Even removing any social justice or political overtones, as a community, Buffalo has a tortured relationship with national chains, especially chain restaurants.
On one hand, we are proud of our superlative and eclectic local dining scene, and we are very encouraging and protective of our Western New York neighbors trying to make it in the slim-margin restaurant world.
One the other hand, though, we bear a chip on our collective shoulder when Western New York “doesn’t fit into the business model” of some trendy shop we saw on vacation or a Shangri-La Superbowl advertiser.
“It’s fine,” we say, like any other jilted lover, if a national company ignores us — but then we drop everything and fawn when they pay us any attention. For a little while, anyway, depending on the brand.
We say “thanks, but no thanks” to plenty of big names. Domino's and Dunkin' Donuts have both tried more than once to make splashy entrances into the Buffalo market, but stores have eventually closed. Folks in the Elmwood Village were downright hostile when a Jimmy John’s Subs opened in 2016 (and closed the following year.)
Buffalo has a pretty good handle on quick pizza, coffee and subs, and those places did little to ignite our imaginations here.
But the opposite is also true.
Just like with the recent bated-breath arrival of Chick-Fil-A, a handful of big chains have made headlines with their much-anticipated grand openings in Western New York. In 2013, Popeye’s came to Elmwood Avenue in North Buffalo, and in 2015, Sonic opened on Union Road in Cheektowaga, each with much fanfare, long lines and news coverage. Both were nationally advertised brands that Buffalonians might have sampled only on vacation.
That notion of seeing something great elsewhere and wanting it here extended to grocery stores as well. Wegmans remains a beloved local giant, but when Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods came to town, many waited in line to give them a try.
And just like all Buffalo snow storms are measured against the Blizzard of ’77, all Buffalo grand-opening crowds are now measured against Krispy Kreme.
By now, whether you’re a Buffalonian who waits in line or Western New Yorker who scoffs at the queues, just about everyone expects a line when something new comes to town. Even if you don’t “get it,” you know it’s going to happen —ever since the grand-daddy of all mass-hysteria snaking lineups happened in October 2000.
Both the ’77 and ’00 watermark events started slowly. Krispy Kreme hired an off-duty police officer to handle traffic and two Town of Tonawanda cars were sent to the scene on that first morning on Oct. 3, 2000.
"Traffic was backed up two blocks to Brighton (Road), and there were women with babies in strollers, all sorts of people just milling around watching the action," said Town of Tonawanda Assistant Chief Robert Rowland on that first day. Traffic stayed heavy all day.
More than a week later, on Oct. 11, store manager Dave Benfanti told The News, "We never expected the opening to be this big." Several nearby businesses, such as Goodyear Tire, EMS and M&T Bank, reported that their parking lots were still being filled with more Krispy Kreme customers than their own.
A month later, only a few days before Election Day, the lines were still long as first lady Hillary Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, came to Buffalo in the closing moments of what would prove to be Clinton’s successful run for the U.S. Senate. A good part of the Western New York trip was spent at, yes, Krispy Kreme on Niagara Falls Boulevard, with both Clintons shaking hands with those in line and signing boxes of doughnuts of those leaving. It all added to the surreal feel of Buffalo’s weird obsession of late 2000.
The lines lasted longer than anyone would have expected, but they died out just as quickly.
Krispy Kreme’s Western New York footprint rapidly expanded, first with another stand-alone store across Walden Avenue from the Walden Galleria and then by making the doughnuts available in each of the several dozen Wilson Farms stores in the area.
Five years later, though, in August 2006, it was announced that the stores would close and the red glow of the “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign was forever darkened.
The lasting result of the Krispy Kreme story is a lot like the result of the blizzard. Until the last person who remembers the epic snow of 1977 is gone, whenever it snows a little more than we expect, there will be someone telling the story of where they were and how the snow drifts reached the traffic lights.
And whenever we Buffalonians get overly excited about a fast food joint, national grocery store or — heaven forbid — someday an Ikea store, we remember with smiles, frowns and a sense of bewilderment the great Krispy Kreme rush of 2000.