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Wonder Coffeehouse Opens in Shadow of Buffalo RiverWorks

Originally Published in The Buffalo News
December 18, 2019
By Ben Tsujimoto

Next to the sprawling parking lots of event-giant Buffalo RiverWorks is a new coffee shop that intersects faith, charity and history.

Wonder Coffeehouse held its soft opening Dec. 18, with co-owners Joe and Kate Vacanti welcoming customers to 323 Ganson St. – which had previously been considered for demolition – for coffee, snacks and community.

The Buffalo natives also are co-leaders at Wonder Church, which has met weekly in RiverWorks since September 2018. The 49-seat coffee shop is both an extension of their Christian ministry and a chance to highlight their charity, Let Them LOL, which has worked for clean water, a home for orphans and additional endeavors in Sierra Leone over the last decade.

“This is a place for people who’ve been hurt by the church world – which has been happening a lot lately – a place where they can feel comfortable,” Kate said.

The Vacantis spent three months renovating the brick structure that otherwise might have been demolished in favor of more RiverWorks parking, Kate said. A simple, stylish interior is complemented by couch and table seating, with remnants of the industrial history and an ode to “The Velveteen Rabbit” and other literary references, stationed throughout.

A simple coffee menu was available on the soft opening, with coffee ($2/$2.50), sourced from Steamworks in Lockport, intended to be “approachable, easy coffee,” Kate said, well aware that Buffalo is a Tim Hortons-heavy city. Cappuccinos, lattes, hot chocolate and more dot the menu, with pour-overs and French press on the way. Smoothies, protein drinks and kombucha also are in the works.

Wonder plans to have a drive-thru open by spring. The current entrance to Wonder is through the back; look for the colorful shipping containers.

The food menu will be closely tied with the area’s history of grain production. Little Wonders ($2), Belgium liege waffles formed from a dough rather than a batter, were the opening-day stars.

Kate described them as waffle doughnuts, a fair-style food more common in New York City, Toronto and out West. These thick desserts – with some chew and pull – were topped with either powdered sugar or a light glaze.

Once Wonder Coffeehouse finds its feet, these pseudo-waffles will serve as the foundation for savory options, such as breakfast style with eggs and bacon, as well as more elaborate dessert choices. Breakfast sandwiches on bagels are expected soon, too.

The Vacantis already have reached out to local businesses to stimulate early traffic, even leaving the shop to serve train conductors. Customers will be able to purchase Cheerios by the bowl; the General Mills plant sits less than a quarter-mile away, with the cereals’ scents blanketing the city many mornings.

Earl Ketry, founder of Buffalo RiverWorks, was influential throughout the process, while Buffalo United Martial Arts also has inspired açai bowls, which will hit the menu soon.

INFO: Wonder Coffeehouse, 323 Ganson St. Hours: 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.