The journey to open Craft Coffee House in Pendleton was years in the making.
When the shop opened last year, it was a dream come true for U.S. Air Force veterans Katie and Nick Graves. Since then, the coffee cafe has grown in popularity, and become a spot where people come to enjoy a variety of different coffees, sandwiches, baked goods and drinks.
The pair were both born and raised in North Tonawanda and met at a Little League baseball game, where she ran the snack stand and he was in charge of umpires.
Both went on to attend Niagara County Community College and Nick soon joined the Air Force Reserves.
While he was going through training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Katie was managing a café at Seneca Niagara Casino and finishing schooling at NCCC. She then went on to attend Erie Community College for her baking and pastry arts certificate and later got her bachelor’s degree in business.
Nick returned home, working at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. When Katie was 21, she also joined the Air Force, going active duty. She went to Lackland as well, before being stationed in Las Vegas as a sensor operator.
The couple married in 2010, and in 2011 she volunteered to serve six months in Iraq. This experience is one that changed her view on life and put in perspective what she wanted to do when she got back.
“When you’re in an environment like that … uncertainty at every single moment you’re there,” she said. “You don’t know who you’re around. You could die at any moment. You start to question what’s most important to you.”
Returning from Iraq, Katie left the Air Force as a disabled veteran, suffering from PTSD. In 2012, the couple welcomed their first child, Jacob, 7, and then Jackson, 6. Katie entered the corporate world, working in corporate risk at two banks. She said it came with challenges as she went from an environment were everyone around her had her back, so a corporate environment where she didn’t have that, as people were “not motivated the same way I was.”
“PTSD really affected how I was working and what type of environment I could work in and that I felt comfortable in,” she said.
She sought treatment and assistance from the VA, which helped her process her thoughts and readjust back home. These health issues also drove her to reconsider how she wanted to spend her life.
Katie said she always wanted to own her own business. In high school and part of college she worked at Platter’s Chocolate, where she first realized she was “really motivated to be in a small business environment” for the “family atmosphere” and everyone “contributing to the same goal.”
Moving to Pendleton, Nick and Katie started to realize there wasn’t a lot of local businesses in the area for families, and they were lacking a place for coffee.
“We love coffee,” Katie said. “Nick didn’t used to drink coffee for a long time. He’s obsessed now.”
With the great help and resources provided by of Lynn Oswald and the NCCC Small Business Development Center, the two were able to open their cafe at 6535 Campbell Blvd.
Nick said what makes them unique is their pour-over coffees, which allow the true taste of the coffee to shine.
Another unique element that “makes us completely different” is they make all of their syrups from scratch. The couple said there are too many to list, but some of the favorites include peach mango, cookie dough, amaretto and cake batter.
Nick said people really like the flavors, because it gives people the “creative freedom” to make drinks for them. He added that the Pendleton community “has been extremely receptive” to them.
Craft Coffee House also offers a variety of baked goods, salads and sandwiches, which the couple plan to grow in the near future, along with expanding hours of operation. They recently hosted a Saved By The Bell Trivia Night, which sold out. People attending enjoyed beer and wine, coffee and their food menu. Katie said they are leaning toward doing a lot more of those type of event in the future.
The dream for the cafe is to offer dinner, which Nick describes as a modem twist on the classics, such as an upscale macaroni and cheese or chicken fingers. Their dream would also include space to make everything from scratch, including breads and cheese.
“We really love the farm to table concept,” Katie said.
They currently work with local farms in the area, including McCollum Orchards in Lockport, where they get tomatoes, peppers, greens and edible flowers. The source their honey from Shirley LeBlanc in Pendleton, and carry juices from Blackman Homestead Farms, which Katie said they use for mimosas.
Craft Coffee House was also the recent recipient of the WNY Small Business Administration Award for 2019.
This story appeared in Delish Magazine in Sept. 2019.