Nickel City Gritty: Sam Scarcello
Buffalo is super fortunate to have a variety of local coffee shops. Honestly, I can't remember the last time I stepped foot in a Starbucks or a Dunkin Donuts. There's just something about your community coffee shop that makes you feel right at home. You know that you are going to be getting high quality drinks, food, and service from those who are passionate about what they do on a daily basis.
One of my favorite spots to grab a hot beverage in WNY is Public Espresso in the Hotel Lafayette. Not only is the place absolutely stunning inside, the coffee is great, pastries are out of the world, and the baristas are super friendly. Today's Nickel City Gritty focus is on Sam Scarcello. Five years ago, Sam started Public with his business partner, and things quickly took off for them. They started off running a small coffee bar in the Hotel, but recently moved into a large corner space in the same location, creating a cozy atmosphere where I'll definitely be huddled up in all winter (and spring, and summer, and fall)
Please enjoy Sam's playlist below while you read about his favorite foods, pop culture trivia knowledge, and hatred of New Year's Eve.
This is Nickel City Gritty, and this is Sam Scarcello.
Tell me about how Public Espresso came to life.
My partner, his brother and myself started this business about five years ago. It started as a hobby for my business partner James. He started hobby roasting at home and switched to selling coffee to his friends just to gauge their interest in it. Shortly after that it shifted to setting up in a farmer's market. My dad helped us get into the Horsefeather's market about four years ago now and our first day we sold about a hundred cups of coffee and said, "Okay, we gotta make this into something!" I got looped into it to help with the social media and the website and branding; that's what I went to school for. My passion for coffee developed over time. I wasn't super into it at the genesis of it, but as the business really started taking off, I started getting more and more involved in the coffee aspect of it and learning to be a barista. The space in the Hotel Lafayette started about two and a half years ago. We had set up at the winter market at the Washington Market, they did it for a couple weeks during the winter time, and Rocco Termini, who also owns the building here, owns the building that the Washington Market was in. The in-house architect was a student of my business partner James at the UB School of Architecture and came to the market and scoped it out a little bit. James made an off-hand comment to him and said if they every wanted to add a coffee shop to the Hotel, just let him know. The next day we got a call and he wanted to meet with us and pretty much that day we had a handshake agreement to take over the space in the Hotel Lafayette lobby. Before us, there was a small coffee bar that just operated in the morning, but it didn't have a huge presence so we offered to turn it into a more substantial operation.
Okay, so now the fun questions begin! How would you describe your personal style?
I think it's pretty casual and plain. I like to be comfortable throughout the day, particularly because my days can shift pretty rapidly. I can go from being on the floor here, so I want to look presentable and clean, and shift to moving a fridge or transporting a market and loading and unloading that out of a car all day long. I like to be able to move comfortably but still look presentable. I'm representing Public Espresso as a business and as a brand and I don't want to come off schleppy or anything like that. At the same time, I spent my entire youth in a uniform for school, and for my first job out of college I was in a shirt and tie all day long, so one of the most appealing things about working for yourself is that you get to dictate what that is for you and I make a point of not being in a tie. I think I gave all of my neckties to my brother who started a job at a bank and I was like, "These belong to you, now!" Every once in a while I have to steal one for an event, though. I tend to stick to a more casual comfortable style.
So you've kind of created your own uniform, now!
Yeah, uniform is a good way to put it. I don't want to have to think in the morning because I get up at 5am most days, so just having a standard outfit...I wear this denim shirt a lot and what's interesting underneath it is, like, the tee shirt that I wear, but then I keep the comfortable pants, this shirt, and the pop in my sneakers and that really works for me. I don't have to think too much about what I'm putting on. I know that it will be comfortable and it suits my body well.
If you could only eat three foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Oh dear. Okay...mashed potatoes, pancakes, and...I mean, I really could live off those two alone. The third, I'm gonna have to go desserty. Well, pancakes are desserty....let's see, any type of chocolate. So mashed potatoes, pancakes, and chocolate incorporated into something somehow.
Do you like your mashed potatoes with the skins on or off?
I'll take all forms. Garlic smashed, super creamy, tons of butter, a little bit of sour cream, however they come. I'm happy with it all.
And do you maple syrup your pancakes?
I maple syrup, but I maple syrup the fake way. I use the really fake corn syrupy syrup. I grew up on the fake stuff, and real maple syrup tastes fake to me. There's something comforting to me about the fake stuff. It takes me back to my childhood.
What is a random award or recognition that you feel like you deserve?
Probably the most useless information trivia holder. I can spout off really dumb stuff at a rapid rate.
Do you go to trivia nights?
Oh yeah. Gypsy Parlor on Monday night is my spot. I know my stuff with pop culture trivia. I can round out a team really strongly if they have history and sports down. I can sneak in and provide movie quotes or actors or directors. I hold onto this stuff. I can't add small numbers but I can tell you the box office returns for a movie that came out in 2003. I like to think it can be useful. Maybe one day it will pay off.
Which of your five senses do you think is the strongest?
Probably my sight, I guess. I have heightened sight. Also, I feel like I can assess a situation quickly just by looking around and understanding what's going on. I can gauge everybody's mood in the room and decide where to focus my attention and figure out where to fix a crisis situation.
If animals could talk, which one do you think would be the most rude?
I'm sure the common answer to say would be a cat, but honestly my cat is the sweetest creature I've ever come in contact with, so I'm not gonna say cats. I'd say, probably crows. Crows would kind of be dicks, I think. They squawk all day anyway and it's super annoying, so I imagine if you could translate it into words they would just be obnoxious assholes.
If you were lost in the woods, how do you think you'd survive?
I did get lost in the woods! When I was a kid, I was out at my aunt's house and they had a dog. They lived up on a hill and behind their house was just woods. Their dog had free reign because it was out in the country and it wasn't a big deal. We didn't have a dog in my house but I was obsessed with them, so I went up to the dog and wanted to pet him, but just as I went to touch his head he turned away and ran off into the woods. I just decided that I was going to follow him, and through some time I had lost him. I couldn't keep up with him and I ended up getting lost in the woods for several hours. My aunt called the police and there was a search and rescue team out for me and I actually ended up at an old woman's house who brought me in and gave me cookies and milk and I think I ended up peeing on her hip as she picked me up as I was really scared. But she held on to me and by the process of elimination ended up waving down a police officer who was scanning the neighborhood and got me back home. I didn't stay at my aunt's house for a while after that. But I survived because I found the house with chocolate chip cookies.
That sounds like a Hansel and Gretel thing.
I think it was, actually. It's a little too similar of a story. I'm hoping I don't have a twin that just got buried as a repressed memory and ended up in an oven or something like that.
What is your most prized possession?
This kind of floats for me. I would say I don't really know if I hold on to too much. I put a lot of emphasis on weird things and then after time just kind of get over it. I weirdly obsess over one thing for a long time and then it just fades away and I forget that I have it. Right now I would say that it's probably a print that I got, a limited edition screen print from an artist who did a print from the movie Scream. It took me forever to track down and I probably ended up spending more than I should have on it, but I really loved it and I'm glad that that I have it in my collection. So that's probably my most prized possession now.
If you were reincarnated as an ice cream flavor, what would you be?
Sherbet. Is that ice cream? It's a frosty treat. I think I eat my body weight in sherbet every couple of weeks. I'm very particular about my sherbet. Perry's is where it's at for me. I avoid the lime until the last possible second, though. It's the worst flavor of them all.
Doesn't it come swirled?
It does come swirled, but sometimes you'll get it as pink and orange as the dominant ones and lime is just shoved in the corner. On those days, somebody was looking out for me.
What is your spirit animal?
Hmmmm....that's really hard. What's yours?
A buffalo. They travel in packs, and I'm always with my people. They also seem very loyal to each other. I've read that they are generally calm and peaceful, but can snap at any minute...yeah, I've been known to do that.
You see, that's a really thoughtful answer and maybe my spirit animal is just, like, my phone because I'm an asshole. I spend most of my time on it.
What about your cat or your dog?
It could be my cat, she's super sweet and loving. But my dog, yes. Maybe I'll go with my dog. We're essentially one as it is anyway, and we share an Instagram handle. My dog is adorable, but he's absolutely insane.
What product or service do you love so much that you would happily endorse it?
Ummm, this is a good question because I use so many things. I would be a spokesperson for Tide pods. I love that I just have to throw one in and I don't have to sort my laundry and it just kind of handles itself. There's no measuring. Same for the dishwasher ones, too. I grew up without a dishwasher and I wash dishes all day long at work, too. Just being able to throw a little packed of whatever in the dishwasher and forgetting it and walking away is great. I will also say that I do love a wash and fold. I splurge every once in a while if I've worked a long week and just didn't get the laundry. It's great just dropping a couple bags off and being done.
What is on your playlist?
My musical styles fluctuate, but I really like to turn my brain off when I listen to music. At this point it's purely pop music. Carly Rae Jepsen rotates into my music way more that I would be willing to share, but it's a lot. I keep going back to what I love, like Marina and The Diamonds and any modern pop with an 80's influence to it. I just like to load it on up, turn it on and turn my brain off.
What are some of your favorite bars or restaurants in Buffalo?
Gypsy Parlor, for sure, because I can walk across the street to it from my apartment, which is great. It's a great spot and Gabby, who owns it, is one of the coolest people that I know. I love their trivia night, tutu Tuesday, I love their food and drinks. It's a great spot. They also have a billiard room that you can rent for $10 an hour. We just go back and play pool and it has its own separate stereo system to you can play Carly Rae Jepsen while you play pool and they'll come back and check on you and you can order food and drinks to be delivered to a little window. I love Lockhouse, we do some work with them. Their bar is super fun to hang out at. Toutant has always been one of my favorites since they opened. I love their bar and everybody that works there. The attention to detail and service that they give you there is great. When you go there you just feel relaxed. The food obviously is amazing.
"New Year's eve is a dumb holiday because it makes stupid people even dumber."
What is something that a ton of people are obsessed with but you don't see the point of?
I guess I would say New Year's Eve. I don't get the appeal. It's always more trouble than it's worth. For me, plans that involve separate locations give me anxiety. I like to go out knowing I'm only going to one spot. It's always so much stress. It's like any other night out and there's never anything special about it and half the time you forget the reason that you are out or don't pay attention to the fact that the year is changing over. Alternative New Year's Eve plans are the best plans. A movie in, making drinks at home, or having people over sounds way more appealing to be than going out and fighting your way into a bar or standing out in the cold to watch a ball drop. Even turning on New Year's Eve celebrations in Times Square is the most boring thing ever. It's chaotic, the editing is a mess, and it's never exciting. And then you have to watch snotty nosed people kissing for fifteen minutes and you're like, "This is stupid." But then they say, "Oh, it's record breaking crowds this year!" Cool, so one million people are literally stupid. I think I have anxiety about it because when I was younger, our parents took us out for Y2K and I would have been ten, and my younger siblings and my cousins and my aunts and uncles all went and they took us out. We got rooms at the Hyatt and went to TGI Fridays on Main Street before hand, and we thought we were super fancy that night. So they took us out for the ball drop and there were insane people in the street with signs shouting at us kids saying that we were going to die and we all started bawling. Our parents had to take us back to the hotel and calm us down and tell us that it was going to be okay and our night was completely ruined. Ever since then I think that New Year's Eve is a dumb holiday because it makes stupid people even dumber.
My last question that I always ask is what do you want to be when you grow up?
So, I actually thought about this and it gave me a little bit of anxiety because all of the answers that I could come with reminded me of how selfish I am at this point in my life right now. Right now, my job takes up all of my time, and I want to be a good son to my parents and take care of them, I want to be a good uncle and a good sibling and a good partner and all of those things, and those are the things that I should be focusing on right now. I shouldn't think of, "Oh, when I'm older I'm gonna take care of my parents." I should be doing it now. It actually causes me to do a little bit of self reflection and it's helping me to be in the now not wait. I think what my official answer would be I want to be more self-aware when I grow up and make sure that I'm not taking advantage of everybody around me who know that I have a high pressure lifestyle at the moment since we are in the startup phase of the business and understanding that they're making sacrifices alongside my own sacrifices to make sure that I'm happy and comfortable with all of the decisions that I'm making. I want to be more self-conscious and aware of everybody's sacrifices that they're making for me and making sure that I'm not forgetting that.
You can visit Sam and Public Espresso at the Hotel Lafayette, 391 Washington Street in Buffalo. Thank you, Sam, so much for the interview and one of the best hot chocolates I've ever had!