LGBTQ Business Owners Revive the Queen City
By Nancy J. Parisi
Buffalo earned the moniker of Queen City back in the days when it was one of the largest cities on the Great Lakes. Today, as a friendly, inclusive, and diverse place, it remains the Queen City – welcoming residents, visitors, and allies of the LGBTQ community.
LGBTQ business owners have rolled out the city's welcome mat by re-energizing neighborhoods across Buffalo, opening diners, coffee houses, art galleries and boutiques on formerly quiet corners and forgotten streets. They’ve played an integral role in Buffalo’s comeback, and embody our come-as-you-are mentality. We checked in with several of those entrepreneurs, who explained why they’ve thrived in the Queen City – and how they strive to make visitors feel welcome here. On your next visit to Buffalo, look for these friendly faces around town:
“I feel it's important to extend out to all disempowered groups, including our gay community.”
Paula: The Wine Enthusiast
Paradise Wine in Buffalo's Five Points neighborhood has been hopping since opening in 2015. Best friends and co-owners Paula Paradise and Lauren Kostek focus on organic, sustainable, and biodynamic wines and liquors.
Paula is a poet and longtime wine enthusiast who earned her wine chops working at Premier Wine. She and Lauren, a real estate agent with Gurney Becker & Bourne, restored their building and storefront, creating a calming space with an art gallery sensibility and a rainbow flag in the window.
"I'm visible as a business owner," Paula says. "So I feel it's important to extend out to all disempowered groups, including our gay community. I took a crooked path as a past pastry chef, server, bartender, and wine sales associate to where I am today, but it is the way it was meant to be."
“Allentown is a very gay-friendly neighborhood. It has a history of being eclectic, welcoming to people from all walks of life.”
Giovanni: The Fashionista
Owner Giovanni Centurione features an impressive array of urban and artful hoodies, jeans, sneakers, and shirts.
“When I was seventeen I moved to New York City and worked in independently-owned clothing stores,” he said. “I moved back to Buffalo in 2010 and everyone loved what I was wearing so I said 'Why not bring the New York vibe to Buffalo?'"
"Allentown is a very gay-friendly neighborhood,” he added. “It has a history of being eclectic, welcoming to people from all walks of life. Allentown does remind me of New York City; it has an East Village, and a homey vibe, too."
“We are out and proud, and we want to let LGBTQ youth know that this is okay, and that you have a safe space here to exist in."
Andrew: The Bean Boss
Remedy House, also located in the Five Points neighborhood, is a welcoming architectural beacon within this walkable business district. Located in a beautifully restored, can't-miss three-story triangular building with distinctive hexagonal turret, Remedy House is a community gathering place open seven days a week.
Business co-owner Andrew Trautman and friend and partner Justin Smith opened in November of 2017. Since then, he says, they've "been adapting and growing to create more space for people to gather and exist in. We made more outdoor seating for our customers and the neighborhood.”
"Our business is proudly gay-owned, and our landlord is gay,” Trautman added. “We are out and proud, and we want to let LGBTQ youth know that this is okay, and that you have a safe space here to exist in."
“I want staff to feel safe here, and we do develop trust here.”
Amanda: The Chef
Distinctive in all of its 1930's diner car finery, Swan Street Diner in Larkinville is an excellent place for classic breakfast and lunch fare. The diner features fully-restored, barrel-vaulted space trimmed out with mahogany, lots of windows, and a classic counter with stools. At the wheel of Swan diner is Amanda Amico, general manager and cook. Amanda got her start 20 years ago at Amy’s Place vegan diner on Main Street, then worked her way up to this rehabbed 1930s diner.
“I came out when I was 19 and Amy's Place was my safe place, where I could be me. I want staff to feel safe here, and we do develop trust here,” she said. “Working here has been an awesome opportunity, and I have room to be creative in this kitchen: we make good food, and we make people happy. This place is slammin'!"
"We knew Buffalo was a welcoming place for gay people, we knew it was on the upswing of cool stuff happening."
Billy and Pat: The Green Thumbs
Billy and Pat Sandora-Nastyn, a married couple, opened Daddy's Plants in 2019, a space in a former warehouse where they've created an "oasis," a welcoming space with a bank of windows overlooking Niagara Street.
Teeming with lush plants for sale of many species and sizes, the shop also features beautiful plant accessories, like locally-made pots and gift items. Billy and Pat began growing plants at home as a hobby with “planty,” a snake plant whose name the couple borrowed from the TV show 30 Rock, and their hobby grew from there.
"We knew Buffalo was a welcoming place for gay people, we knew it was on the upswing of cool stuff happening,” Pat said.
"I definitely felt like the gay community was friendly, but also just the Buffalo community was friendly,” Pat added. "As a queer person you always tend to have your guard up a little bit, but I’ve always felt very safe.”
"Being gay is part of our identity; we want to be present there and to give the message to young gay people that they can rise, they can see other gay people who are successful.”
Jeffrey, Joe and Paco: The Art Aficionados
BAM! (Buffalo Art Movement) is an art gallery focused on showcasing the work of local artists. BAM! was founded by Francisco Hernandez-Illizaliturri (aka Paco), a longtime collector of art and comic books and a physician at Roswell Park Cancer Center. A gay couple mans its daily operations: marketing director Jeffrey Heras, and creative director Joe Babcock.
BAM! has a reception area inside the former Pierce-Arrow factory in Buffalo opening into an impressive array of galleries of different sizes – six in all if you count the walls of Paco's office.
"Being gay is part of our identity; we want to be present there and to give the message to young gay people that they can rise, they can see other gay people who are successful,” Jeffrey says. “They can trust, and learn that they can be successful in whatever they have a passion for."