Niagara Gazette

March 4, 2013

HIGGS: Spotlighting January, February -- Robert and Andrea Pascoal and Yvonne's Bakery and Café

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — I am combining the January and February Spotlight Award presentations this week.

I was thrilled when the Spotlight Award committee selected Robert and Andrea Pascoal for the January presentation as I have known them for quite some time. Residents of San Diego, they decided about 10 years ago to relocate part-time to Niagara Falls where Andrea was born and where her aging parents still lived. That way she could look after them and they could manage future investment property in this area both from here and back in San Diego.

Their first project was The Duke, a nine-unit apartment building located at 410 Cedar Ave. It was formerly a crack house and the building was a disaster. Bath tubs took hours to drain, the roof leaked, furnaces were inside the apartments with exposed ducts, brickwork was dangerously close to falling three stories to the ground and the residents were either on crack or selling it. Somehow Bob and I met for coffee and I took the tour of the building as it was. This wasn’t a fixer-upper and it took years to gut the building, take on a large amount of debt and change the reputation of the neighborhood. It has been 100 percent occupied with a high class of tenant since 2007.

Recently they purchased The Stratford, located on the corner of Walnut Avenue and 7th Street. Bob admits he was reluctant as they had already invested in several smaller rental units throughout the city and he was hesitant to take on another project in “a neighborhood where it is so difficult to find financially capable tenants with middle-class values.” He described these values as paying your rent on time, getting along with your neighbors and not destroying your apartment. He finally acquiesced and now feels the neighborhood is in a state of transition. He credits the demolition of several crack houses and the work of the block clubs to slowly work the magic of positive change. Since I live just blocks away I agree with his comments about the location which is just three blocks from Memorial Medical Center, two blocks form city hall and the casino, a 10 minute walk to the falls and grocery shopping and other amenities. The challenge he said “was the reputation of the neighborhood and stabilization of the building itself.”

It took two years, and to be sure it is lasting, it takes speaking to 30 prospective tenants for each apartment they hope to rent; then narrowed down to 15 with about six showing up and they hope to find one from that group. This often means a vacant apartment for a month or two. They feel “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch” and they have suffered through a few evictions in order to keep the good ones that remain.

Bob and Andréa have taken on numerous beautification projects by their efforts to create safe, clean neighborhoods and more important to keep them that way. He has become involved in seeking out like-property owners and is now the president of the Greater Niagara Landlord’s Association currently trying to convince Niagara County Legislators to help the good landlords and the block clubs in these goals by enacting legislation concerning the Social Services Rental Voucher system.

All of this is in addition to the fact that they have changed the appearance of not only the property they purchased and the neighborhood itself but now are helping other property owners and responsible tenants as well.

Valentine’s Day brought members of the NBC downtown to 439 Third St. to present the monthly Spotlight Award to Yvonne’s Bakery and Café. Come Taste and See …

Greeting us upon our arrival was owner Lakea Strong decked out in Valentine red and that beaming smile we are accustomed to seeing on her from previous visits to her new restaurant and drop in center.

Named after her loving grandmother who she credits with creating a strong drive to do her best at everything she tries, she has managed to succeed as a high jumper at LaSalle High School in the ‘90s, graduate from Lakeland Community College in Cleveland and excel at a supervisory position at Niagara Falls Memorial. Along the way she married and is the mother of six children and now the proud owner of this spacious café which she calls a “gathering place for the community.”

And from the looks of it there is plenty of room with comfy spots to sit around in, a private meeting room for organizations and café seating throughout. During the summer months there is outside seating which I love and promote whenever I can. But the best looking part of this establishment is the bakery showcase featuring some of the most gorgeous items to eat it almost seems a shame to cut into them. Don’t be shy – they taste just as good as they look.

The place is bright and cheerful and you cannot help but relax and enjoy the good food, coffee and customers who are just as happy as you are. She has a organized Book Club which welcomes new members (361-5802) and open mic night on Friday nights featuring live music and comedy. She is mindful of her neighbors so there are rules for set up and so on at the café website at yvonnesbandc.com.

The café is open Monday through Thursday from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 6:30 a.m. to midnight. You can order online 285-5200 and catering is also available.

What more do you want? Come Taste and See at Yvonne’s Bakery and Café.

Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.

Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.