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Hispanic Heritage Month: Niagara Cafe's recipe for success

'I think we're going to teach Buffalo how to eat rice and beans and go on a bigger scale!'
Niagara Cafe in Downtown Buffalo.jpg
Posted at 6:53 PM, Oct 06, 2021

Niagara Cafè has been serving the downtown Buffalo community for nearly 30 years.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, 7ABC is digging into the mouthwatering staple on Buffalo's west side. The station visited the restaurant to see if they would reveal their recipe for success.

"When this place came up for sale, he[Maria's husband] said 'I think we're going to teach Buffalo how to eat rice and beans and go on a bigger scale!' It was perfect: the building, the parking. Right in the center of the community," Niagara Cafè co-owner, Maria Hernandez recalled.

On Niagara Street, in the heart of Downtown Buffalo, sits the Queen City's own, Niagara Cafè, owned by Maria Hernandez and her husband Raúl.

Downtown Buffalo

"We used to have a grocery store and we always wanted to name it according to the street. When we had the grocery store, he didn't name it that. He said, 'If I have something it's on Niagara Street. It represents the closeness of Niagara Falls too." Hernandez said. "I wanted to include Niagara, instead of having a Spanish name which we're very proud of, but we wanted to identify with the community, and Niagara Street was it."

The restaurant serves Buffalo's finest Puerto Rican food.

"The best-seller is the rotisserie chicken," Hernandez said. "Rice, the roast pork, the marinated steak with onions. It's very popular with the gravy and the onions. It's very good."

The popular restaurant gravitates customers near and far to sink their teeth in the homemade-style cafe.

"We're proud of our community here. It has embraced us for almost 30 years. And not only here, we have people coming in from out-of-town, as far as California or Canada, where ever. They always say they have to come in and make a stop at Niagara Cafè before they go home. It's just a good feeling to hear that," she said.

Just don't think you can make your own seasoning at home, because Hernandez says it is top secret!

She said, "We season our food with spices— island spices. It's not a hot food. It's not spicy. It just tastes good with the spice that we have. We are very proud with the way we season our food and the taste has caught on."

Hernandez told 7ABC that Niagara Cafè actually started out as a Puerto Rican pizza parlor.

"My husband has always been a person who imagines things and makes them happen. When this property came up for sale, we had already started a satellite, let's say, we started Puerto Rican Pizza right down the street. We mixed it up with pizza and Puerto Rican food. It was doing very well but it was a very small place."

However, Maria and her husband Raul, eventually expanded into the successful business it is today: 29 years later.

When asked what her recipe for success has been, she answered this:

"Oh! Never giving up! He[Raul] always has a positive attitude. He says if you don't take a chance, you're never going to make it. Take a chance and see where it goes, and this is what happened here," she explained. "We started from there. Thank God our pride and our community made it such a good business and very positive. From there on, it was just not looking back."

While the pandemic put a damper on many restaurants, Niagara Cafe was not immune. The restaurant continued business after three months, and rebounding in revenue. However, indoor seating has permanently been removed at the restaurant.

Follow updates from Niagara Cafè, here.
For more stories of Hispanic Heritage Month done by the 7ABC team, click here.