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The Penn Avenue detour is over! Discover what is #OpenOnPenn

Two-way traffic returned to Penn Avenue in December following a multimillion-dollar reconstruction project, which hindered businesses along the corridor between Bloomfield and Garfield.
 
Though the barricades are down and traffic has returned to the community, the businesses still need a boost, according to Amber Epps, Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation commercial district manager.
 
Epps explained that the BGC’s current campaign #OpenOnPenn seeks to spread awareness that these shops are still open and ready for business. 
 
“Our businesses have suffered pretty substantially during this process,” Epps said in a previous Pop City interview.  “[We’re] trying to get some business back to Penn Avenue.”
 
To participate in Open on Penn and show support for the community, one can purchase a gift certificate to any of the following businesses listed on www.pennavenue.org/openonpenn: Los Sabrosos Dance Company, Yoga Hive, Clay Penn, Most Wanted Fine Art, Diva Den, People's Indian Restaurant, Artisan Piercing and Artisan Tattoo.
 
“We wanted to make a way for people to [get] cash flowing, while also giving the purchasers something tangible in exchange,” Epps said.
 
Epps encourages Twitter users to utilize the hashtags #OpenOnPenn and #ProudToBeBeen when purchasing the gift cards or patronizing Penn Avenue shops.
 
“Even though we’ve dealt with the construction, we are optimistic about what’s to come on Penn Avenue,” Epps said.

Source: Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, Amber Epps 

Double Wide Grill expands to third location in North Huntingdon

Since 2006, Double Wide Grill has been a South Side staple. Six years later, the gas station-themed eatery opened a second restaurant opened in Mars, Butler County. Now, Double Wide Grill has plans to open a third location in North Huntingdon, Westmoreland County, at what used to be Teddy’s Restaurant.
 
“This location is very different than the other two, which makes us really excited to get things underway,” said Double Wide co-owner Steve Zumoff. “Rather than turning an existing building into a restaurant, or building from ground-up, the new location was already a restaurant, so now it’s all about us transforming the space into the Double Wide brand that people already know and love.”
 
Double Wide Grill in North Huntingdon will be located just off the turnpike on Route 30, and is expected to open summer 2015. The menu will feature their popular ribs along with burgers, barbeque, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free specialties. Zumoff explained that the location will also continue to carry some of Teddy’s favorite menu items, like the stuffed pork chop.
 
“We’ll have 40 American craft beers on tap that will rotate with the seasons and a big menu that caters to meat-lovers and vegans alike, plus many gluten-free options,” said co-owner Scott Kramer.
 
Zumoff explained that North Huntingdon was attractive because of its new housing, business and office developments. Last summer,Express Scripts, a St. Louis-based Fortune 100 company serving 90 million people each year, announced that it was moving 600 employees to a 70,000-square-foot facility in North Huntingdon.
 
Zumoff added that the new, highway-adjacent Double Wide location is in a high-traffic area, wedged between a Giant Eagle, Target and Walmart Supercenter.
 
The 6,500 square feet of space will be transformed to have the same vintage gas station theme that has become the recognizable branding of Double Wide Grill. The inside will seat 220 people and the upcoming, newly constructed outdoor patio will seat up to 70.
 
“The new location has the garage look like our other ones … but we’re looking to make it a little more roadside [themed],” Zumoff said, explaining that they want incorporate a historic highway theme à la Route 66, as the location is off Route 30. “Hopefully, the travelers on the highway will find out about us … We’ll be the place they stop, a roadside attraction.”
 
Double Wide Grill in North Huntingdon is slated to open during the summer of 2015. Other locations are in South Side on East Carson Street and in Butler County on Route 228. 

Casual dining options come to Lawrenceville with The Vandal, Smoke BBQ Taqueria and more

Joey Hilty, formerly of Bar Marco, and Emily Slagel, owner of Lawrenceville boutique Mid-Atlantic Mercantile, are bringing casual dining and approachable fare to Central Lawrenceville with The Vandal, opening in May at 4306 Butler St.
 
The duo explained that they were inspired by their dining experiences in cities throughout Iceland and Europe. They wanted to create a neighborhood dining experience on the Butler corridor.
 
“Amidst the evolving dining culture in Pittsburgh, we saw a real need for an affordable, convivial eatery,” Hilty said. “Our intent is for The Vandal to be an everyday neighborhood spot where you can grab dinner with your friends or a lunch alone with a book and your laptop.” 
 
The Vandal isn’t the only casual dining experience coming to Lawrenceville -- Smoke BBQ Taqueria opened this week at 4115 Butler St. While the soft opening boasts irregular hours, the smoked meats, migas and breakfast tacos are being met with a warm welcome. Owners Jeff Petruso and Nelda Carranco are from Austin, making it a bona fide Texas joint. Feb. 16 will mark the first Smoke Monday, where customers can can bring Smoke tacos to Row House Cinema next door to enjoy with a movie. Atlas Bottle Works, within Row House, is also conveniently adjacent to Smoke to fit the restaurant's BYOB policy.
 
Allegro Hearth Bakery’s owner Omar Abuhejleh also has plans to open a vegan and Mediterranean café, bakery and coffee shop at 5202 Butler St. in May. And, Morcilla, the second Lawrenceville venture from chef Justin Severino of Cure, will open this summer at 3519 Butler St. In a previous interview with Pop City, Severino said the new restaurant will be a casual, neighborhood restaurant with shareable snacks and tapas.
 
Open for lunch and dinner, The Vandal plans to offer an ingredient-driven menu six days a week. Sandwiches and snacks will be available all day with larger offerings, like steak frites, available for dinner only. Hilty plans on building the menu using what is fresh and seasonally available. The result will be menu items like a lamb sausage sandwich with tahini-spiked potato salad. Sandwiches will start at $8 while larger portioned dinners will start at $14.

For beverages, the restaurant will have a range of soft drinks from house-made lavender-hibiscus soda to Korean apple soda as well as a BYOB policy. Hilty said he hopes to eventually have a liquor license for the venue and to collaborate with Lawrenceville breweries and bottle shops.
 
While the name The Vandal has a strong, almost aggressive, sound to it, Hilty explained that the atmosphere will be far from threatening. Conversely, he said the design will be soft, cozy and minimalist.
 
“It’s important for us to design a warm, community-focused space,” Slagel said. “Through the union of food and design, we are able to cultivate the experiences that we want to have in our city.” 
 
Slagel’s vision and attention to detail will displayed throughout the intimate 30-seat space, from the custom bench seating to the menu design. Future plans include updating the rear outdoor patio into a beer garden or al fresco space with a wood-fired pizza oven.
  
While The Vandal is not slated to open until May, Hilty will host a menu preview at Bar Marco’s no-menu Monday on March 2.  For more information, visit www.thevandalpgh.com.
 
 
Source: The Vandal, Joey Hilty

Study: Liquor ban turns off would-be Wilkinsburg restaurateurs

The liquor license ban in Wilkinsburg is discouraging potential restaurateurs from opening up shop in the borough, according to the Urban Partners Market Study of Wilkinsburg.

From the study: “Full-service sit-down restaurants are also in short supply in the Wilkinsburg business district. A major contributing factor is the prohibition of alcohol in restaurants in the borough, which is typically a significant revenue generator for restaurants. As a result, prospective restaurateurs interested in opening new venues are avoiding Wilkinsburg, which is keeping the demand for finer dining high and the supply relatively low.”

The Borough of Wilkinsburg has been a dry community since 1870, but the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation aims to change that this spring.
 
The WCDC Board of Directors recently voted to pursue a liquor license referendum to legalize the sale of liquor licenses to restaurants in the Borough of Wilkinsburg. This effort is supported by the WCDC 10-year Wilkinsburg Business District Revitalization Plan, which was approved by Wilkinsburg Borough Council in 2010. The revitalization efforts of the Wilkinsburg business district were recently recognized by the state with a Main Street designation.
 
A statement from the WCDC said they believe restaurant liquor licenses will attract new businesses to Wilkinsburg and increase investment in the area. WCDC Executive Director Tracey Evans explained that the community currently offers several small diners and take-out businesses, but not a lot of sit-down restaurants. She said this referendum could bring more restaurants and evening activity to the borough. 
 
“With so many nice restaurants right on our border, why not encourage the same in Wilkinsburg and keep dining dollars in our community? Today, if you live in Wilkinsburg and want to meet friends for dinner and a cocktail you have to go to Regent Square, Point Breeze or East Liberty,” Evans said.
 
To lead a successful campaign, the WCDC and volunteers must circulate petitions between February 17, 2015, and March 10, 2015, and collect 1,059 signatures from registered Wilkinsburg voters. If that goal is met, the liquor license referendum question, “Do you favor the granting of liquor licenses for the sale of liquor in the Borough of Wilkinsburg?,” will be placed on the May 19, 2015, primary election ballot in Wilkinsburg.
 
In addition to attracting new businesses to Wilkinsburg, existing Wilkinsburg establishments, including Salvatore’s Pizza House and Biddle’s Escape, have expressed interest in acquiring liquor licenses once they are legally able to do so.
 
“Prohibiting liquor licenses hurts Wilkinsburg,” said Biddle’s Escape owner and Wilkinsburg resident Joe Davis. “Residents can easily go a few blocks away to a neighboring community, like Swissvale, Braddock or the city, to enjoy a beer or glass of wine. We need to make this an option in Wilkinsburg, too.”
 
Additional information about the WCDC’s liquor license campaign is available at www.wilkinsburgcdc.org/liquor-license. For a list of Frequently Asked Questions, visit www.wilkinsburgcdc.org/liquor-license-faq. To volunteer during the campaign, call (412) 727-7855 or email marlee@wilkinsburgcdc.org.
 
 
Source: WCDC, Tracey Evans

Donate clothes to break a world record this weekend at the Public Market

In the spirit of the University of Pittsburgh’s Year of Sustainability, the Office of PittServes launched the Give a Thread Campaign, a world-record attempt at collecting 150,000 clothing items for donation and recycling. Since the campaign’s kick-off in December, the drive has gathered more than 61,000 items via the support of students, staff, faculty and local partners.
 
PittServes Director Misti McKeehen explained that the Pitt community wanted to think beyond campus when it launched Give a Thread. She said they wanted to create a project where anyone in the community could participate. And, in order for Pitt to reach the ultimate goal of breaking the world record, the university has enlisted support from the city and area organizations. Pitt’s next Give a Thread community collection event will be at the Pittsburgh Public Market on Saturday, Feb. 14, and Sunday, Feb. 15, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
 
PittServes staff will be at the Public Market, 2401 Penn Ave. in the Strip District, collecting items on both days. University students and staff will accept any clothing donation, like shoes and accessories, but only clothing items like pants, shirts, outerwear, sweaters, skirts, dresses and children’s clothes -- including baby onesies -- will count toward the Guinness goal.
 
To encourage support and patronage of the small businesses at the market, select Public Market vendors will provide discounts to customers who donate clothing items to the campaign.
 
McKeehen said those who donate at the market can enjoy a free sample of beer at the East End Brewing Co. booth, buy one get one free treats at Eliza’s Oven and Ohio City Pasta, deals at The Olive Tap and Glades Pike Winery, dollar off ice cream and a discount on Backstage Alpaca socks.
 
“There’s a lot of different kinds of coupons,” McKeehen said. “[The event is] a nice way to introduce vendors.”
 
Erika Ninos, PittServes sustainability program coordinator, said she hopes the Public Market drive brings in “a few thousand items.” She explained that the market sees 1,000 patrons per weekend. If everyone just brought five items, she mused, imagine what that could do for the drive?
 
Give a Thread is already receiving assistance from the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, the City of Pittsburgh, Bank of America, Delanie’s Coffee Shop, Mayor Bill Peduto’s Office and the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. These offices have all collected at least 1,000 items for the drive.
 
Ninos said Give a Thread has collected 65,045 items to date -- and joked that with the haul they have already collected, she can’t imagine what 150,000 items will look like. However, if PittServes has not collected 125,000 items by the end of February, they will not continue the world record campaign. If the goal is reached, the final push to reach 150,000 donations will be in March.
                         
The campaign’s Get a Thread partners will receive donations and include: Goodwill Industries of SWPA, Dress for Success and Pitt’s on-campus student-run thrift shop, Thriftsburgh. Goodwill will recycle any items unfit for donation to reduce landfill deposits.
 
“You can bring a grocery bag or a garbage bag [to the Public Market event]; any bit of clothing will help us at this point,” Ninos said, adding that it is all going toward a good cause.
 
In addition to the community collection event at the Public Market, donations are accepted throughout the University of Pittsburgh, including the William Pitt Union, 3959 Fifth Ave. The Give a Thread Campaign will be collecting items through the end of February. For a list of the drop-off locations and more information on the campaign, please visit www.pittserves.pitt.edu.
 
If your business or organization would like to participate, please reach out to the PittServes office. The deadline for donating is at the end of February.
 
Source: Misti McKeehen, Erika Ninos, PittServes
 

Allegheny County begins endorsing local entrepreneurs for Kiva City Pittsburgh

For small businesses like Oakdale-based Carrie Ann's Bridal looking for funding to expand and grow, social underwriting may be the most effective way to secure financing.

While banks run background checks, credit reports and analysis before writing a loan, Kiva Zip requires endorsements based on relationships, said Emily Keebler, Kiva City Pittsburgh lead. Now, Allegheny County is becoming part of the social underwriting movement with the ability to help endorse local businesses for Kiva loans.
 
Kiva, an international micro-loan nonprofit founded by Pittsburgh native Jessica Jackley Flannery, began working to alleviate poverty across the globe in 2005. In 2011, Kiva began supporting small domestic businesses with Kiva Zip. Since Kiva City Pittsburgh launched in March 2014, the number of Kiva-sponsored Pittsburgh businesses has grown to more than 60.
 
Borrowing businesses must show that they are reputable with an endorsement from a Kiva Zip Trustee in order to participate in the program. These small businesses endorsed by Kiva Zip Trustees gain access to 0 percent interest -- AKA “zip” -- loans of up to $5,000 for first-time borrowers. 
 
Allegheny County has formed a partnership with the nonprofit to help small businesses gain access to capital and improve the local economy. Via this relationship, Allegheny County Economic Development, the county’s lead economic and residential development agency, is able to recommend entrepreneurs for Kiva’s innovative crowdfunding platform.
 
Kiva Zip Trustees are individuals, organizations and governmental agencies that vouch for entrepreneurs they know and trust in their community. Allegheny is the third county in the nation to become a Trustee and is home to 1.2 million residents, making it Kiva Zip’s second-largest Trustee.
 
“Kiva Zip's vision is one of a community of individuals coming together to lend their support to small business owners and entrepreneurs,” said Kiva Zip Director Jonny Price. “This vision is shared by Allegheny County and we are delighted to welcome them into Kiva Zip’s growing network of Trustees.”
 
Kiva Zip uses social underwriting to screen loan applicants. Keebler explained that social underwriting means that the business has a Trustee willing to speak to an entrepreneur’s good character and reliability. She said the organization understands that many have had bad credit in the past; so, instead, Kiva looks to a person’s network. Once endorsed, entrepreneurs can post their loan request on kivazip.org and begin crowdfunding their loan with the help of friends, community members and Kiva’s growing global community of 1.3 million lenders.
 
“Our economy continues to do well because we work together and support each other in this community,” said County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “Kiva Zip’s vision allows us to build on that history and to further expand the ways that we can support small businesses in Allegheny County. Kiva Zip, literally, allows everyone to play a part in a business’ success.”
 
One of the county’s interests is to help businesses in areas of the county that don’t have a strong business development corporation or chamber of commerce, Keebler said. She explained that many established business districts serve as Trustees for entrepreneurs, but there are areas of the county that do not have these organizations for support.
 
“We’re just so excited to have [Allegheny County] on board to fill in those gaps and give additional legitimacy to our program,” she said.
 
Allegheny County Economic Development identified an ambitious female business owner for its first endorsement. Since she was a young girl, Carrie Ann has been passionate about fashion, but she has also suffered from polycystic ovarian syndrome, causing her to feel uncomfortable in her own skin. As an adult, she strives to raise awareness of PCOS and make all women feel beautiful, two goals she aims to combine via her Oakdale business, Carrie Ann’s Bridal.  
 
“We're a one-stop bridal shop that believes all women are beautiful and should embrace their uniqueness,” said Carrie Ann, as she is known on her crowdfunding page. “We want to make our customers' bridal, prom or other big day fabulous, fun and stress free." 
 
Keebler added that Carrie Ann’s business falls outside of an established business development district and there was no obvious Trustee for her until the county stepped in to support the shop.
 
Carrie Ann hopes to raise $5,000 via Kiva Zip to improve the e-commerce portion of her website in order to increase online sales and to purchase equipment and supplies to bring her custom designs in-house. Lenders can visit www.kiva.org/Pittsburgh to browse entrepreneurs’ profiles and stories, including Carrie Ann’s, and make a loan as small as $5 to the person of their choice.
 
Visit www.kiva.org/pittsburgh for more information on the Kiva City Pittsburgh initiative, including a list of all 39 Trustees in the Pittsburgh area. 
 
 
Source: Emily Keebler, Kiva City Pittsburgh

Supporting Pittsburgh's homeless in powerful, creative ways

With temperatures dropping to dangerous digits, homeless shelter options are making the news this winter. Pittsburgh students and officials have presented lifesaving ideas, technology and housing. Now, via an Indiegogo.com campaign, any Pittsburgher can take action.
 
Carnegie Mellon University students recently made headlines for their heated pop-up homeless shelters, which use aerospace technology to convert a portable sleeping bag into a durable winter shelter. Last week, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded a $15.5 million Continuum of Care grant to Allegheny County. The grant will go toward the county's Department of Human Services and its efforts to reduce homelessness.
 
The Department of Human Services will administer the grant funds to 25 agencies that provide housing and vital services to the homeless. The county department will contribute fiscal and operational support, and monitor service through regular site visits.

But one Pittsburgh resident is working to create a local homeless shelter at the community level via an Indiegogo campaign, The Pittsburgh Home.
 
“In second grade, my class was asked to draw a picture of how we envisioned our lives when we were older. I drew a picture of a big house with tons of strangers living in it and lots of hearts all over,” Jon Potter says on the Indiegogo page about his inspiration for The Pittsburgh Home. In a follow-up interview, he joked, “I guess it was a second grader’s version of what a co-op would be.”
 
Potter said he thought he had accomplished this dream with his Lawrenceville hostel, which has hosted 3,000 people in its three years in operation. But, Potter says he realized that he wanted to do more and create a safe and free place for the homeless men and women of Pittsburgh.
 
Last month, Potter took to Reddit, r/Pittsburgh, and asked the community for support on his journey to opening a homeless shelter. The response was huge. Through the post, he connected with a real estate agent, several contractors, local restaurants and food pantries and a nonprofit that is helping him secure 501c3 status.
 
“Most of the big things that we needed, Reddit came through with,” Potter said.
 
He added that The Pittsburgh Home is looking to help people who are actively working toward a goal to better themselves. Through his hostel, Potter said he has encountered many people who have been through a fire or another event that leads them to needing longer term housing than most homeless shelters allow.
 
He said The Pittsburgh Home would also provide the “most important thing” someone needs to make a change: an address. Potter explained that you can’t vote or apply for a job without an address.
 
The Pittsburgh Home page on Indiegogo is now active and working toward a $50,000 goal to buy a house. Donors are eligible for prizes including a personal hakiu written by Potter or a paragliding lesson from Potter, who is also a professional paraglider. These prizes were offered in the past, when Potter created an Indiegogo campaign that helped The Bloomfield Sandwich Shop get back on its feet. 
 
From the hostel to the sandwich shop to the homeless shelter, why does Potter give so much to the city?
 
His answer was simple, “Pittsburgh is just the friendliest city on the planet.”
 
 
Source: Jon Potter, Office of the County Executive, The Pittsburgh Home

Hill District agreement solidifies U.S. Steel headquarters and $20 million investment

The long-awaited redevelopment of the Hill District is moving forward, thanks to cooperation among city officials, neighborhood residents and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
 
"We are committed [to] implementing a transformational development on the Lower Hill District site that rebuilds the Middle and Upper Hill District,” said Mayor Bill Peduto. “When I took office last January, I committed to having an open-door policy for my administration, and this agreement proves that. Everyone will have the opportunity to have a seat at the table. "
 
The agreement clarified the Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan for the Lower Hill at the 28-acre site of the former Civic Arena. A new U.S. Steel headquarters will anchor the project.
 
In addition to U.S. Steel’s headquarters, the agreement also included plans for the Greater Hill District Reinvestment Fund, which is slated to invest more than $20 million in projects throughout the Hill District.
 
"This renewed agreement is important not only because it allows this project to move forward, but because it also ensures continued benefits for the neighborhood that is most likely to be impacted," said Sen. Wayne D. Fontana (D-Allegheny). "I'm proud that we have continued to work together to find compromise, and that we have a stronger agreement thanks to the work of this dedicated team."
 
Under the settlement, the Hill Community Development Corp. withdrew its appeal of the Lower Hill Planned Development District approved by the city Planning Commission in December, and agreed to support the U.S. Steel headquarters as a catalyst for the overall development of the Hill District.
 
City Councilman Daniel Lavelle will introduce an affordable housing task force comprised of city, county, state, federal and community leaders. An executive community created under the CCIP agreement will also appoint an independent consultant to help implement the community collaboration plan and issue progress reports to the committee.
 
According to the Mayor’s Office, the deal was reached with the assistance of Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald (D), Congressman Mike Doyle (D), Fontana and state Sen. Jay Costa (D). State Rep. Jake Wheatley (D) and City Councilman Lavelle (D) took leadership roles in helping to preserve the opportunity for the most robust investment ever made by a public-private partnership in the Hill.
 
 
Source: The Office of Mayor William Peduto

Construction underway for Strip District apartments as part of $130 million development project

At the site of a former trucking terminal and rail yard in the Strip District comes another real estate development, The Yards at Three Crossings. The Yards will continue the area’s transformation and will have immediate access to the adjacent riverfront trails.

Designed by WTW Architects of Pittsburgh, construction of the Oxford Development Company project is already underway following a December groundbreaking. The 300-unit apartment complex is part of Oxford’s $130 million Three Crossings development.

“The Yards [at] Three Crossings is geared to promote an active lifestyle for its multi-generational residents,” said Richard Bamburak, WTW’s principal in charge. “Amenities include an outdoor swimming pool, hot tub, games area, fire-pit, barbecue grills, a fitness center, ample bicycle parking and extended gathering places, including a private lounge and bar area.”

In addition to trail access and recreational amenities, Bamburak said the building will be pet-friendly. There will be a private dog walking area and a dog wash.
 
Bamburak said The Yards is taking the idea of transportation, rooted in the former truck and rail site, and reimagining it for a new generation with an approach geared toward biking and walking.

The proximity to Lawrenceville and Downtown makes the Strip an attractive location for empty nesters and young professionals seeking city life, Bamburak said. He added that the flat terrain to get to the entertainment on Butler Street or in the Cultural District makes the neighborhood attractive to those who want to walk or bike from a central location.

Bamburak explained that this complex is just part of Oxford’s development in the Strip. According to Oxford’s website, Three Crossings is an 11-acre, mixed-use development along Smallman and Railroad streets, bound by 25th and 29th streets. The Three Crossings project is developing offices, residential properties and a parking structure, The Hub, which will also feature bicycle and recreational amenities, possibly including bike repair and kayak rental. Oxford calls this multi-building project “urban flex office space,” designed for the efficiency of the next-generation worker.

Rycon Construction, the general contractor for The Yards, is involved in this reinvestment of the area, Bamburak said. He explained that the company is relocating from its old offices, also in the Strip, into a bigger space within Three Crossings.

“The Strip District is a unique neighborhood; it is one of those places in Pittsburgh that has no equal. Our desire is to parlay the authenticity and energy that already exists in the Strip into a revitalized waterfront neighborhood,” said Steve Guy, president and chief executive officer of Oxford Development Company. “This project encourages sustainable living and fosters active lifestyles that will reknit the frayed fabric of the neighborhood into a community that provides new opportunities for living, working and everything else.”

Completion of the LEED-rated apartment complex at 2645 Railroad St. is expected by spring 2016.
 
Source: Richard Bamburak, WTW, www.oxforddevelopment.com

Gaucho Parrilla Argentina receives big Yelp win; plans expansion

Last week, Yelp ranked Strip District restaurant Gaucho Parrilla Argentina No. 7 on its Top 100 Places to Eat in the United States for 2015. Gaucho was the only East Coast eatery listed in the top ten.
 
“It’s just awesome news. [It’s] great for us, great for our neighborhood and great for the city,” said Gaucho chef and proprietor Anthony Falcon. 
 
Rachel Carlson, Yelp Pittsburgh community director, explained that the bar for good food in Pittsburgh has been raised. And while taste and quality are part of the equation behind a positive Yelp review, Carlson said Yelpers also make note of good customer service and atmosphere. She noted that users recognize these qualities at Gaucho.
 
“They have 298 reviews and a perfect five-star rating. And that’s unheard of.” Carlson said about Gaucho’s online popularity. 

Falcon said regular customers and new faces have been commenting on the Yelp shoutout. The win comes on the heels of some other news for Gaucho.
 
The restaurant at 1607 Penn Avenue will be expanding into the building next door. Falcon said the project, which has been in the works for one year, finally has the green light from the city. He said construction is expected to begin as early as next week and added that he hopes it is completed in three or four months for summer business.
 
“The new space will be a lot more comfortable for our customers,” Falcon said. Currently, Gaucho only has limited stool seating. But, the expansion will bring additional stools, tables and chairs to accommodate 40 people. He added that there are tentative plans for a bar in the future. “We really want to focus on local craft beers and South American, Argentine-inspired wine.”
 
He said the current Gaucho space will be converted into a large kitchen and the space next door will serve as the dining area. In addition to physical renovations, Falcon said the menu will also add items, like more vegetable dishes, paella, coffee and baked goods. But don’t worry, the mouthwatering steaks, five-hour braised rosemary beef sandwich and other customer favorites will all still be there.
 
Falcon said he wanted to give “a massive, huge, heartfelt thank you” to the community and out-of-town diners who supported Gaucho on Yelp. He said these positive reviews and local support are what made the restaurant No. 7 in the country.
 
 
Source: Anthony Falcon

Downtown Wilkinsburg awarded Main Street designation

Since 2008, the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation has been working toward a Main Street designation through the Pennsylvania Department of Economic and Community Development and Pennsylvania Downtown Center’s Main Street Program. Last week, Wilkinsburg was accepted into the prestigious program.
 
Since the WCDC’s office officially opened in 2010, 33 business district properties have sold, 10 vacant storefronts have been filled and 22 vacant properties have become viable homes or commercial properties through the Vacant Property Recovery Program.
 
The WCDC has worked to clean up and improve Wilkinsburg’s streetscapes and image by installing banners and litter receptacles, refurbishing lampposts and planting more than 100 trees and plants throughout the business district.
 
“We are thrilled to have been selected for Main Street designation by the PA Department of Community and Economic Development and the PA Downtown Center," said WCDC Executive Director Tracey Evans. "The WCDC was formed in 2008 to revitalize our business district and we have been following the Main Street Approach from the beginningThanks to the dedication and commitment of our residents, business owners, community stakeholders and government officials, the Wilkinsburg Business District has made tremendous progress.” 
 
According to the WCDC, Wilkinsburg has all of the ingredients for a successful Main Street Program: a traditional business district, a core of strong businesses, and historic building stock. Wilkinsburg’s strategic location along Penn Avenue and the East Busway makes the borough the next location for economic and transit-oriented development along the Penn Avenue Corridor, Evans explained.
 
Acceptance into the Main Street Program will provide Wilkinsburg with more financial and technical resources. Wilkinsburg businesses located within the designated downtown area will be eligible to apply for Enterprise Zone Tax Credits through the Neighborhood Assistance Program; Wilkinsburg will be eligible to apply for and receive façade grants and other funding; and Wilkinsburg stakeholders will be able to network and collaborate with other Pennsylvania Regional Main Street grantees, among other benefits.
 
Through the state’s Neighborhood Partnership Program, the WCDC has already hired a full-time Economic Development Program Coordinator to oversee the Main Street Program and attend training sessions in Harrisburg to ensure its success.
 
“This award is an excellent beginning to 2015; we have a number of exciting projects including restoration of the Wilkinsburg Train Station, plans for the former Penn-Lincoln Hotel site and campaigns to promote and support our businesses. We are grateful for the opportunities and resources that this designation brings to our community, which will improve the quality of life for those who live and work in Wilkinsburg,” Evans said.

Evans added that improving the historic Wilkinsburg Train Station is top priority in 2015. The train station is located along the Busway and would ideally be utilized as a business district bus station -- between the Wilkinsburg and Hamnett stops -- not a train stop. Evans said 27,000 cars drive on Penn Avenue daily; the redevelopment of the train station would be a valuable resource as well as a win for historic preservation.
 
She said she hopes to build on the trend of new food businesses and restaurants in downtown Wilkinsburg, which is a dry community. A possible liquor license referendum in the future could bolster restaurant business, Evans said.
 
 
Source: WCDC, Tracey Evans, Marlee Gallagher

34th & Carson office space offers new construction on a smaller scale

Want to create a brand-new office space with views of the Monongahela River and the Steelers? Avison Young, a Toronto-headquartered commercial real estate services firm, may have an opportunity for you on the South Side.
 
Avison Young’s Pittsburgh office announced earlier this week that it has been named the exclusive leasing agent for the 34th & Carson office development. Located at 34th and East Carson streets, the site overlooks the University of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Steelers football teams’ practice fields.
 
“If you happen to be a football fanatic, you can stand out on the balcony and watch them practice,” joked David Auel, Avison Young vice-president in the Pittsburgh office.
 
Leasing efforts for 34th & Carson are assigned to Auel and Ed Sauer, an Avison Young associate.
 
Currently under construction, the 31,000-square-foot, four-story office building will be the second Carson Street project from FirstSite Development, LLC. The firm previously developed 3447 East Carson Street, home to Matcon Diamond and Propel Charter Schools.
 
Auel believes that 34th & Carson will be well-received in the current market. He said Avison Young estimates that rates will be between $21 and $24 per square foot, with full-service leasing, including utilities.
 
“Newly constructed office space within and around Pittsburgh continues to enjoy a high level of occupancy,” Auel said. “Given the convenient location and access near the Hot Metal Bridge, coupled with free on-site parking, we believe that we will see strong demand from users wanting proximity to Downtown and university areas. Efficient floor plans on a smaller scale, subdividable down to 2,200 square foot, allow us to service a wide variety of business needs. The east elevation will have balconies overlooking the Monongahela River, Three Rivers Heritage Trail and the practice fields used by both Pitt and the Steelers.”
 
Auel added that the lot will be able to accommodate about 80 cars. He said the location is also attractive as it circumvents Downtown traffic and provides an opportunity for small businesses to get into new office space in the South Side.
 
“I think that we are offering a very unique opportunity,” Auel said. He explained that many new South Side buildings are occupied by larger companies like UPMC and American Eagle Outfitters. “So, this is a situation for someone who has a typical small business office [to get into] new construction.”
 
Construction is expected to be completed fall 2015, with occupancy available to tenants at the same time.
 
Source: David Auel, Avison Young

CMU alumni launch Greek yogurt brand Naturi in Pittsburgh

Greek yogurt is everywhere these days. But some companies offering Greek-style yogurt often sneak in a lot of hidden sugar and other additives. Brand-new Pittsburgh company Naturi Organics promises that its Greek yogurt is made naturally with local and organic ingredients. 
 
Naturi is the brainchild of Aditya Dhere, Anes Dracic and Jennifer Mrzlack, graduates of the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. For 2014 grads Dhere and Dracic, Naturi started as a final graduate school project. Mrzlack, a 2010 Tepper alumna, brought her food experience -- after three years at Heinz -- to the team in July.

Mrzlack said Dhere, an American-born Indian, and Dracic, a Bosnian refugee who moved to the United States as a child, both had mothers who made yogurt at home. She added that Dracic’s family had a farm in Bosnia and that his mother sold yogurt from a cart.
 
Mrzlack also made yogurt and applesauce for her young sons, which sparked her passion for natural, healthy ingredients.
 
On Jan. 12, Naturi hit the shelves at 48 local businesses with more retailers in the works. Distributors are Paragon, Frankferd Farms and Clarion River Organics.
 
In addition to serving both the Google and American Eagle Outfitters campuses, Naturi customers include the Fairmont Hotel, Hotel Monaco, Marty’s Market, the East End Food Co-op, McGinnis Sisters, Espresso A Mano, 21st Street Coffee and Tea, Coffee Tree Roasters, the Duquesne Club, Feast on Brilliant, Red Oak Café, DJ Butcher Block, Tula Organic Salon and Spa, Today’s Market, Sewickley Confectionary -- which provides home delivery -- and more. Strip District hot spots Bar Marco and Wigle Whiskey will offer Naturi-made items.
 
“I cant say it enough,” Mrzlack began, “I [really] want to thank the Pittsburgh community … Everyone has been so supportive.”
 
Naturi, Mrzlack explained, is committed to flavorful Greek-style yogurt with clean, organic ingredients and low sugar. The yogurt is produced at Sunrise Family Farms, an organic farm in upstate New York.
 
While Naturi is committed to keeping a small carbon footprint (many ingredients are sourced within three miles of Sunrise farms), the brand also packs flavors with a “worldly” punch.
 
The initial flavors include Pure (plain), Seedless Raspberry, Coffee + Chicory and Indonesian Vanilla + Saigon Cinnamon. These natural flavors need little added sugar, Mrzlack explained. She said raspberry is naturally sweetened with real fruit, the chicory gives the coffee yogurt a chocolate feel and vanilla and cinnamon are innately rich in flavor.
 
Naturi operates out of the Birchmere Ventures offices in the Strip District above 21st Street Coffee. On Saturday, the new company is getting to know its Strip District neighbors. From noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Naturi will be at the Organically Social booth in the Pittsburgh Public Market doing a public meet-and-greet event.
 
Source: Jennifer Mrzlack, www.naturi.com
 

Local architecture firm honored for design of sustainable Haitian community center

Mike Gwin, architect and principal at Strip District architectural firm Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, led a design project to build a community center in Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake.
 
The Sant Lespwa Center of Hope, in Hinche, Haiti, recently won Rothschild Doyno an American Institute of Architects’ national honor award for buildings.
 
”Last Friday, the 2015 AIA National Architecture Honor Awards were announced and the Center of Hope project in Haiti that we designed with World Vision was selected,” Gwin said in an email to Pop City. “This is the first time since 1999 that a Pittsburgh office has won a national AIA honor award for architecture on their own. It is a rare honor for our local art and design community.”
 
World Vision is an international resource organization that previously worked with the local architecture firm to build a distribution center in Sewickley. For the Sant Lespwa Center, the organization envisioned a community center that would provide educational resources and job training to aid the city’s economy.
 
Today, the 5,000-square-foot facility does just that. Gwin said the center offers classes teaching vocational skills, library resources with books and Internet access and recreation with a soccer field and music and art resources.
 
When working on an international project, Gwin said it's essential to visit in order to implement local nuances into design. He said his trip to Haiti helped the building come together in a way that was natural to the community.
 
The center was built around a tree grove, which was the natural gathering space for the community of 50,000. Gwin said they also executed design that reflected local heritage. The area is known for crafting baskets, hats and other goods from palm thatch. Local crafters created palm thatch awnings and other items for the building.
 
Gwin said more than 100 locals assisted in the construction. It instilled a sense of “shared ownership,” he said.
 
The Sant Lespwa Center of Hope is off the grid, Gwin explained, which means that there are no utility connections for water, electricity or sewage. “So, the building had to be self-sufficient,” he said.
 
Rothschild Doyno designed a butterfly roof to collect rainwater through chains into an underground cistern. He said the underground tank had enough room to provide for a year’s supply of water. Overflow was designed to navigate into planter areas.
 
The solar-powered building also supplies power to batteries in the building, which are used to purify water. Before this system, Gwin said the people of Hinche would have to walk miles to get water.
 
The building also does not have mechanical utility connections, so there is no heating and cooling. The shape of the roof works to draw breeze into the building, as does the site’s shady location among the grove.
 
Rothschild Doyno was among 11 winners out of 300 applicants for the competitive AIA award. Bohlin Cywinski Jackson was the last Pittsburgh firm to win in 1999 for the Robert L. Pregar Intelligent Workplace at Carnegie Mellon University.
 
“It’s a very rare award to receive … So, you don’t ever think that you’re going to,” Gwin joked. He then added, “It’s great to have our local [design] scene reach that national stage.”
 
 
Source: Mike Gwin, Rothschild Doyno Collaborative
 

Big Day transforms to suit developing Upper Strip District

Driving down Penn Avenue in the Strip District, one couldn’t miss Big Day Wedding and Event Center at 26th Street. The white building was designed to look like a tiered wedding cake -- topped with life-sized bride and groom statues.
 
Building and business owner Sal Richetti has transformed the space into 26th Street Market and Café, currently in its soft opening with a grand opening planned in March. Out with the statuesque couple, and in with orange and green trim.
 
'The wedding business is more Internet-driven now,' Richetti said about his decision to transform the space. Big Day Entertainmnet, Video and Photography still operates online and on the second floor of the building at 2549 Penn Ave., and Celebrity Bridal Boutique is open by appointment on the first floor.
 
Richetti said 26th Street will fill a niche in the developing Upper Strip District. He said the current model is Starbucks meets Sheetz, without the gas. The café currently offers a self-serve coffee bar, Nicholas Coffee Co. products, lunch options like soups, salads and sandwiches, convenience goods from candy and snacks to cigarettes, co-working meeting spaces, a cozy café area and free wi-fi. The two meeting rooms, which can host six and 10 people, are currently available by appointment at (412) 566-2889.
 
After the grand opening in March, the space will provide grab-and-go lunches, an array of hot sandwiches like paninis and hoagies, smoothies, breakfast and specialty coffee drinks from espresso to lattes to iced coffee.  The spring will also bring outdoor seating and an al fresco atmosphere as the café features a garage door, which can open up the café on sunny days.
 
As more condominiums open at this end of the neighborhood, the space fits several needs in the growing neighborhood including convenience store products and business space, according to Vicki McGregor, manager of 26th Street Market and Cafe and Richetti's sister.
 
McGregor said residents need more eateries and businesses to provide convenience goods.
 
Richetti, who has owned the 26th and Penn building for more than a decade, said increased neighborhood foot traffic influenced the building’s renovation.
 
“I bought this building in 2001," Richetti said. "[Today,] I just see so much more walk-by traffic." 
 
Both Richetti and McGregor commented on the Strip’s expansion toward Lawrenceville.
 
“[The Strip] is expanding toward Lawrenceville and Lawrenceville is expanding down [toward the Strip],” McGregor said, as she gestured with her two hands, one representing each neighborhood, an eventual meeting.

 
Source: Sal Richetti and Vicki McGregor
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