#41. Mike Shatzel

One of the biggest reasons that we do these interviews is to get to know the people behind the things we love about Buffalo. By now, you’ve probably heard of Mike Shatzel. If you haven’t, then you have certainly heard of one of his great bars or restaurants. Let’s rattle off a few to get you started… Blue Monk, Coles, Allen Burger Venture (A.B.V.), The Liberty Hound, Moor Pat, and most recently, Thin Man Brewery. OK, I think I just named a favorite bar for most of you. Now, let’s talk about guy behind your favorite bar.

“I grew up on Amherst Street in North Buffalo. I went to Nichols for high school and then on to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. I transferred to the University of Rochester and graduated in 1995.”

“I was born into the bar industry. My grandfather owned a bar in Lackawanna. My dad opened Laughlin’s, where Buffalo Proper is now in the early 60’s. That got shut down in 1968 or 69. He bought Brennan’s Bowery Bar in 1970 and then Coles back in early 1973. I was born in 1972, so I was literally born into it. At a young age, I used to count the quarters at Coles on a Saturday morning. I started bussing tables in the fourth grade and did that for a couple years. It was something to get me out of the house and keep me busy. The other bus boy would give me five bucks, my dad would give me five bucks, so I’d be happy. That’s pretty much how I got started. When I was a junior or senior in high school, my dad would come grab me if a dishwasher didn’t show up. This is in my DNA. Hopefully not in my kids’.”

Mike Shatzel - Thin Man Brewery Buffalo

“I started bartending in 1990, so that kind of got me into the bar life. I loved being behind the bar. Back then, in Buffalo the bartenders were the superstars around town. At least I felt like we were. I was young and dumb and didn’t know any better. In 1997, I moved out to San Diego to get my MBA at the University of San Diego. Enterprise. I realized that I would much rather peddle drinks than cars. I took two courses out there, and decided I didn’t want to sit in a classroom in San Diego. I took a job at Enterprise Rent-a-Car and met a lot of great people. I enjoyed my time there. After a while, I wanted to come home and came back and took over Coles. That was in 1998. A few years later a salesman came in and started pushing craft beer on me. I ordered a couple kegs. Left Hand Sawtooth Ale was the first keg I bought. The next week a guy came in with Harpoon IPA, so I put that on. I didn’t really know what an IPA was at the time. I was a big Sierra Nevada Pale Ale fan. It took off from there. The next thing I knew I was putting Stone on, and we went from 18 taps, to 24 and quickly to 30. We’re up to 36 taps now at Coles. Between Coles, and Goodbar and Pizza Plant selling really good beer, we really started to step it up a notch in Buffalo. My dad thought I was nuts, the bartenders thought I was nuts, but I think we were just ahead of the curve. I fell in love with craft beer.”

“In 2001, I moved out to Vancouver to go to culinary school for six months. That really got me into the food side of things. I think that Coles was always really a bar first. Food wasn’t a big thing there. In the late 90’s some guy asked to see me and just berated me. He got a beef on weck and the roll was a hard as a hockey puck. He just tore me apart. He said “you guys are really screwing this up. You have this amazing bar and great location and you’re screwing everything up.” The next day I went to the chef and I said “teach me how to cook”. I started to cook and I probably did it for a couple of years before going to culinary school. But that was the real turning point, that guy ripping me a new one at Coles. There’s a lot more than selling beer if you want to be a restaurant. I started paying more attention to the food, and I upped the wine list. I think it really separated us from the casual competition at the time.”

“The University of Buffalo’s CEL Program was also very influential in helping me take my businesses to another level.”

Let’s talk about Blue Monk

“I went  to Amsterdam with Charlie Goldman from Hardware to see the Black Crowes play. We found this great little beer bar called Gollem. It sold all of the trappist ales. Very Belgian influenced. That’s where the idea for Blue Monk was born. I just loved everything about that bar. That got the juices flowing, making me want to open up my own place. That was probably in 2007. I started saving my money better, and looking for the spot for Blue Monk. One day, I was stuck at the light at Elmwood and Breckenridge and they had the government tape on the windows saying that they were seizing the assets from Merlins. I called Kevin Brinkworth, who was a childhood friend and asked him to tell his dad I am interested in taking over the space. Kevin talked to his dad and became my partner. We had a good run for five and a half good years there. We have been friends our whole lives. We just didn’t work out as business partners. I know that Blue Monk changed the beer scene in Buffalo forever. It put Buffalo on the national beer scene. I started traveling more and meeting other bar owners that do what I do, and made a lot of great friends. Breweries started coming to Buffalo.”

Mike Shatzel - Thin Man Brewery Buffalo

Tell us about The Liberty Hound,

“Jason Davidson approached me after Newell Nussbaumer approached him about opening a restaurant cafe in the current space of The Liberty Hound, down in the naval park. So we took that on. That was an amazing opportunity for us. I saw some opportunity there, but I didn’t envision that it would be what it is today. Canalside wasn’t that big of a deal yet. We were the first food and beverage place down there, besides the arena. It was really special to be a part of the emergence of Canalside, which I feel is a huge thing for Buffalo.”

Moor Pat in Williamsville

“A couple years after that, I was approached by Peter Braun, who had been trying to get me to open a craft beer bar with him in the Williamsville area. After seeing a couple of spaces that I wasn’t too into, we found the spot where Moor Pat is now. While it’s quite small, I just loved the look of the old wood. You can’t recreate that anymore. That’s been a great thing for us and for Williamsville. I wish we had more square footage, but it’s a great cozy place. Really I wish I could pick it up and put it in Elmwood. That was two years ago.”

Mike Shatzel - Thin Man Brewery Buffalo

Allen Burger Venture in Allentown

“In March of 2015, my Chef at Coles, Dino and I were throwing this idea around of a burger restaurant with high end food, but not a high end feeling of the space. His food is amazing, but I didn’t want an uppity atmosphere. We got Johny Chow, who has traveled the world in rock and roll and metal bands involved and now we have A.B.V.. I don’t know how many burgers and pints we’ve sold, but it’s quite a lot. It’s got that Allentown feel to it.”

Thin Man Brewery

Mike Shatzel - Thin Man Brewery Buffalo
Mike Shatzel - Thin Man Brewery Buffalo

“In November of 2015, Rocco Termini called me and told me that he just bought the old Faherty’s and Toro on Elmwood. He said he wants to open a brewery/brewpub there and he wanted me to be his partner. It was pretty funny, because that was on a Friday morning. As of that Wednesday, I had been in negotiations about buying Toro and moving Blue Monk to that location. That deal fell apart, but then 36 hours later, I got the call that changed everything for me. It’s been a pleasure working with Rocco, and I brought Rudy Watkins over from Community Beer Works, who was my first craft beer nerd friend, that I met at Coles. To have that come 360 and him and I opening a brewery together is pretty sweet. Hopefully, some time in August we will begin serving our own beer.

Origin of the name, Thin Man Brewery

“I wanted a brewery name that could relate to Buffalo, but I didn’t want the term “Buffalo” or “Bison” or something like that in it. You already have Flying Bison, and Rusty Nickle. We were a little late to the party in opening a brewery, so they rightfully ran with the Buffalo theme. I started researching famous Buffalonians and inventions that came out of Buffalo. I don’t think that we could have called it Rick James Brewery or Superfreak Brewery. I can maybe see Superfreak beer, maybe [insert laughing]. The first invention I came by was the pacemaker by Greatbatch. I thought that was a great name, but they are still an operating company, so that was out. One day, I took my daughter to City Hall and went to the top to see the city. On the way up, they have these “Did You Know” things. One of them was “Did you know that the crash test dummy was invented in Buffalo by Calspan and Cornell?”. I thought that was a cool idea. We sat down to think about some potential brewery names and that was one that I threw out. Rocco liked it and was tight with some people at Calspan and they were excited about it. The design team liked it as well. Greg Meadows at Telesco Creative came up with the Blue Monk logo, which has since gone worldwide with the beer that we had brewed in Belgium. They also came up with the name and logo for The Liberty Hound. Greg’s been on board with me for all of my places. I came up with the name for ABV and Moor Pat, but Greg came up with the logos. We have a good fit there. Telesco has been great every step of the way for us. Being, not-so-much a thin man, it’s kinda funny. But hopefully after moving all of these kegs every day up to the second floor I’ll be a thin man again.”

“According to New York State Law, Rocco and I are unable to own a brewery, due to owning multiple bars. So, our wives own the brewery, and Rocco and I own the pub. I know next to nothing about brewing. I’ve helped brew, basically dumping hops in a kettle. I know what beer styles I like, and I’ll tell my wife and she’ll tell Rudy what to brew. Rudy was making the best beers in Buffalo at Community Beer Works and I have no reason to believe that he won’t be doing the same here. He excels in IPA’s and funky Saisons. Him and I are pretty much on the same wavelength when it comes to beer styles. I’ve very excited to drink that first pint of Thin Man, whatever it might be.”

Mike Shatzel - Thin Man Brewery Buffalo

“It’s pretty amazing what craft beer has allowed me to do. I’ve traveled the world. I have beer friends in pretty much every continent. It’s crazy how this has turned out. I got in at the right time and continue to be passionate about it. It’s turned out well for me. Buffalo has been there every step with me, supporting me. It really sucked closing Blue Monk down, but to see how passionate Western New York was for it, and the people that came up to me and said that Blue Monk changed their lives. People met their wives there. They moved to the neighborhood because it was there. That was really special to hear that. Complete strangers were coming up to me, hugging me and thanking me. It makes it all worth it to know that your hard work and ideas changed people’s lives. That makes it all worth it. I’ll get that second Blue Monk open in the next year or so. We’re looking for the right location, and we need to get the brewery open.”

“I have Colter Bay in the works as well. I’ve always loved it and that was always a special place for me. I think that we are going to bring one of the best bars in Buffalo back to it’s past glory. That should be coming some time in September.”

“So, yeah… I have my hands full. Maybe too full. My sister just moved back from North Carolina and she’ll be taking the reins over at Coles. That takes some things off my plate. I still order all of the beer there, and oversee some things, but she’ll be the face of the place. It’s nice to have her home.”

Mike’s Favorite Beer

“My desert island beer would be Edward by Hill Farmstead. It’s light so I can drink it all day on the desert island and not get too drunk. It’s about 5% but it has big hop flavors and it’s smooth. It’s like the perfect beer to me. I’m sure there are others that I would like more, but I think that would be my go-to beer.”

Favorite Local Brews

“Community Beer Works made a great IPA for Sato. Some of their single hops IPA’s I was blown away by. I think Deep Cut by Big Ditch is a really nice beer. 42 North is making some really nice stuff and Resurgence’s IPA’s are very nice. Southern Tier was really starting to come into their own when I first started out. Coles more often than not was one of the first places in the country to have the new Southern Tier beers. So that was kinda cool. Rudy got me into GreatBeer.com and we started rating all of the beers. So I would always rush to try to be the first one to rate the new Southern Tier beer, which ultimately means nothing, but it’s neat to be the first guy to do those reviews.”

What are your greatest areas of need?

“I’d love that hotel to happen across from Coles. That gives you a built-in audience right across the street. With Moor Pat, I’d love more room. Coles and ABV, I’d love more parking. I guess I’ve kind of held out and got really good locations for all of the places. We’d love to have more room at Thin Man to add more tanks, but we’re in the spot we have. But if this takes off, Rocco has some buildings that might work for us to expand the brewery operations. My wife would be excited about that. Not that I’m restaurant-ed out, but I’d like to venture into some other stuff. The hardest thing right now is to find a kitchen staff. It’s not an easy job back there. The pay is ok, it’s not great. It’s tough. I cooked for ten years. You’re on your feet, it’s hot, you’re burning your hands.”

Mike Shatzel - Thin Man Brewery Buffalo
Mike Shatzel - Thin Man Brewery Buffalo

“The internet changed everything. Everyone’s a food reviewer. It used to be when you had a bad day, or sent a bad meal out they’d call you the next day and you’d send them a gift certificate. Now, two minutes later they’re online giving you a one star rating. It should be a rule that everyone has to work in a restaurant once in their life for about a year so that they understand what people go through. It’s easy to point the finger and say something sucks, unless you actually did it. But, a lot of times, something does suck, you put a bad meal out. Nobody’s perfect. It’s not an easy living, there’s a lot of dynamics. You rely on a lot of people to put out a good meal and a good drink. It’s not a perfect science but you try to do your best.”

What would you tell a younger version of yourself?

006-mike-shatzel-thin-man-brewery@2x

“Be careful for what you wish for. I wanted to get out from under my father’s shadow. No matter what I did at Coles, it was still Dave Shatzel’s place. I wanted to make a name on my own, which I feel I have definitely accomplished. But, opening all of these places, I don’t get to spend the time I want to at Coles. If I had to close them all and keep one, I would keep Coles. I grew up there. It’s our family place. If I were going to hang out in one place, it would be Coles. The more you open, the more you lose your grip on each individual place. I would say, don’t grow too fast. Make sure you have your systems in place, and hire smart. Pay management, get the right people in, give them the tools to do their job well.”

Nominations:

  • Jinxie & Baird Tucker: Benjamin Art Gallery
  • Bill Miller: Lawyer, Philantropist
  • Willard Brooks : Buffalo/Niagara Brewers Association

What do you think?

Written by Sam @ yeahBuffalo
Sam is co-founder of Yeah! Buffalo as well as Owner of theBREWROOM, a Buffalo NY based internet marketing company. Follow Sam : @SamInsalaco