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Expats to Repats: Couple’s culinary vision brings them back to the ‘burg

Vision is the ability to see. How expansive the sense depends on the individual.

Just because a person can see doesn’t mean he or she can always envision the infinite possibilities in the most casual encounters, blank pages or vacant spaces. But sometimes, those who walk through life with eyes wide open can picture such possibilities, whether inside a Christmas-decorated Irish tavern, pasted across construction paper or within the vacant hush of a shuttered spaghetti vendor.

For returned Hamburg natives Brad and Caryn Rowell, they’ve had this type of vision for years.

They saw a life together after mere weeks of dating. They visualized the restaurant they’d eventually open together with clipped images on an “inspiration board.” And now, weeks away from unveiling the former Tina’s Italian Kitchen as their highly anticipated Grange Community Kitchen, the pair is about to reveal what they always saw as possible — and make all of Western New York appreciative that they decided to move home from Denver, Colo., to make it happen.

“We loved Denver and everything about Colorado, except for that all of our really good friends and family were in Buffalo,” said Brad, a renowned local chef who’s manned the kitchens of Park Country Club and Elm Street Bakery since returning east. “We always felt that our life was happening here, but we were on vacation [somewhere else]. Being away was great, but we knew this was home.”

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Names: Brad and Caryn Rowell
Ages: 35 and 31
Current location: Hamburg
Previous locations: Washington, D.C.; New York City; Denver, Colo.
Love most about Buffalo: People, friendly neighborhoods and gorgeous architecture
Hopes for the region's future: Progressive and sustainable growth

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Both graduates of Frontier Central High School, the two met over rounds inside J.P. Fitzgerald’s Pub before Christmas 2007. Caryn (maiden name Dujanovich) had just moved home for a career reboot after spending a year near Washington, D.C., as a police officer in Arlington, Va. Serendipitously, Brad moved home the same weekend after culinary gigs in Boulder, Colo., and New York City.

A year later, they decided to leave Buffalo again — but this time as a couple. Their destination was Denver, with Brad due to join a culinary school friend as chef and part owner of Colt & Gray, an eclectic downtown foodie den that, in 2010, was lauded in Denver Magazine for its ability to blend “rustic farmhouse with modern chic.” Caryn started a new career within the bohemian panache of retailer Anthropologie, honing an eventual expertise in management and interior design. They lived in the heart of Denver, spent their off days in the Rocky Mountain nature and invigorated their off nights as insiders of the city’s tight-knit restaurant scene.

It was delicious. But echoing the sentiments of countless roaming Buffalonians before them, it wasn’t home. It wasn’t the village that hosted their first conversation at J.P.’s or near Caryn’s parents’ house, the place where they cut out pictures of charcuterie and bar décor to inspire their future. It also wasn’t the region that’d eventually host the restaurant they envisioned with those snipped images.

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So in February 2011, they said goodbye to the Rockies, packed up their gear and headed back toward the Queen City.

“It was a long debate, over at least a couple of months,” said Caryn about the decision to return home. “But we always had the goal of owning our own restaurant here in Buffalo. It was a tough decision [to leave Denver], but I don’t regret it for a second.”

Five years, a wedding and beautiful daughter named Louise later, the two will soon kick open the doors to what they’ve been planning for years. Mere blocks from the couple’s Village of Hamburg home, the Grange will add an enviable and kaleidoscopic farm-to-table outpost to Western New York’s ever-evolving restaurant scene, one that seems to expand by the week on Buffalo’s downtown streets. With such saturation finally taking shape in the city’s core, the Rowells are now happy to add their suburban revelation to the mix.

“We thought this was good timing for Hamburg, too,” said Brad. “People seem to be looking for something like what we’ll be doing, and seeing the support we’ve already received from people in this community has proved that right.”

Then again, seeing the whole picture has always been the couple’s strong suit. Now home as a family and on the cusp of realizing their long-imagined destination, the Rowells’ vision has never been clearer — all while coming to fruition in the 716.

If you or anyone you know has a story to tell about moving back or to Buffalo, or about moving away, email farrellmd@gmail.com.

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