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“I Just Love the People” — A Talk with Greg Kempf of Amy’s Place

(Editor’s Note — Long a staple of Buffalo’s alternative culture, Amy’s Place has become an integral player in the city’s arts and DIY scene. Recently, owner Greg Kempf spoke to 1120 Press Senior Writer Benjamin Joe about the beloved space he’s created. We’re grateful for his time. — Photos of Greg Kempf and San Francisco Oi! band, Ultra Sect, by Benjamin Joe.)

Inside Amy’s Place — the well-known vegetarian diner surrounded by upper-lowers on the northern disc of the city, and commercial business on Main Street in Buffalo’s classic University Heights neighborhood — a sign hangs on the wall that says: “Be Nice or Leave.”


It’s a sentiment that owner Greg Kempf takes quite seriously.


An unassuming 50–something with glasses and a smile, Kempf and his wife — (also named Amy, albeit no connection to the restaurant’s namesake) — both worked for the original Amy and eventually became heirs to the entire building. Formerly encompassing a head shop, it is now the space of raves, art openings and, of course, DIY-hardcore and punk shows headlined by the city’s best and brightest, as well as touring bands.


“My MO with booking is really to give people the opportunity to do something (where) they wouldn’t otherwise have a space to,” Kempf said in a recent interview with 1120 Press from a room in back of the building as a hardcore show raged out front.


Though Kempf books shows in a wide range of genres, he’s had a special “connection” with the punk and hardcore scene.


“I just love the people, they’re just awesome,” he said. “I listen to all kinds of music. I personally don’t play hardcore, but I totally respect it. I just respect the DIY of punk and hardcore. Sometimes I wish that other genres would pick up on that. Why aren’t bluegrass and guitar people DIY like that and just put on tours and get out there?”


For Kempf, his journey began while studying at University at Buffalo in the ‘90s. As a student, he worked for the diner, then in 1994 he bought the building. For years it existed like this: A place that helped a lot of artists and musicians with steady employment, while keeping true to the Lebanese style of cooking as well as vegetarian dishes.


And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.


“I closed down for six months and I was thinking about maybe moving on,” Kempf said. “And I was being idealistic and thinking about becoming maybe a co-op where I’d still be part owner and the employees (could also own part). It just never got off the ground. No one was interested.”


However, while some dreams were put on hold, another possibility was emerging. With the neighboring shop having boarded up, Kempf started doing some work on it. He called it Area 54 and used it for storage.


But he knew it I was destined for something more.

“I got my beer and wine license,” he said, “and started putting on shows.”


Kempf is humble about his part in the transformation of his building. He noted that times have changed for restaurants. Payroll is different, food prices are different — so, it’s a case of whatever business he can drum up, said Kempf, who has long held an affinity for DIY-culture.


“I have art openings. I have hip-hop shows. I have all-ages shows. On Thursday nights is the Buffalo Improv House. They have open-mic improv comedy,” he said. “As someone really supportive of the arts, when someone younger, and a little green, is like, ‘I really want to try this thing,’ I say, ‘Well, do it.’


“’Let’s book a date and we’ll try it, and we’ll have an art opening, or you can play your music,’” Kempf said. “So, we have ambient music, or industrial noise, or folk, or more traditionally pop-rock, alt-rock … That’s really my goal: just have a space for people who wouldn’t otherwise have it.”


With venues such as The Pit at Timeless Babez, Stamps, and the Hostel closing or facing shutdown, Kempf was contemplative about Amy’s Place’s future.


“Hopefully, I can hand it off to somebody that’s willing to keep it going. That would be the ideal thing; not like shut the doors, but slowly back off,” he chuckled. “I’m still young though. I’m only 53, so too young to retire. (But) that would be ideal for me: just to keep it going and let a next generation at some point carry it on.”


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