Nickel City Gritty: Undergrounds Coffee House & Roastery
Ever since I first heard about Undergrounds Coffee House & Roastery, it's been on my radar. I mean, it's not every day that you hear about a new cool and hip coffee shop occupying a former funeral home.
I started visiting Undergrounds a lot more since it is conveniently located a minute or two from my studio space. The decor is colorful and plays on a Day of the Dead theme from their sugar skull logo to the beautiful mural on the wall, the food and drinks are INSANE (seriously, both breakfast and lunch hit it out of the park), and their baristas are always friendly and welcoming.
I recently sat down with Sara Heidinger and Bridget Morris, two of the owners of Undergrounds, and we had an incredible chat. I'm so happy that I got a chance to learn more about these two fierce ladies. Listen to their playlists below while you read all about their business, their personal style, and their old lady tendencies.
This is Nickel City Gritty, and this is Sara Heidinger and Bridget Morris of Undergrounds Coffee House & Roastery.
Tell me how Undergrounds became a reality.
Sara: I grew up in the First Ward, and I moved away to New York City for about five years and moved back. I joined the board at the community center down the street. I met Bill, who is our third business partner. Him and I randomly started swimming laps together at the community pool in South Buffalo and I often complained how there was not a coffee shop to walk to. I was driving home one day, and he owns Gene McCarthy's down the street, and they were going through some employee changes and he asked me if I wanted to man the bar. I said no, but I would manage the shit out of a coffee shop. So Bill is kind of a doer, so within a week he was like, "Do you think the funeral home would be a great spot for a coffee shop? I don't think it's a funeral home anymore." I was like, "Hahaha yeah that would be awesome!" So a week later he called me and said that the funeral home went up for sale and they knew the guy who was buying it and said that he would sell it to us. So from there we were buying the building, and it quickly became a reality. So Bridget and I were out one night, and she has a shit ton of coffee experience, and I was like, "Hey I'm opening a coffee shop!" She graciously offered to consult for us and then quickly decided that she wanted to kind of dive into this thing that was a little bit crazy. So we brought her on and the concept was kind of made up by the building. We initially thought it would be fun to pay homage to the fact that it was a funeral home and most people who live in the neighborhood have been to a wake here. We thought we would name it Undergrounds and pay homage to what it was and then we had to get a zoning variance for our parking lot and because of that we got picked up by the media that it was happening. A bunch of people commented on the story that they thought it was funny and that it was a clever idea. We have our "creamation station" here and that came from a commenter who said that he was going to get his body cremated and he spelled it "cream" and that he would donate it to Undergrounds and we would have this coffee that no one else in the country would have, so that kind of took off and we thought why not have a lot of fun with it? That quickly branded the concept in a much stronger way than we had anticipated.
Bridget: Yeah, we had talked about maybe putting daisies here and there, like pushing up daisies, very subtle hints, and the more we talked to friends and family before we opened, it turned into pun central. We were having so much fun with it that we decided to just go big and having been in business now for a year and a half, I think we made the right call. People seem to very much enjoy the decor and the theme and the fun that we have with it. Conceptually, I don't think there's anyone doing what we are doing.
Describe your personal style.
S: Oh, mine's kind of hobo chic. *laughs* Like, my socks don't match currently. I would say within the past few years it's developed into what's quick. It's a running joke that whenever I blow-dry and brush my hair, people ask me if I got it cut or done because it just looks so nice compared to how it normally does. My style has to be quick because I'm constantly running from one thing to the next. I spend a lot of time in an Undergrounds tee shirt and leggings and I can quickly throw a dress over it and it becomes a business outfit if I have a meeting. So I think hobo chic is a great way to describe it!
B: Well, maybe leaning more towards the chic side.
S: Yeah, there's definitely some days that you'll see me and be like, "Ehhhhhh I don't know."
B: I would say for me, classic, but the biggest thing that I learned when I traveled abroad for a while a couple years ago and I was only going to bring one bag. I was trying to figure out what to pack when you are traveling to different climates and you only have the one thing to carry it all in. I very quickly evolved into the style of having a pair of black pants, jeans, a black and white tee shirt, tank top, long sleeve shirt and just a bunch of scarves and you'll have a different outfit for every day! Accessories are so important and can make an outfit feel very different even when you have basically the same thing on. That was a huge life lesson for me that sometimes less is more.
"If I didn't have to sleep, i would kind of rule the world a little bit."
If you didn't have to sleep, what would you do with your extra time?
S: Oh my god, I barely sleep as it is! I would take a nap.
B: I feel like a lot of times, I have grand plans to dabble in things, and I do but I can get pulled away from that easily when practical matters come into play, so I definitely feel like...I love photography, and I'm not an expert by any means, but I feel like I can hold a camera and take a shot, so I'd definitely do that more often. I would spend time with both of my friends and family equally. I think just doing something that I'd say I'm gonna do that I never do.
S: I miss having time to read books. When I lived in New York I read a book a day on the subway, and like the past two years I've been reading the same book. I can't find the time to finish it. I think I would definitely read a book. I didn't have to sleep I would kind of rule the world a little bit.
B: Sara for president!
What is your guilty pleasure?
B: I definitely like to binge watch tv now and again. Like on a day off, I would watch a bunch of episodes of whatever is on Netflix these days.
S: I feel like buying sushi. Whenever I have some free time and a little bit of extra money, I'll buy myself some really nice sushi. Or, I guess travel. I travel a lot every chance I get.
B: You see, I agree with you but I don't. We've talked about this. We both get very itchy if we don't travel every couple of months. I just need to get out there and see a different thing and then come back so I don't feel guilty. I feel like if I don't do that I'm gonna unravel.
S: I feel like that's one thing that I do regardless, so maybe that's why I feel guilty about it. I just need to reset.
If you could bring one fictional character to life, who would it be?
S: How about Rainbow Brite? She was pretty cheery!
S: Can she come with her horse? Aren't they a team? She would be great. I've always loved her outfits and her ponytail and I feel like I'd enjoy hanging out with her!
B: I'm just trying to think. There's been so many important characters to me in reading throughout the years. Can I think about it for a minute?
S: I think this gives you a good idea about our personalities, too, I'm just like "Here!" and Bridget's, like, laying out a plan for things.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your teenage self?
B: Honestly, I think the biggest thing for me is, it's never going to be exactly what you think it's going to be. I think that a lot of the times, at least for me, my parents were very much like, "You have to pick what you want to do for the rest of your life, and pick the college that you're going to go to, and you'll set yourself on this trajectory because of that." And at the time it felt very boxed in for me, like this is it. I'm gonna do this thing and that's gonna be my life. Because of that, I sort of ended up dabbling in all of these different things, and that felt very like, "Oh my god!" to me. I think that if I could go back and just trust myself a little bit more to follow a direction that felt good to me. Although, if I hadn't done everything the way that I did I wouldn't be sitting here right now. I just think that there's that pressure sometimes put on us socially and just individually. I think I would just tell myself to relax and you'll get where you're going. It's not gonna look like you thought it would but it will be great.
S: I think I had kind of the opposite experience. I've always been a little bit of a wanderer and a drifter. That always felt purposeful, you know? I think I would say to maybe ask for help more. Ask for more guidance and lean on people more.
"If i had a spirit anything, it would be a leprechaun."
What is your spirit animal?
S: Okay, so I've been thinking about this all day. First I thought maybe a panda because I'm a little bit clumsy but cute, you know? And then I thought maybe a koala bear because I could be doing something all day and just a little bit high and taking a nap, but you know they're kind of fierce, have you seen their claws? So I think I landed on koala bear.
So like they could kill you if they wanted to!
S: Yeah! Most of the time you think they're just napping in a tree. Our friend lives in Australia and her in-laws were telling me stories when I was there about how they used to hit koalas with baseball bats if they would come onto the farm because they're aggressive. So I feel like, you know, I'm a little unassuming sometimes. If you get too close...
B: Okay so now, can I have like a spirit creature as opposed to an animal? Is that acceptable?
B: So I was thinking about it. If I had a spirit anything it would be a leprechaun and I'll tell you why. Because I get myself into these things, and I don't even know where I'm at or how it happens and it always works out. I think maybe I'd go back and tell my teenage self that, too! "You have a leprechaun for a spirit creature, don't stress out about it!" Without getting into specifics, I've been in some situations and it always works out. I just kind of go into things with that mindset now. I don't know how it's gonna work out but it's gonna work out! I feel like that's sort of a leprechaun lucky kind of thing.
What's your favorite childhood memory?
B: I would have to put it as kind of a two fold thing if I can. My mom's parents had property up in Canada and my dad's parents had a place in the Adirondacks and every summer we'd spend a week in both, and that was just amazing. To me, going to both of those places felt more like home than my own home sometimes. Just that excitement to go back and those long leisurely summer days. I think that was something that, as I got older and you start to realize that you can't go because you have to work instead or not everyone from the family can make it, it's kind of moved from the childhood summer vacation into adulthood. I wish that I could go back and cherish it a little bit more than I did.
S: Mine's kind of similar! My mom is from the Adirondacks also, and she had a huge family, she's one of nine, and they all lived in a very tiny town called Tupper Lake, and we would all go back there and spend a month or two in the summer there when I was really little. All nine of the kids would come. We'd just be swimming on the beach at my grandpa's and there was a ton of people around. That's one of my favorite adult memories, too. My grandpa would row us across the lake to pick blueberries. I had some pretty neat experiences as a child. It's a nice juxtaposition from living in the city, too.
Who is your celebrity crush?
S: George Clooney.
B: Okay, so I like Chris Hemsworth, but only in Thor. *laughs* I don't know what is is about him, but I'm like oh god. Especially when he has the longer hair! I'm all over it.
S: George Clooney or Brad Cooper.
B: I also feel like Jared Leto. If I ever met him, no matter where I am in life, he would be the top. He just keeps getting hotter!
What is on your playlist?
S: I have a wide variety of things. There's a band that I love and their name is so dumb. It's either Rainbow Kitten Surprise or Kitten Rainbow Surprise, but the album is amazing! I feel like they were on a lot of drugs and were like, "This name would be fantastic!" Let's see, what else is on there...I always love Kings of Leon.
B: Yeah, and Mumford and Sons. I feel like I've been listening to a lot of Tom Petty recently. It's weird. A lot of celebrity musicians have passed away over the past few years, but none have hit me as hard as his for some reason. He was a big part of my 20's and outdoor shows and things like that. I've definitely been jamming out to the Wildflowers album which is my favorite.
S: Oh and Nirvana Unplugged.
B: Yep! We were listening to that on New Year's Day. It just gets better as time goes by, too. I always can be found with Muse on my playlist, they're one of my favorite bands.
S: Shakey Graves is probably at the top of my playlist. I like some older stuff once in a while, too. I'm generally all over the place.
B: There's not really a lot of music that I won't listen to.
If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
S: Oh...hang a shelf. I can't hang a shelf and it drives me crazy. I can never find the stud in the wall even with the stud finder, it's always crooked, and I don't think I have the patience to really do it either. But aside from learning how to hang a shelf, I'd really like to learn how to weld.
B: The last two or three years I've been wanting to learn how to speak a different language. I took Latin in High School which was great for SAT scores and things like that, but no one speaks it anymore. Except for in church and I don't go to that a lot. *laughs* I just keep coming back that I'd love to speak French. In all my travels, that was the most beautiful language. If I had time, I'd probably learn that.
What are some of your favorite bars and restaurants in Buffalo?
S: That's quite a wide range. We like Gene McCarthy's because of the proximity to here after a long day and they have good beer.
B: I live in Allentown and there's some staples for me. Mothers is a great place to grab some late night food. Left Bank is probably my favorite restaurant in Buffalo. I think it's nice and understated.
S: Buffalo Distillery is great, they have live music all the time now. Ballyhoo is great for cocktails.
B: I feel like Allen has turned this great corner, too, with Billyclub and Allen Burger Venture. You can kind of bar hop and be classy about it. Hardware always has really good food. Sato is really good. We really love the Sportsmens Tavern for live music. Don't you feel like there's so many amazing places to see live shows? We also like Lockhouse, love those guys. I think, too, part of opening this up is we try to like support other people that we know and that have supported us.
S: I love Seabar for sushi.
B: Toutant's breakfast is amazing.
S: We're just going to name every restaurant. *laughs*
What is one of your favorite smells?
B: I feel like almond, like a vanilla almond kind of scent, which feels very basic white girl to say! I don't know, I think I'm just gonna own it! It's like Bath & Body works from like 1994.
S: The body lotion, the shower gel...
When people come to you for help, what do they usually want help with?
B: It's definitely you, but if you can't do it, you've got a "guy" for everything!
S: It's probably just connecting them with the person that can help them with their problem.
B: Yeah, you're a good conduit.
S: I'm good at helping you figure out how to solve any problem by connecting you to the right person.
B: I think that people come to me when they've got emotional issues going on because I can provide a pragmatic way to kind of move though the steps of how I would handle that situation, which is interesting because I'm kind of an emotional person myself, but when I'm able to distance myself from it and look at it for somebody else, I feel like I'm very good at walking you through the steps. And then I need Sara to do that for me...because I cannot do it myself.
What are some "old lady" things that you do?
B: Okay, so I don't know if it's like an old lady thing or not, but I have a backup pair of gloves and hat situated in my coat pocket before I leave the house to make sure that I am ready for winter because I just get so cold, and I feel like I didn't used to do that. I'm very carefully preparing everything ahead of time. This feels like either like a mom or an old lady thing to do.
S: I generally have anything you would need in my car at any point in time. Like anything from dental floss to a shelf. I'm a little bit of a hoarder-ish old lady. We can find pretty much anything in my car that we would need when we are out.
B: I feel like there are definitely some things that I've become very set in my ways about, too, which is always how I equate older people on the porch yelling, "Get off my lawn!"
S: Yeah, I do the old lady finger pointing!
B: Yes, sometimes I need to dial back on the old lady scolding. *laughs*
S: "Would your mother be proud of this behavior?"
B: It's only going to get worse!
S: Also, what about how they always have the bag, it's like a sewing bag and they set it down and peel it open. Mary Poppins had that magic bag with all of the stuff in it...
B: THAT'S MY CHARACTER! Mary Poppins! She was the best! She had a bag for everything, a song for everything, and you could jump into the sidewalk! I'm definitely amending it...Mary Poppins, how could I forget her? She just feels like the gal you'd want to have around in every situation.
S: Mix her and Rainbow Brite and you'll have a great time.
Last question, as always, what do you want to be when you grow up?
S: I think I'd like to be someone that creates some kind of a change in the community. That's very important to me. Continuing to work on projects that impact the community and benefit the community and help the community grow. That's always what I think of as my long-term goal.
B: I feel like mine's gonna sound very self-serving now but I'm just gonna roll with it anyway. I feel like you go into doing something like this with the hope that, like, one day you'll be kind of set up a little bit and I just would love to be a citizen of the world and have touch base points, but I just feel like I would rather have a box of clothes and two pennies to rub together, I don't even think that's a saying. *laughs* I would just rather go with the most amount of memories of exploring new places and meeting new people and I think it's more acceptable to do after you've kind of established yourself and done the things to get yourself to a point where you don't feel like maybe it's a guilty pleasure to do it. And that would be my thing where I could get a chance to travel to all of the places that I haven't gotten a chance to get to yet.
Thank you so much ladies for being so open and wonderful during our interview! If you would like to check out Undergrounds for yourself, they are located at 580 South Park Avenue in Buffalo.