Made in Buffalo
Really? They make those here? Buffalo lost much of its rep as a factory town when Bethlehem Steel closed its doors, but there are still a surprising number of small manufacturers here that make some surprisingly interesting things.
Katz Americas: Coasters
How does one decide to go into the coaster business? In the 1970s, Thomas Muraca purchased Gardei, Inc., a North Tonawanda company that made printed and die-cut products included grinding wheel labels. Muraca came across some Scandinavian beer-mat board and decided to try beer coasters. With the dawn of the craft beer revolution and the rise of the casual dining industry, the product took off, and American Coaster Company was born. Known as Katz Americas since its sale to German coaster company The Katz Group, and now owned by the German paper company Koehler Paper Group, the Muraca family business is now a major coaster producer, serving Anheuser-Busch, North American Brewers, and the Boston Beer Company, as well as several major restaurant chains. The company operates from Sanborn and from Johnson City, Tennessee, and has become the largest manufacturer of beverage coasters in North and South America.
Frank Muraca, son of Thomas Muraca, says he loves working with such a unique product. “I enjoy the challenges of trying to grow a business that makes a product that people clearly do not need,” he says. “It forces us to try and find new and unique ways to promote our product, which at the end of the day is simply a mini-billboard for our customer’s messages and ideas. We try very hard to differentiate our product, not only from our current limited coaster competition but any other type of point-of-purchase advertising.” For example, added treatments such as thermochromic messaging, scratch-off applications, gloss coating, glitter inks, and even scratch-and-sniff features can make a coaster much more than just a mini beer tray.
Katz Americas may have grown far beyond their Sanborn origins, but they haven’t forgotten their small-business sensibilities or community-minded philosophy. They’re regulars at Buffalo events Polar Bites and Beerology, and Muraca adds, “We have several managers that are on local boards, and we try and support them as much as we can.” We’ll drink to that. For more information about Katz Americas, visit katzamericas.com.
Gastrointestinal symptoms are notoriously vague––how does a sufferer know whether to pop an anti-heartburn pill, change his or her diet, or get tests done for more serious problems? Diagnosing such symptoms can be time-consuming and invasive. That’s why, in 2003, David Barthel and his colleague Jack Semmler developed Smart Pill, a wireless motility capsule that collects data about a patient for a doctor to read, all without surgery or radiation. “Originally, the idea was a patent out of UB developed by a pharmacologist who wanted to do a capsule, and we decided to develop it but put more of a focus on gastrointestinal [GI] health care and specifically GI motility,” Barthel, president and CEO, explains. Now, Smart Pill is used all over the country and at the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic, and other very large research centers. And it was developed right here in Buffalo.
“Smart Pill was a classic startup from ground zero,” says Barthel. “We had to raise money, develop the market and the idea prototypes, and hire engineers; we saw a large market need that has been historically underserved.” Barthel explains that patients would come in with symptoms like nausea, vomiting, bloating, and pain. “That’s a large population,” he points out. “We saw a need to come up with an accurate diagnosis.” Smart Pill couldn’t be easier: the patient swallows the capsule, goes home, and performs daily activities, all the time wearing a data receiver that collects data from the GI tract. When the pill passes, the patient brings the receiver back and the gastroenterologist can download the data. “It’s noninvasive, no-radiation, comfortable, and standardized,” says Barthel.
Smart Pill has been on the market since 2007. “We wanted to have a success located on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus,” says Barthel. “We’re very pro-New York, pro-Buffalo. The city has been very supportive. We’re about to expand the business, so we think the timing has been very good and this is a great location for us.”
Tomric Systems, Inc.
Ever bitten into a glorious chocolate Easter bunny or Valentine’s Day heart and wondered how they make these candies into such delightful shapes? Tomric Plastics, now Tomric Systems, Inc., began selling plastic molds to chocolate shops in 1962 under founder Paul Elsinghorst. Their customers soon included “just about anybody who makes chocolate in Western New York,” including favorites Condrell’s and Fowler’s, says Paul’s son, Tom, now vice president of marketing and sales. Today, Tomric Systems still supplies those local companies––as well as chocolatiers across the country and throughout Canada. They even sponsored the World Chocolate Masters competition. “I’ll open a magazine like Food and Wine or Bon Appetit and open to the new chocolate section and they’re all customers of ours,” Elsinghorst says. “It’s very gratifying.”
As you’d imagine, the confection design industry is an exciting one. “It’s a fascinating business,” says Elsinghorst. “It’s seasonal and invigorating and there’s been such a change in the industry over the years: it used to be just plain old chocolate bunnies, but now there’s all these colors and flavors. We see chocolate in a new light all the time by seeing what pastry chefs are doing. Chocolate is a fascinating medium that has grown over time, and what we get to see is a lot of new evolution.” Learn more about Tomric Systems at tomric.com.
Julia Burke writes food, drink, and features for Buffalo Spree.