Kyle Bajor, ’13, Joe Hotchkiss, ’14, and Michael Lewis, M.S.Ed.’08: Restaurateurs in the Power City
It’s not often that a class assignment leads to a career. But when business management majors Kyle Bajor, ’13, and Joe Hotchkiss, ’14, developed a business plan for a deli and sandwich shop in a business course during Kyle’s final semester, it started them on the path to entrepreneurship. Meeting Michael Lewis, M.S.Ed.’08, shortly thereafter, and learning of his interest in opening a coffee shop, launched a partnership and kept them moving on that journey.
Power City Eatery, a New York City-style deli and café, opened its doors on Aug. 4, 2016. It serves breakfast and lunch, including deli-style sandwiches and a full barista coffee bar, as well as wine and beer from locally owned wineries and breweries.
The venture took more than two years of planning, including finessing the business plan, developing a menu, and purchasing a former New York State Parole Office on Third Street in Niagara Falls, an emerging entertainment district in the city.
“I like to say we moved from criminals to cappuccinos,” Michael says.
The name, Power City Eatery, is derived from a nickname often used in reference to Niagara Falls and gives the establishment the industrial-modern feeling the men were looking for.
Since the restaurant’s grand opening, which was attended by government officials and local business and tourism leaders, the response has been “amazing,” according to the men, who note that their repeat customer base is more than 50 percent.
That’s no small feat, considering two of the three partners hold jobs outside the business. Kyle, a logistics planner at Praxair, spends a few days after work each week to assist with day-to-day operations as needed, and assists with some of the financial and administrative tasks. Michael, who is director of student services and special education at Kenmore Tonawanda School District, manages Power City’s coffee program, as well as several accounting, tax, and legal aspects of the business.
Joe had worked in the restaurant industry for a number of years, before, during, and after college, so it was a natural fit for him to take on the daily responsibilities of running the eatery.
“My workday at the restaurant is from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” he says. “Mornings are casual and lunchtime is busy. This is my sole focus right now and I’m loving it.”
Just two months after the launch, the three are now in the process of opening an outdoor patio adjacent to their building that will include a wall, fencing, and natural gas fire pits. They’d also like to become coffee bean distributors for the area, and expand their special events and catering business as well.
“We want to continue to grow and become a bigger part of the community,” Kyle says. “We are always looking for ways to expand business and our reach. We hope to be the place people turn to host their events or supply them with food for meetings and business lunches.”