Ones to Watch: Four under 40
While there are Pittsburghers all around us doing great things every day, it’s especially gratifying to find young people at the top of their game. Our fab four are notable because they had a plan and followed it assiduously. Now they’re arrived – in Pittsburgh.
The large plate glass windows at the cheery Bluebird Kitchen
on Forbes Avenue are a window on what Pittsburgh’s been waiting for: a cafe serving exceptionally delicious and healthy breakfast and lunch fare made from scratch using high-quality ingredients (think antibiotic-free meats), and available for quick takeout. Here you'll find a creamy sweet potato-chestnut soup and Italian yellowfin tuna in oil with olive tapenade, oven dried tomato and endive on a baguette. Not to mention luscious looking desserts. All thanks go to owner Liz Moore, 36, who recently returned to Pittsburgh.
Born and raised in Mt. Lebanon, Moore became enamored of international cuisines on youthful forays to Oaxaca and Spain. She landed in New York City after college, spending nearly a decade at monster.com. “But I always had ‘what am I going to do?’ in the back of my mind because I wanted to do something I love and was capable of doing," she says.
Hitting the reset button, she completed a restaurant management program and worked at the uber-startup Brooklyn bakery Baked for several years while fine-tuning a business plan geared toward downtown Pittsburgh. Bluebird’s doors opened May 2012 and the bright, modern cafe just off Market Square has been busy ever since. With limited seating, it's mostly for takeout and the long lines daily are the best testimony for Pittsburgh's appetite for this place.
“Pittsburghers were hungry for this, the response proves it,” says Moore. “We serve a particular customer: urban, foodie. The people who recognize that you have to put good things into your body.” The ever-cautious Moore is heartened, contemplating an expansion south or north, though she’s also open to another downtown location. (Note from editor: Why not all three?)
Her biggest surprise on returning to Pittsburgh? “I really love it here! I don’t miss New York City at all.”
Who knew that Gangnam Style might one day help save the planet? That nifty dance step is but one stratagem used by Joylette Portlock, 34, to get people to pay attention to climate change and the need to do something about it. The Stanford genetics PhD., with the aid of her Google engineer-husband, launched Do Something About Climate,
a web video series that attempts to close the gap between what scientists know about climate change and what the public perceives.
Coming to Pittsburgh in 2007, Portlock worked for environmental groups including Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project before deciding to be a stay-at-home mom to her two young sons. Turns out 4 a.m. feedings were prime time to read up on global events and she soon realized she couldn’t sit by with a planet in peril.
Through her climate videos, the effusive Portlock issues a call to action that people will both appreciate and act upon. “Science is complicated, so you have to break it down piece by piece into digestible nuggets,” she notes. “We also add a lot of levity, and every video we put out couples with a personal action and a larger action people can take.”
Her target market? Anyone willing to watch a YouTube video. As her recent appointment to the Allegheny County Board of Health proves, Portlock has the scientific chops but is happy to produce what one friend dubbed “infotainment” if it gets the job done. “There’s a concept in education: you don’t teach people to where you want them to be, you meet them where they are. We need a basic level of scientific literacy.” Party on, Dr. Portlock!
At a performance of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra in December, a tall, somewhat shy violinist only a few years older than the rest of the performers steals the show. The gasps in the audience are audible, coupled with murmurs of “who is he?” The answer is Noah Bendix-Balgley
, newly-minted concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO).
At 28, Bendix-Balgley is part of a young new master class of concertmasters at leading orchestras across the U.S. including those in Dallas, Minneapolis and Atlanta. In his role, he’s “the team captain, a leader among equals of musicians,” standing to tune the orchestra before a performance and shaking the hand of the conductor as the orchestra’s representative.
“You have to be very aware of what the other musicians are doing,” he says. “The orchestra is a huge organism. You see what the violins are doing and give cues to other sections.” Music came early to the self-effacing Bendix-Balgley, whose great-grandfather, Samuel Leventhal played with the PSO in the early 1900s. The opportunity to perform for violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin at the age of nine was precursor to music school in Berkeley, CA, and years of study in Indiana University’s vaunted music program.
As with most prodigies, he spent the next several years in Europe, entering – and winning – large musical competitions and improving his craft. When the opportunity to come to Pittsburgh presented itself, he knew it was time to return stateside. “When you ask people in Europe about Pittsburgh, they say ‘oh yeah, I know the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra!’ The orchestra has a great reputation.”
doesn’t walk into a room, she sashays
, her vibrant, self-assured persona catching the attention of those in her midst. She is already a standout as a woman and a young one at that as the recently-elected state representative for Pennsylvania’s 22nd
legislative district, which includes Brookline, Beechview and Mt. Washington in the city along with South Hills communities Castle Shannon, Baldwin Township and Whitehall.
A native of Allentown, the 35-year old Molchany has been a fixture on the Pittsburgh scene for over a decade, leveraging roles with the Red Cross, Planned Parenthood and Coro into the position of Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project (PUMP), a group whose mandate is to groom the leaders of tomorrow.
She followed her own good advice, getting to know neighborhoods, deepening her involvement in the community and building a network. “I was figuring out how important government was, how it impacted people’s lives and the decisions they make.” After stints on the local Democratic Committee and as a Judge of Elections, she jumped into the race for the seat vacated by current Allegheny County Controller and former State Representative Chelsa Wagner in 2012.
“When I saw the seat open, I saw a path to winning,” says Molchany. “I had prepared for it and am really glad I did the legwork.” She is eager to tackle transportation and transit issues in Harrisburg – “there is huge political will to get this funding in place” – and will also be addressing devastating cuts to public education. “I’m not sure what the line in the sand looks like but I would imagine our communities have had enough.”
Molchany admits to being humbled at stepping onto the floor of the state house – “Ben Franklin was once the speaker!” – and knows all eyes will be on her as the only woman in Allegheny County’s 23-member House delegation. “I respect this office and having the opportunity to make things better for people. It’s a huge responsibility and a huge life change. You have this role 24/7.”
But there’s a silver lining: “I’ll be closer to the big guy!” she says of her dad, whose Allentown home is an easy drive from Harrisburg. “After all this time with my urban family, I’ll get to reconnect with my biological family.”
Photo captions can be seen upon enlarging the photo. To be helpful...Top: Erin Molchany, side from top to bottom: Joylette Portluck, Liz Moore, Noah Bendix
Photographs copyright Brian Cohen