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Horsefeathers Market & Residences adds gourmet touch to Connecticut Street

Horsefeathers Market & Residences, the former cavernous antiques emporium on the West Side, has been recast as a gourmet restaurant, work areas for four small food manufacturers and 24 loft-style apartments renting for as much as $1,225 per month.

The rebirth of the five-story, 1896 brick building – with its 14-foot-high ceilings, open, unobstructed views and exposed brick- and ductwork – is helping transform Connecticut Street from the blighted, vacant and crime-ridden area it was a decade ago.

“It’s a phenomenal addition to the street,” said Robin Johnson, who heads the Connecticut Street Association. “Thirteen years ago, when I bought Vilardo Printing and the building, Connecticut Street was 85 percent vacant, littered with graffiti, and there were gangs, drug dealing and prostitutes on the corner.

“People said, ‘Don’t do it, Robin. You’re in the middle of a war zone.’ Now we’re in the middle of a renaissance.”

Developer Karl Frizlen purchased the historic building in May 2012 for $475,000 from Hank Sontag, longtime owner of Horsefeathers Architectural Antiques and Hollywood Hank’s, now at 37 Chandler St. in Black Rock.

The 30,000-square-foot building also has a commercial kitchen and walk-in cooler and freezer in the basement. There is geothermal heating and cooling, which required 18 holes drilled into the parking lot some 180 to 200 feet deep.

The 24 one- and two-bedroom apartments – which rented within two months – occupy the second through fifth floors.

It’s the latest change to the street that in recent years has brought renewed life to the neighborhood. The Masjid al-Eiman & Islamic Center moved into a former movie theater a few blocks west of Richmond Avenue. Burning Books followed a block away. There have been the additions further west of First Niagara Bank, the D’Youville School of Pharmacy and a school dormitory, and upgrades to Mineo & Sapio Italian Sausage, the Corner Store and Rite Aid.

Horsefeathers Market has also gone through some revisions, due in part to a 2½-year delay in securing financing.

Early ideas included micro-stall food spaces that could be rented by the hour; a commercial kitchen space used by food trucks, with a basement break room and use of the market’s vendors as a source for ingredients; an open kitchen with a wood-oven bistro offering a menu featuring foods provided by farmers and foodmakers at the market; and use of office and conference space for groups involved with food, nutrition and farming.

Those ideas faded in part because the delay caused some early participants to drop out over time, including White Cow Dairy, which opened the Farm Shop instead at Lexington and Ashland avenues.

Frizlen said the building remains a foodmaker’s market.

“What changed were some of the tenants who planned to be in the building. They dropped out, but that didn’t change the concept,” said Frizlen, who noted “market demands” required more floors of apartments than originally planned.

The largest floor space is operated by Martin Cooks, with its ingredients-driven, open kitchen concept and interior features that include a mural and counter and bar made from recycled beams.

Martin Danilowicz prepares most of the food alongside three other employees, providing five- and seven-course meals for a dozen people twice nightly at a cost of $55 each. The menu changes every week, with less-expensive daytime fare.

“We try to go above and beyond what people’s expectations may be. No one does this in Buffalo, but it’s done in larger Northeast cities,” Danilowicz said.

“I encourage people to come into the kitchen and hang out for a little bit. Sometimes they sit in the kitchen, or at the counter. I want them to feel like they were coming to my house.”

The other tenants are an organic food and juice bar, a manufacturer of frozen Chinese food and a shared space occupied by a husband and wife who produce pasta and desserts.

Jolie Zhou moved her Jolie’s Chinese Traditional Food from a brief opening in the West Side Bazaar to Horsefeathers because the kitchen and freezer space better serves her needs. She first operated there in the winter, when some vendors began opening on Saturdays.

The homemade foods she makes include dumplings, shrimp egg rolls and wonton soup, with three tables to serve customers.

Zhou’s business opened this week. So did Press Raw Food and Juice, which owner Esther Pica describes as “all raw, organic food and cold-pressed juices.

Everything in the shop is live, vegan, organic, unprocessed, just the cleanest food – the best quality food possible.”

Customers can buy from the display case and order from a juicing station for juices and smoothies, with about 20 supplements available.

Pica chose to move to Buffalo from Manhattan, falling in love first with a house and then with Horsefeathers. Her chef, Randi Lefler, moved from Syracuse to work there.

Andrea Amodeo, owner of Blackbird Sweets, said she outgrew baking pastries in her North Buffalo house. She does cupcakes, pies, cookies and cakes for the moment, with a bar planned on the outside for coffee and dessert. Most of her work is custom orders.

Husband Eric Amodeo, who co-owns Pasta Peddler with Andrea’s father, Michael Sedia, outgrew working out of the basement in his house even after adding a commercial kitchen.

Now, with their space in Horsefeathers, they have more room to manufacture the fresh pasta, raviolis, sauces and pesto they sell at several farmers’ markets and a number of retail stores.

“I think the whole community feel of the spaces is what I think will make it a successful venture,” Amodeo said of Horsefeathers.

“Connecticut is definitely turning around, with D’Youville College down the street. I think it’s a good location and a growing area.”