Roy Bakos and Kevin Thurston received the keys for Café Godot on September 15th, 2020, and it felt just as absurd as it might sound, “What did we do? I think we’re opening up a cafe in the middle of a pandemic!” Bakos recalls them saying to each other. But it quickly turned into, “Okay, cool – let’s do this.”
Café Godot is a new luncheonette that juts out on the corner of Porter Ave. When you first step on the property, it’s hard not to notice the bright white building, adorned with artwork of a tree standing tall. To me, this tree is symbolic of life and strength, which perfectly encapsulates Cafe Godot and the way it came to life amidst such trying times.
Owners Bakos and Thurston were playing around with European and Polish themes when deciding on the name, since both have Polish roots, and the play Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett was tossed out. “Two guys waiting for somebody that doesn’t come…” Bakos compares the play to his experience, “Two guys opening up a cafe in the middle of a pandemic, and we’re waiting for customers – and hopefully they actually show up, unlike in Waiting for Godot.”
And thus, Café Godot was born, but its similarities to Waiting For Godot end there, because the customers have shown up.
Café Godot owners, Kevin Thurston and Roy Bakos
The menu focuses on sandwiches, soups and salads with the goal of having something for everyone. Almost every item has both a meat version and a vegan/vegetarian version. There are classically delicious combinations, and there are also options that are less familiar.
“I didn’t want to open up a place that was a really good breakfast and lunch place. I wanted to open up a place that was really good that happened to serve breakfast and lunch,” Thurston explained. He grew up in Buffalo but has managed two restaurants in New York City, worked at multiple restaurants around Buffalo and even lived in Seoul, South Korea for four years – experiences that inform how he thinks about food, and it shows.
“Phase one was me learning to take a trust fall with myself,” Thurston said, “and phase two is where I’ll put something up [on the menu] that reads odd but people are willing to try because I’m gaining trust from them, which I think is humbling in a way.”
And it’s true. After having visited Café Godot many times, I certainly trust Kevin. I often find myself trying his specials, such us a cauliflower egg salad (yes, vegan egg salad made from cauliflower!) or various Korean-inspired items featuring spicy gochujang.
But not only is the food delicious, it’s also hyper-local.
“We’re local. We’re small. We try to do as much as we can farm-to-table,” Bakos says, and this is evident throughout the entire menu. Sandwiches are stuffed on samoon from Hertel Bakery or bagels from Dopest Dough. Salads are full of produce from Root Down Farm and Flat 12 Mushrooms. My favorite sandwich is the The Larkin, featuring eggs, chipotle mayo, cheese, roasted tomato and pickled red onion piled between two thick slices of fresh focaccia.
“We try to spread as much love as we possibly can locally,” Bakos continues, “because we’re all in this together.”
But it’s not just the food and focus on local product that makes Café Godot the ideal Buffalo spot for a bite to eat. Bakos and Thurston create the kind of welcoming and neighborly environment that you can only find in the city of good neighbors. Multiple times throughout our conversation, Bakos paused to greet customers and familiar faces with a hug or a smile. Every single guest is treated as if they’re family, and the warmth is contagious.
This isn’t a quintessential Buffalo spot because it has wings or beef-on-weck – this is a quintessential Buffalo spot because it’s full of Buffalo soul and love.
• • •
Café Godot, 388 Porter Avenue, Buffalo
cafegodotbflo.com | Facebook | Instagram
Café Godot is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.