By Caitlin Croft

Walking into the new Java Bay Café, formerly Coffee Culture, there is no light jazz playing in the background. Instead it’s soft rock. The menus are up on poster board, neatly written out for all to see. Behind the counter is Stephen Lee, who has a smile from ear to ear.

It has been a wild few weeks for the new owner of Java Bay Café. On May 27, the General Manager of Coffee Culture since April 2015, heard that his place of employment would be shutting down for good.

Obviously upset from this news and worried about his and his staff’s future, Lee immediately started contemplating if he could open up his own Café.  Lee made a call to Kody Sprague, owner of the building, and asked if he could help broker a deal to keep the business running.  It worked.

On Monday, May 30, Coffee Culture did not open its doors.  On Tuesday, May 31, they cleaned out. On Wednesday at 6 a.m., Lee opened the doors to Java Bay Café.

“I have wanted to have my own place since I was kid, and now the dream is coming true,” Lee said.  “The first day we were open, so many locals stopped by to say hello and that they were glad I am here.”

Everyone living in and visiting Ellicottville expects to see people in front of the café, sitting by the fire, kicking off their day/night in the village with a cup of coffee.  Steve did not want this iconic part of the Ellicottville scene to just disappear, especially before the busy summer shopping/walking season begins.

Menu Refresh

Lee can’t help but light up as he starts talking about the new menu.

“Of course there will be your breakfast sandwiches and pastries, and the feel of the menu will be similar,” he said. “But the aim is to have fresher products, better selections of deli meats, many more salads – and breakfast will be served all day.”

Lee looks forward to catering more to the community, listen to his customers and try to accommodate as much as possible.

“Coffee Culture was too cookie cutter, too in the box,” Lee said. “There were a lot of franchise regulations I will not have to follow at Java Bay.”   

Currently, Java Bay Café has soy and almond milk for people who are lactose intolerant. Lee is working out a deal on gluten-free products, as his aim is to be as allergy friendly as possible.

A big aspect he wants to emphasize is catering for breakfast and lunch.  Special orders are encouraged and Lee plans to offer box lunches that will be “perfect for your hiking or biking adventure at Spruce Lake or kayak trip down the Allegany River.”

Again, Lee reiterates: “please let us know ahead of time of allergies, as we want to be as accommodating as possible.”

Another thing that Lee says sets them apart “is we use freshly ground espresso beans for our frozen and iced coffee drinks.” Features and daily specials, along with ideas such as sub of the month, will come along in the future.

Cosmetic updates will be addressed sometime this summer, which include adding arbor trestles around the courtyard and its entrances (pending planning board approval) that would really define the outdoor space, four more tables for a total of eight outside and redo all of the floral arrangements. Inside there are plans for a fresh coat of paint and more local artwork on the walls.

For the short term, Lee plans on getting temporary signage up and new menu boards along with paper menus. New permanent signage will follow.

Lee aims to have wireless internet back up within the week and encourages a work friendly environment.

“Bring your laptop/tablet, grab a coffee, a bite to eat and get working on that next project.” He also looks to have a leave-a-book/take-a-book shelf, “so that you can find that next book you never picked up at the store or library.”

Keeping it Local

“I want every person who walks through the door to feel like they are part of the community.  That is how I will make this a local business, not a corporate franchise. I will get to listen and receive feedback, implementing what I can.”

Through the transition, Lee was able to keep seven Coffee Culture employees, and hopes to hire more as the busier seasons approach.  All of the new uniforms will be sourced locally from The Monogram Shoppe in Little Valley (the owner’s daughter is one of Lee’s employees).  This seems like one more way Lee intends on breaking through the corporate ambiance that once filled the café.

“I get to work toward something for my kids’ future, which makes so happy.”

Lee can be reached in person at the restaurant for now until a new land line is up within the week.  You can also find them on Facebook as Java Bay Cafe, Instagram as @javabaycafe and online at  Their hours are currently Monday – Thursday from 6 a.m. – 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.