s and early 2000s. But now, Capolongo noted, vegan food has gone mainstream. It’s become more of a cuisine, like Italian or Greek food, than a progressive diet.
“If you wanted to eat out in 1993 and you were vegan, you were eating at Subway or Taco Bell, you know?” Capolongo says. “I was getting my veggie sandwiches and bean burritos. Now, it’s so pervasive in our culture. A lot of celebrities and athletes are vegan now. You can turn on Netflix and watch documentaries about veganism. The whole tide has turned, and awareness is greater than it ever has been.”
Capolongo and co-owner Nicholas Ryan started looking for a new location last year, and based partly on their outreach to the local vegan community, they decided that Buffalo had the best opportunity for expansion. Ultimately, the team settled on a Niagara Street location in the West Side, which used to be home to Ru’s Pierogis.
“We met and talked with local vegans to get their opinion on what the market could support, what concept would do well here, what happened in the past, what worked and what didn’t work,” Capolongo says.
The menu at the Buffalo location is built on the tried-and-true menu that Strong Heart developed over 14 years. House-fried nachos topped with vegan chorizo, cheese sauce, roasted corn salsa guacamole, jalapenos and sour cream ($8 for a half serving, $13 for a full). Eggplant ($10) or chicken parmesan ($13) sandwiches. Beyond burgers with an assortment of toppings. There are also exclusive Buffalo-influenced items at the new location like chicken wings (4 for $13) and a chicken wing burger ($16)
The opening day menu featured a wide range of drinks, including coffee ($2), cold brew ($3.5), espresso drinks, teas, juices and kombucha ($4.30). There was also a full menu of vegan milkshakes with 40+ flavors like chocolate peanut butter, pumpkin and peach cobbler.
On top of all there, there was also a bakery case featuring an assortment of vegan baked goods. Capolongo says a liquor license is in the works and he expects the restaurant to feature beers from local breweries.
While serving the vegan community is a big part of the mission, Strong Hearts is also dedicated to being a part of Buffalo, specifically the West Side.
“We have five or six employees that live so close, they can walk to work,” Capolongo says. “There’s a ton of foot traffic on Niagara Street, both during the day and in the evening. We didn’t really know too much about it, but we really like the West Side. We actually got really lucky by ending up here.”
Hours at time of publishing (Subject to change): Daily 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
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