Since BreadHive Cafe opened on Buffalo, New York’s west side in July, customers have been walking in as if they own the place.
In a way, some do. An offshoot of BreadHive, a beloved local bakery that operates as a workers’ cooperative, the cafe raised startup capital by selling nonvoting shares to locals. Each share cost $1,000 and guarantees delicious profits: A 3 percent annual return, and free bread through the Crust Belt, BreadHive’s loaf-of-the-week club.
“Our investors are our biggest cheerleaders,” said Emily Stewart, one of BreadHive’s three founders.
The cafe itself has been an instant hit.
The bungalow-like space brightens a bare block on low-slung Connecticut Street. At breakfast, customers linger over intensely flavorful sourdough or multigrain bagels — balanced between New York airiness and a Montreal-style chew — or treats like blueberry-lavender pecan muffins, made with organic barley flour. Overnight oats, a traditional morning indulgence, feature flavors like apple cinnamon and chocolate coconut.
It all pairs perfectly with potent brew from Public Coffee, one of many Buffalo purveyors given supporting roles: Community Beer Works, a Buffalo nanobrewery, supplies small-batch soft drinks like sparkling lemonade; kombucha comes from Bootleg Bucha, a Connecticut Street neighbor.
Sandwiches, all named for pop divas, dominate BreadHive’s lunch menu. Each comes on a choice of thick-cut sourdough, rye or multigrain; all are exquisitely pillowy, yet dense enough to carry their lush fillings.
“We built the menu to show off our bread,” said Allison Ewing, another founder.
The Gwen (as in Stefani) layers sliced smoked turkey, pepper jack cheese from the local dairy First Light, avocado, onions and mayo. The Dolly (Parton, of course) paints grilled seitan with sweet barbecue sauce, layering onions and sour-pickle slices from the Buffalo producer Barrel & Brine for crunch.
Décor leans psychedelic country house by way of Bushwick. (“It’s upscale Cracker Barrel,” Stewart joked.) True to its collective roots, BreadHive enlisted friends and family to build out; decorations include paintings by Stewart’s mother and a geometric bagel rack by a friend of the owners.
As whimsical as BreadHive seems, its founders drew on a strong local tradition of worker-owned businesses. In the 1970s, “Buffalo became a hotbed of people who understood and believed in worker cooperatives,” Stewart said. “Buffalo’s history allowed us this pathway.”
Since opening the bakery in 2014, BreadHive’s founders have sold a total of 110 shares, and more may float soon. For now, the hot investment tip is bread, bagels and muffins, fresh from the oven.