Faces of a resurgent Buffalo: You tell us
blog by Nick Mendola • October 10, 2013 @ 5:13pm
In the few months since we hatched the idea for a series of profiles on young, successful Buffalonians, two things have become very clear.
For one thing, the lessons learned on the path to notoriety are striking and secondly, there are a ton of great stories bubbling to the surface of a resurgent Buffalo business world.
So before we get to the lessons, we’d like to enlist you, dear reader and fellow Western New Yorker, to let us know who out there deserves their due on our web space.
But back to the lessons. The start of this series coincided with a long, hard look at where I stood in my “career,” and it’s no surprise that speaking with noteworthy Buffalonians provides moments of clarity.
When you’re navigating through a sea of “A-ha” moments, you’re likely to find your rudder being pulled in positive directions.
Everybody’s looking for an edge, so there’s much to be gleaned from those who’ve found theirs. Let’s look back at those we’ve profiled in the past two months and the big takeaways from those conversations. Click on the bold line within the text of each segment to read the specific interviews.
1) Ask “Big Picture” questions during times of trial.
Defeat seemed near for TEDxBuffalo, so close that participant Kevin Purdy was in the process of composing the “Sorry, it ain’t happening” email when his frustration bred a moment of clarity.
“How can I fix this?” Purdy asked. “I don’t care how it turns out as long as we pull off one of these. I wanted to get one done and see who wants to take it over for the next year.”
Now he runs the thing. A similar lesson comes from Craig Kanalley (pictured, right), who, while working at The Huffington Post, found himself startled at the tumult caused by many departments all wanting their piece of any big, breaking story. So he asked why no one was the go-to guy or gal, the decision maker in those situations.
The answer from Huffington Post media giant Ariana Huffington: “You can do it.” And his career jumped off.
2) Be single-minded and relentless
We’re a generation of kids-turned-adults who were told to follow their passion, that the world was their oyster and that anything was possible. While all those things fit quite neatly on a poster with a whale breaching the water and MOTIVATION screaming from below, the fact is that people don’t act. From my experience—and I know, who am I?—95 percent of young people have ambition. Of that 95, 75 percent can talk the talk. Out of that 75, less than one is willing to do the work.
Edward Forster of The Workshop Buffalo wanted to be an elite cook, the sort of fellow who earns unprecedented reviews from publications—The Buffalo News gave his work at Mike A’s its first 10 rating—so he found people worth learning from and refused to stop. When you’re fully invested in your passion, off days don’t happen.
“I’d basically just show up every day and work for free for a couple hours,” Forster said. “On my day off, I’d just show up and work for free… I just dug my heels in. I really committed to work.”
3) Don’t sleep on an opportunity because it doesn’t feel like one.
Drink wizard Tony Rials of Mike A’s Lounge may have not even hit his career field if he wasn’t ready to do well at the little things. While it’d be cheating to say he didn’t have an interest in wine or drinks, it was his inert desire to be the best at whatever he was doing—including being a bread boy, so to speak—that helped lead to the revelation of his talent.
“I’ve always been pretty diligent,” Rials said. “At that point in time, I didn’t think the restaurant industry would be what I was doing for real — I was going to school — but it was still something that really intrigued me and excited me so I was going to be as good as I possibly could.”
“I didn’t want to suck at my job. I tried to know everything possible about what was on our menus, whether it was the food or wine or spirits. That was kinda where it all started.”
4) Be confident and take your shots.
We’ll avoid the overused Wayne Gretzky quote here and defer to Community Beer Works founder Ethan Cox. He moved back to Buffalo to play a role in the revival but found that his job as a professor wasn’t hitting the sample size he felt duty-bound to reach.
“I felt like I had more in me,” Cox said. “That sounds really immodest and not humble. It wasn’t really changing Buffalo. It was more one person at a time and they were going off to do whatever they’d do. Among the things that was gnawing at me was this desire to be a bigger part.”
When WGR’s Jeremy White found himself removed from his evening gig with Brad Riter and asked to complement Howard Simon in the morning, he accepted what they wanted but set out to prove he could play an even bigger role.
“It wasn’t ‘You’re the new morning co-host,’” White said. “It was ‘you’re going to be on-the-air with Howard if he needs you.’ I’m probably a bit too loud-mouthed or bullish for that to last long, plus Howard’s such a great guy and so easy to work with it that it quickly morphed into ‘our’ show.”
It’s now difficult to imagine the WGR morning show as an entity where White just fills in the blanks for Simon.
5) If you love it, don’t quit because it’s tough. Good things come.
Noted area foodie Christa Glennie Seychew loved food from her earliest days but had a harrowing time dealing with sexual discrimination during culinary school. Had she eschewed the scene altogether, she would’ve never found herself at the top of pops.
It took more than a decade for her to dig within her passion and carve out her spot, yet she knew what she cared about and never ceased searching.
It was her gig as a food writer that connected her to her roots as a family farmer and centered her passion for good.
I know “Rise and Grind” is one of those Tweets that symbolizes “managing to not fall asleep in class” or “stay off Candy Crush for a whole hour at work,” but there’s more than a nugget of wisdom in there. Go hard… and keep going.
6) In summation: “It really is that case of spending the time, paying the dues and following your bliss a little bit and believing in what you’re doing.”
That’s concert-promoter Donny Kutzbach, and it needs no elaboration. Now go get it, Buffalo.
(First internal photo courtesy of Flickr / Alex Abian).