Vegan coffee comes to North Tonawanda

Benjamin Joe/contributorLydia Gray stands next to her espresso machine in the Vegan Grocery Store of North Tonawanda, soon to be shared by her business, Little Black Heart Coffee.

NORTH TONAWANDA - The Vegan Grocery Store has a new gluten and dairy free option that will start customer’s day.

It’s a freshly brewed cappuccino, mocha or latte, compliments of Little Black Heart Coffee by Lydia Gray, one of the family of vegans who own the shop.

The grand opening for Little Black Heart Coffee is July 20.

“We’ll probably be handing out free cupcakes,” Gray said. “Having a party here, like we always do.” 

Gray said that inspiration came after working at other coffee shops such as Starbucks in 2016 and Public Espresso in Buffalo. Gray has been vegan since she was 18 and was influenced strongly by her younger sister’s decision to also become vegan. Gray wanted to work in a place that mirrored her beliefs. 

In 2018, Gray’s sister, Gabrielle, or Gabbie as Gray calls her, her husband, Jason Richards, and their mother, Judith Mittiga, opened The Vegan Grocery Store on Oliver Street. Their success gave Gray the opportunity to use her skills and bring completely vegan-alternative coffee and tea to the fore. 

“I’ve always wanted to,” Gray said about opening her own coffee shop. “I just wanted to create something that’s kind of plant-based and vegan… and people can come in and order and not have to worry about what they’re ordering.” 

Little Black Heart Coffee also caters to those with gluten allergies as well as the vegan diet of no meat, no dairy, and other animal byproducts. Gray encouraged those interested to visit different websites such as vegan.org, nutricionfacts.org, and theveganzombie.com.

“Me and my sister have been vegan for 15 years, so, it was kind of hard way back then to try to find something to eat, something to drink,” Gray said. “The struggle that people with allergies are still dealing with that today. So, I want to create something for them.”

Because being vegan often involves consciousness on harmful, unsustainable practices, Gray said that the relatively small paper cups she uses to serve americanos and lattes will only be used if absolutely necessary. She welcomes all mugs and even said that customers would be given a discount if they brought them in.

“I only have one size because I encourage people to bring their own cups,” Gray said. “I won’t carry any bigger sizes than what I have because I just want to encourage people to throw away less.”

Just like her veganism, which Gray said began as a way to bond with her sister, Gray praises what her sister, brother-in-law and mother have done for vegan and plant-based individuals.

“I think the community really welcomed them,” Gray said of the grocery store. “They’re growing each day, each month. People are coming in from out-of-town, like Toronto. People are definitely coming in and supporting, and I’m very grateful because it’s a good resource and a safe place, too.”