Taste of Diversity’s Meet the Cooks: Em Tea Coffee Cup Café

Em Tea Coffee Cup Café staff
The Em Tea Coffee Cup Café team

For Kat Tyler, Em Tea Coffee Cup Café is proof of the proverb,” Necessity is the mother of invention”. More than two decades ago, when Tyler was a student at Buffalo State College (now Buffalo State University), she realized there was no place in her Hamlin Park neighborhood where she could grab a coffee, a bite to eat, and study without any time limits.

That’s when Tyler decided she would open one herself.

But first, she needed space. She found the perfect location at the corner of Oakgrove Avenue near Kensington Parkway. With the guidance of the owner Ruth Kennedy and her mother, who was battling cancer, Tyler and her husband Wil were able to purchase the five-apartment building and open what would become the Em Tea Coffee Cup Café.

Tyler says one thing she wanted to do that she couldn’t find in local coffee shops and restaurants was offer healthy food options.

“We took pride in selling items that were healthier options, so we sold mostly turkey products: turkey sausage, turkey bacon, turkey ham, turkey pepperoni, and later on turkey ribs,” Tyler said.

Due to demand, Tyler also expanded their menu to include salads, paninis, and souvlaki.

Tyler would soon open other locations across the city, including a Second Cup Coffee Café downtown and a café in Delaware Park. She even landed a major deal providing food for workers at General Mills.

“We serviced about 900 guys between the Pillsbury plant and the Cheerios plant. That was great. We really loved that.”

No stranger to a challenge or producing on a large scale, Tyler and Em Tea Coffee Cup Café was a perfect fit for Erie County’s Level Up Taste of Diversity program at ECC South.

“At first, I thought it was weird because I thought, OK, you’re going to have six or seven of us, eight people in the same kitchen. So, how does this work? Well, it worked out excellent.”

And that’s the goal.

Level Up is the brainchild of Erie County Legislator April Baskin. After the May 14th shooting at the Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue that claimed ten lives, Baskin wanted to create a program to address some of the issues highlighted by the tragic shooting, such as the economic disparities and lack of economic opportunities in communities of color.

The program also provides long-term support and guidance for minority and women-owned businesses to help prepare businesses to compete for contracts at the new Bills Stadium under construction in Orchard Park. Under the community benefits agreement, 30% of concessionaires are required to be a local minority or woman-owned business enterprise.

Also, the Bills have committed to a small business grant after the 6-week project, which started in November and runs through January.

Tyler says the feedback she’s gotten so far shows there was a need to bring hot meals back to ECC South (the kitchen in Building 5 sat dormant for years before the program started). She also believes the program is just what the new Bills stadium needs and fans want.

“This could be life-changing, to be in the stadium. I am a huge Buffalo Bills fan. I go to a lot of their games, and I go to a lot of different stadiums to see how they operate their food. There’s a way that you can do it, and it can include all different types of cuisines and nationalities. That’s something I look forward to.”

By Kevin Jolly