Friends of Buffalo restaurateur Tommy Cowan speak after his death

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Restaurants and neighbors around the Queen City are still mourning Wednesday after Tommy Cowan, a well-known Buffalo restaurateur, passed away unexpectedly this week.

Tommy Cowan wore a lot of hats in Western New York’s hospitality scene. Close friends of his told News 4 that in the ‘city of good neighbors,’ Cowan was the very best.

“In the eight years of just knowing him, he’s just always been just so positive and just such a friend. I mean, if I think of Buffalo, that’s who I think of,” the bar manager of Aroma on Bryant said.

Tommy Cowan was 44 years old when he died on Monday.

Cowan was the owner of South Buffalo’s Doc Sullivan’s and Forty Thieves in the Elmwood Village. Both restaurants are closed until further notice to give those close to him time to grieve.

“As great as I could ever be, I don’t even think that I could ever fill half the shoes of Tommy,” Aroma on Bryant’s bar manager said.

Cowan was also a partial owner of Patrick’s Rooftop in downtown Buffalo.

Jason Frese, the general manager of Patrick’s, tells us this loss is extremely hard for him and that Cowan was one of his best friends.

Other restaurants in the area took to social media this week to show everyone how much Cowan meant to them.

Lauren Paveljack, owner of Potters Field Restaurant and Pub in West Seneca, said she wouldn’t be where she is today without Cowan.

“As two female business owners in a very Irish neighborhood, it’s very uncommon,” Paveljack said. “Tommy was that guy when he first heard that we were buying a bar, he was like, ‘We’re going to dinner. I’m going to tell you everything I know. I’m going to break it down for you, it’s super easy. We’re going to have a ton of fun,’ and never that feeling of competition.”

John Otto, owner of The Riverfield 865, told a similar story. Even though Doc Sullivan’s is one mile down the street, Cowan always had time to support Otto when opening Riverfield.

Otto, a former vice president of the Buffalo Fire Union, explained how Cowan went out of his way for others. 

“Storm of 2022 when nobody can get out of their house and firemen and police were stuck at work, Tommy somehow got into his restaurant, somehow got workers into their restaurant, and they actually made all the food in-house at all their establishments and delivered to firehouses and police stations and hospitals within reach,” Otto recalled.

A wake for Cowan will be held starting at 4 p.m. Thursday at Cannan Funeral Home.

The funeral and celebration of Cowan’s life will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Our Lady of Victory Basilica.

“If I could be half the owner that he was, then I would feel amazing about myself,” Paveljack said.

“When you say ‘city of good neighbors,’ I mean, he really exemplifies that,” Otto concluded.

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Dillon Morello is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has been part of the News 4 team since September of 2023. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

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