Those who have passed by the Western New York Welcome Center while driving across Grand Island, might be surprised to learn there is a restaurant and retail shop inside, featuring products made in New York state.

The Welcome Center is one of 11 across the state with Taste New York Markets inside where locals and travelers can order lunch or purchase their favorite local and state-produced products including chocolates, sauces, honey, baked goods and so much more. The Grand Island facility is staffed by Cornell Cooperative Extension Services employees.

On Saturday, the Welcome Center will have an open house in conjunction with the Greater Niagara Footprint Festival being held at Beaver Island State Park. It’s the perfect day to stop in and see the center and meet some of the many vendors who are showcasing their products in the Taste NY Market. Those who attend the open house will also get the chance to check the information kiosks and the big screen TV showing videos of places to visit in the region. The Visitor Center also hosts a dog park, electric car charging stations, a children’s playground and a “walk of fame” of notables from Western New York, including Lucille Ball, Wolf Blitzer, Tim Russert, Presidents Grover Cleveland and Millard Fillmore and others. On Thursday, Renee Day, Taste New York Market manager, took a few minutes to answer some questions about what visitors — both locals and tourists —will find when they pull off the Whitehaven exit of the I-190, and step inside.

QUESTION: I am so surprised to see this place. Can you tell me what’s here, food-wise?

ANSWER: We have vendors from all over New York State that are selling their food products. We are trying to put a WNY flavor on it so bit by bit we’re adding vendors that are local.

Q: What kind of the products do you sell in the market?

A: Currently we have some big names you are probably familiar with. We have Perry’s Ice Cream and Charlie the Butcher roast beef. We have DiCamillo’s bread and on the weekends we carry their doughnuts and pastries. We’re also trying to work with some little, unknown places like Merle’s Maple Farms for their maple products and others.

Q: What’s the goal?

A: The goal is to help New Yorkers, and especially at this location — New Yorkers from the five Western New York counties — that want to grow, produce or package a product and get it to market.

Q: Are people as surprised as I am when they see this place?

A: They are. The building is just magnificent. It’s an absolute beautiful building and its a state of the art facility.

Q: What sort of food do you prepare in the cafe?

A: We’re going to be adding soups, so there will be a soup and sandwich option. We also have Sahlen’s hot dogs and we have LaNova Pizza. You can order a Dick and Jenny’s Panini, including a turkey pesto and a bacon ham and maple dijon panini, and we have Dick and Jenny’s bacon breakfast wraps. We working on the menu because we want to make sure we have a Western New York flavor.

Q: What is the whole point of the cafe?

A: The cafe is to let people taste WNY restaurant food and things they may have heard of before but never had a chance to try.

Q: Beside the market and cafe, I’ve seen the outdoor playground, dog park and car charging stations. What else is at the Welcome Center?

A: It’s basically historical and tourist information on Western New York. It’s very colorful. There’s a map that’s on the floor. People can come and speak to us about travel information on Western New York. We have maps and there are interactive kiosks that give information about things to do like kayaking or birding. There’s a lot of outdoors information there.There’s also an “I Love NY” kiosk where you can find things to do whether its finding all the latest breweries or following the wine trail or kid friendly activities. It gives you information on what to do in Western New York and throughout the state as well.

Q: How can people get in touch with you to sell their products?

A: They can do it at our website and that is found at erie.cce.cornell.edu/taste-ny and there is a place where they can get a vendor application or an email address and phone number to get in touch with us.

The cafe and market are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Christmas. To learn about menu and retail specials follow “Taste NY Grand Island” on Facebook, visit erie.cce.cornell.edu/taste-ny or call 773-0970.

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