Significant changes are afoot at Buffalo's downtown food hall, EXPO Market, which changed ownership officially on Feb. 1.
Restaurateurs JJ Alfieri, Paul Tsouflidis and Kevin Lin, who all operate stands in EXPO, have taken over the lease to manage the space inside Sinatra & Co. Real Estate's Market Arcade at 617 Main St.
With more control under the new structure, the owners plan to introduce at least four more tenants in 2019, beginning with quick-service Greek chain Souvlaki Fast on Feb. 6, tentatively. Perks Cafe has agreed to join the fray, with an opening planned tentatively for May. The overall goal is to broaden EXPO's appeal beyond its solid lunch crowd.
To make room for the new businesses, Sun Roll and Sun Cuisines have merged into one stand - Sun Cuisines Express - while Mercado closed last year. Breezy Burrito, GBGB and Newbury Salads will remain in the fold.
Five things to know about what's ahead:
*Souvlaki Fast was founded in South Florida by Tsouflidis' best friend, Zafeiris "Roulis" Zambiyadis, who lived briefly in Buffalo after moving from Northern Greece. It will be one of a handful of area restaurants that use vertical spits; they'll have one each for gyro and for marinated chicken. (Interesting, the word "gyro" actually means "turn or revolution," referring to the traditional way of cooking the meat).
Souvlaki Fast will have late hours, closing at 11 p.m. Here's the menu.
*Although Perks Cafe is still focusing on its new Horsefeathers location, Julie Leone will soon make Perks' third spot inside EXPO. An array of coffees and drinks will star, with baked goods offered rather than the full food menu from Perks' 448 Elmwood Ave. and West Side locations.
Perks will be EXPO's first-ever coffee vendor, helping the diversity of selection and encouraging morning traffic, Tsouflidis said. Perks will open at 7 a.m.
*With the merger of the two Sun enterprises into Sun Cuisines Express, the new conglomerate has adopted the pan-Asian menu - popular through build-your-own ramen and yakitori - of Sun Cuisines' stand at PK Eats, another Lin-Tsouflidis food hall that soft-opened in late December on Hertel Avenue.
*In the middle area of EXPO where there's presently seating and fountain beverages, a to-be determined vendor is expected to sell classic Buffalo food such as wings, pizza and beef on weck. The owners hope to have this new vendor open in a few months.
*A themed bar will replace the seating area just inside the Washington Street entrance. While a specific concept has yet to be disclosed, the stand will offer both food and drink, will be run by Tsouflidis and Alfieri and is slated for this fall.
A retail vendor is expected to replace the gaming area, by the entrance to the main Market Arcade hallway. Two-top seating will replace the communal eating tables in front of Breezy Burrito and Souvlaki Fast, while a lounge will be set up near GBGB and Perks.
In spring 2016, EXPO opened as Buffalo's first food hall under Sinatra's management, catching up to a national trend that Tsouflidis detailed.
"Food halls across the country are operated by developers or building owners. One thing building owners wanted to do - which was smart - was to make the first floor of their buildings into food halls," he explained. "There are like 300 now around the country, there were 25 five years ago."