Food lies at the heart of our bodies and our culture; it is there for celebrations and sustenance. NOMaste features a local fierce foodie each month, in four weekly segments. First, an interview, then a top 10 list, followed by a recipe to share, and finally a food review. This food corner will not just feature local chefs but also restaurateurs, buyers, suppliers — any woman involved in any aspect of the food chain, from farm to food truck. Join us each week as we get to know another Foodie in the city.
Spinning plates is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Amanda Amico and her incredible ability to juggle basically everything under the food-service sun. Just listening to her various responsibilities with all of her different projects is enough to make even the seasoned multitasker’s head spin. While running Amy’s Truck, she is also helping build the Swan Street Diner — Larkinville’s newest addition (slated to open in September) — from the ground up. Oh, and she’ll also be welcoming a daughter to the world right around then, too.
Food has always been special to Amanda. The first thing she remembers making is soup. There was some chicken stock at her home, and she cut up some vegetables and made her first soup. How it tasted is not as clear in her mind as was the act of making it and then sharing it with her family. She has not stopped making food — and, more importantly — making it for others, and sharing that joy ever since.
Amanda had worked in various other establishments before arriving at Amy’s Place in 2001 — starting at the classic teenage employer, Burger King, at age 16 — and a variety of other fast or at least quick food places. However, Amanda’s food education truly began at Amy’s.
Starting as a busser, then server, and eventually a cook, she learned to take on every restaurant role there. The first thing you would notice at Amy’s is that you do not have a ‘server’ assigned to you — everyone works together, and everyone helps take orders, bring food, and help out. Whatever is needed someone is on it, and, what’s more, they are happy to help.
This sense of communalism fits the small but popular eatery, usually packed with enthusiastic diners at even the slowest restaurant hours. It was exactly the sort of environment that let Amanda flourish personally and professionally. If you ever had a server who remembered you loved your burger well done but not too well done, or that you always take hot sauce with your fries, or never put cream in your coffee – that’s Amanda. In fact, learning her customer’s quirks is one of her favorite parts about the food world; getting to know your customers and remembering those small ticks makes them feel special. And, let’s be honest — there’s nothing more special than having ‘the usual’ and knowing someone knows what it is. Amanda does. She not only gets how good that feels — she relishes that knowledge.
Amy’s Place, the bustling, vegetarian/vegan-friendly Lebanese-inspired diner that serves everything from Tabbouleh to the classic 2-2-2, for the few who don’t know, is an institution in Buffalo — and it happens to be the very first place I ate in the city, way before I ever dreamed of moving here. If ever there was the perfect restaurant that could easily serve a carnivore, a vegetarian, a vegan, and every other kind of diet under the sun — Amy’s is it, and they have multiple options for every diner. Amy’s holds a special place in my heart — as it does in most Buffalonians. I would go so far as to say that without a trip to Amy’s, you haven’t really been to Buffalo. It was only natural that when the food truck scene started to take off in this city, an Amy’s Truck would soon follow.
Like most serendipitous things in Buffalo, the food truck kind of fell in Amanda’s lap. Through a two-step removal – it came from a friend of a cousin. The timing was right and the opportunity was there to be grabbed. After much Googling, a few trips to City Hall, and an LLC in hand, on the propitious date of 10/11/12, Amy’s Truck rolled down Elmwood Ave. for its first service. This is one of Amanda’s favorite memories — she remembers feeling both excited and terrified — turns out the terror was unjustified, and the excitement, very much so.
A truck is much different than a restaurant, so this new venture required a little adjusting. Since space is at a premium, Amanda selected the menu to get the most variety with the least ingredients — a must for any food truck. Just being able to work in such close quarters requires a lot of communication and teamwork. The team pulled together in no time and learned to adjust to this new work-life quite easily.
“Little did I know we would become an even more efficient well-oiled machine as we went,” Amanda said, reflecting on those first days.
She also learned to be a jack-of-all-trades. Being in charge of a food truck means not only being a cook, but you also need to be a plumber, electrician, and mechanic all at once. She learned as she went, and relied on friends when some extra advice or pair of hands was needed. The food truck community is a close knit group — always ready to lend a helping hand and offer up advice when needed.
When asked of some of her most memorable Amy’s Truck moments, this is what she had to say: “Getting through a City of Night cooking all by myself (about 300 people for us) with just one person in the window. It wasn’t super fun at the time, but after it was like — oh shit, we just did that; the night I reconnected with my now-wife working a pub crawl on Allen street; my first Wednesday night at Live at Larkin — we were the only truck there and we had a line of at least 20 people all night and just thinking, ‘We can do anything!’”
Amanda’s natural state is one of engagement and genuine gregariousness. Every time I see her she has a smile on her face and is engrossed in whatever her task is — chatting with a customer, making something delicious — it doesn’t matter what aspect of the job she is working on, she is incredibly joyful. Her genuine caring nature is evident by seeing the same faces working by her side time and again. From Amy’s place, to the Amy’s Truck – and, no doubt, at the Swan Street Diner — her management skills are more evocative of a family. Her attitude cultivates a hard-working, loyal team that are really and truly convivial siblings, rather than just mere coworkers.
While Amanda loves work on the truck, she does miss those brick-and-mortar days. So when the opportunity arose to work with the people at Larkin, Amanda was only too happy to jump on board. The new restaurant, the Swan Street Diner, is a classic diner from the ‘30s. “I love that they refurbished it to the original condition as much as possible. It’s a 1937 diner, so it’s porcelain panel and mahogany, which is really cool. I like the stainless look in general, but I love how this is a little older, and a little different.”
Maybe you saw some videos on Snapchat of the oversized load as it was driven down the street to its new address — right next to Hydraulic Hearth’s beer garden. You can see it sitting there now in all its glory, with a slew of construction materials around it, getting ready for opening day. Amanda has been busy at work with the other phases of this project — coming up with the menu items and figuring out the kitchen design, among myriad other tasks.
“I have really enjoyed being part of the process in the menu and kitchen design,” she said. “I am putting this awesome meatloaf melt on the menu and the Swan Street twist on the pot pie with a creamy chicken base with stuffing on top. I also just started making 3-berry jam and homemade syrups for milkshakes! I am learning so much about starting a business from the ground up, literally.”
Everything Amanda has been involved in had prepared her for the diner. She will be the operator, manager, and head chef — and she is ready!
The Swan Street Diner is going to be a welcome new addition to the Buffalo food scene — which has really taken off in recent years. “I can’t believe all of the amazing places that have popped up in the past few years. There are so many talented chefs. And all sorts of cuisine. I mean Buffalo is killing it in my opinion,” Amanda enthused.
I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait to try some of the meatloaf at the Swan Street Diner. And I can’t wait to order my future ‘usual’.