CANANDAIGUA, NY — What once was a signature structure of the Lisk manufacturing era in the city of Canandaigua will be a coffee shop as soon as the end of July. But while the name is changing, the roots of its past will remain somewhat grounded here.
Working Class Coffee will open perhaps as early as the next two months in the building that once carried the Lisk name as part of the overall redevelopment of the property.
This space — a centerpiece of the Factory 243 project and the first building you see when entering from Gorham Street — is a unique one, admitted Derrick DePorter, who is the owner of the new coffeeshop.
“It’s very long and very narrow, but it’s really cool,” DePorter said. “It is definitely challenging for that reason, but I think we have a pretty good plan for what we want to put in there and how we can arrange it to work. It will be pretty unique and neat.”
What’s left of the original structure in the center of the Factory 243 project on Gorham Street — Building 5, as it was known in the planning stages — may be the smallest building, but it’s a key piece of the overall plan for the site, according to developer Don Lasher.
In addition to serving up coffee to both residents and workers in the mixed-use development and surrounding community, the small kitchen also will have a sandwich counter and 34 seats proposed inside the café — but Lasher, who is CEO of Capstone Real Estate Development, added at a recent City Planning Commission meeting that the green space around the building could be used for outdoor seating in summer months.
While giving the OK, several members of the City Planning Commission lamented the loss of the iconic “Lisk” wording on the building’s exterior, when a portion of the structure was taken down.
The concern is, you may not find the Lisk history in a textbook, but the company helped shape the city and the Gorham Street neighborhood surrounding the property.
A Daily Messenger column written by city historian Lynn Paulson contains all sorts of tidbits on the Lisk company, including that George W. Lisk and several partners incorporated the Lisk Manufacturing Co. in Clifton Springs in 1889 for the manufacture and sale of sheet metal goods.
The Lisk plant moved to Canandaigua and the new factory was completed on Gorham Street, near Charlotte and Ontario streets, in the 1890s.
By 1907, the company had become known as “the largest manufacturers of anti-rusting tinware and enamelware in the world,” Paulson writes, and employed about 800 people. A sign on the Ontario Pathways Rail Trail near the redeveloped project notes this is the company that may have made your mother’s turkey roaster.
A Rochester company put the Lisk plant up for sale in 1965 and it closed the following year. Lasher came along in 2017 with an exciting redevelopment, some of which is starting to take shape now. Besides the café, three buildings will house 83 apartments in the first phase, and roughly 24 leases are in place.
During one of the commission meetings, Lasher said he did consider trying to save or replicate the Lisk wording, but also noted that it would be difficult and would amount to asking a “small café to survive without signage.”
Lasher also apologized for the frustration created with this building, saying that losing a piece of it was the result of an evolving process involving a complicated redevelopment over nearly five years. “It was never our intent to lose the character of the building,” Lasher said.
That said, a lot of time and money was spent in creating a courtyard and centerpiece that revolves around this project, Lasher added. A lot of time and money also was spent on saving images and photos of the site before demolition started, and some historical photos will hang in this and other buildings in the project.
For his part, DePorter, who is a 2004 Midlakes graduate, said the factory operation of the past influenced the coffee shop’s name and will contribute to an atmosphere with an industrial kind of vibe — “blue collar, heart of the Finger Lakes working class,” he said — right down to the logo.
“Our logo has a little skeleton dude kind of working yourself to the bone,” DePorter said.
Soon enough, his focus will be on coffee and food, as his background suggests.
DePorter is partner/owner of Matilda Coffee House & Kitchen in Rochester’s Neighborhood of the Arts and Unter Biergarten, also in Rochester.
DePorter’s résumé includes stints with Wegmans at Next Door as sous chef and at the former Tastings restaurant at its Pittsford store, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported in stories on his Rochester businesses. He also worked as executive chef at the Revelry on University Avenue in Rochester.
DePorter lives in Fairport with girlfriend and kids — daughter Matilda is the Rochester coffeehouse’s namesake — and his parents live in Canandaigua.
Like the building itself, the food and drink menu is a work in progress. DePorter said the plan is to have breakfast items such as sandwiches and burritos and lunch sandwiches and salads as well as craft coffee with beer and wine, focusing on New York beverage and food products when possible.
The menu will change with the seasons, DePorter said, “always evolving.”
But, he added, “At the core of it, it’s just a café.”
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