La Verdad Cafe is the truth. No really, the name of this Lovejoy restaurant translates to “The Truth”, and owner Vivian Gallon-Robinson, along with her husband, Pastor Al Robinson, run their cafe living by that truth and their faith. From my experiences visiting the restaurant, La Verdad is a place with big portions (see photo of ribs below!) and big hearts.
Since opening in early 2019, La Verdad has been building a reputation for its incredible BBQ and warm, welcoming customer service. Now La Verdad, following a recent move of their space down the street to 1194 E. Lovejoy Street, teaming up with Sandra Robinson (no relation) of Speak Easy, there’s even more room to enjoy what La Verdad has to offer. We sat down recently to chat with Vivian, to talk about the roots of La Verdad, their inspirations and how things have been going throughout these past several months.
This interview was conducted via email and phone and has been edited for length.
Visit Buffalo Niagara: How did you get your start with cooking and barbecuing? Who were your influences?
Vivian Gallon-Robinson: My husband and I are a team, so I have to include him in this part. I remember myself as a young girl, watching my mom and my late grandmother mending breads. My mom and grandmother are both from Arkansas – these are some amazing down south cooking women. From them I learned to take what was basic and create something extreme.
My husband, the Pit Master at La Verdad, was raised on a 70-acre farm. Back in those days he raised pigs, cattle and chickens with his father, to provide food on the table. “If you didn’t work, you didn’t eat”, said his father. But Al’s greatest influence? My father. My father was an old-timer from the South that knew his woods. He knew what wood would pair best with what meats. My father taught us the flavor profiles, the scents of the meats cooking. He even taught me about the ‘jiggle’ or doneness of the meat. You want to pull it when it has maximum juiciness and is perfectly cooked. There is a definite science to smoking meats. What my father taught us – the woods, methods, and rub – just works.
VBN: Being a slow, meticulous process, was there a big learning curve before you decided to open the doors of La Verdad?
V: There were so many learning curves in the process of opening up the La Verdad Cafe. One day years ago, my husband came home and said, “You’re opening up a restaurant. Let’s go sign the lease for the building”. I remember telling him, “You don’t open up a restaurant like that”! [Vivian laughs] He was serious though. We got the keys and began renovating the space, and with over 35 years of cooking experience, a restaurant would present new responsibilities. I signed up for courses with the Small Business Development Center at Buffalo State College.
We wanted to bring something new to Lovejoy. So, before we opened, I ran a few tasting events for neighbors, family and friends. It was their taste and feedback that I needed to create my menu, which I needed to successfully help me run a restaurant business. I adopted the slogan “A Place Where Your Taste Matters”, and nine months later, La Verdad Cafe opened up!
La Verdad Cafe means “The Truth” in Spanish. People kept telling us that our food was “the truth”! We have a Buffalo chicken sandwich with sautéed onions and green peppers, topped with our blends of special cheeses and a homemade sauce. We have amazing items like our rice bowls, Stretch Mark Brisket sandwich and pulled pork sandwiches. The meats are used for creating tacos, bowls, salads, and more. The naming of majority of my menu items are named after my experiences in my life. La Verdad also has special dishes for vegetarians.
VBN: Walk us through a typical day of food prep at La Verdad.
V: Prep day at La Verdad Cafe consists of preparing onions and peppers for our popular rice bowls and tacos. Cutting and preparing our amazing apple Kaleslaw, and preparing the meats. With 14 hours needed to smoke beef brisket, burnt ends, ribs and more, my husband Al and his good friend Rob, take pride in the process of washing, trimming, preparing and smoking La Verdad’s various meats. We have a custom made 16-rack smoker to smoke all of our meats, our mac and cheese and our other sides.
VBN: As a pastor, knowing how spirituality can connect people, do you feel food can have a similar impact?
V: Oh Jesus, yes! Jesus is love! And people feel and taste the love in our smoked meats and our soul food.
VBN: Why did you decide to put down roots in Lovejoy?
V: I have to be spiritually honest! It was the Lord. We had an amazing home on Porter Avenue across from Holy Angels Church. We sold our home and purchased a church in Lovejoy in 2010, to open up a church, restaurant and banquet facility. But instead of having the restaurant in the church, ten years later, we are here at La Verdad Cafe.
VBN: While many parts of Buffalo have experienced big growth and investment in recent years, how do you see Lovejoy and the East Side changing?
V: We have actually seen faster growth. We have several news businesses on the East Lovejoy Strip, from new restaurants, an ice cream parlor, to a soon-to-be art studio and a marketplace for fresh produce. Lovejoy is growing. Not only that, there are nine businesses on our strip that are owned and operated by women, including La Verdad!
VBN: The first time I visited the restaurant, you personally greeted me and my friends at the door with a bright smile and a warm welcome that felt like visiting a longtime friend. Do you feel that personal touch has an impact on your customers and their loyalty and love for La Verdad?
V: Honestly, I feel that this is an amazing touch of hospitality! I want the customers to feel like family, like you’re at a family dinner at grandma’s house. People need to witness and feel amazing customer service when they walk into the doors and when they take their first bite at La Verdad Cafe. I have customers calling us “Auntie and Uncle” or “Mom and Dad” [Vivian laughs].
Also, because of their loyalty, that’s going to keep the doors of La Verdad Cafe open and the employees employed.
VBN: With the pandemic weaving its way into every aspect of life, how have these past few months been for La Verdad? What do you see and hope for the future?
V: We have been totally blessed and protected from the COVID-19 pandemic. We had to make adjustments to our hours by closing on Tuesday and creating special promotions for the community, family and friends.
My main focus is maintaining consistency and innovating with what I have in the “new now”. I looked at the numbers and I took away what wasn’t working and enhanced what was. I added lunch and family deals, with weekly promotions like a $20 combo.
My hope for the future, is to retire at 60-years old and have one of my children run the cafe. But for now, I am totally positive through this transition. I am always trying to find a way to bless people with amazing food at La Verdad Cafe.
“What it takes to get it, it’s going to take it to keep it!” Those words are from the mouth of the late Bishop R. DeBow.