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Claudette's cooking spreads from New Kensington to Allegheny Township

Matthew Medsger
| Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, 4:54 p.m.
Antwon Knuckles and his wife, Shawnee, owners of Claudette's Kitchen, at their new restaurant in Leechburg, which is supposed to open October 9.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Antwon Knuckles and his wife, Shawnee, owners of Claudette's Kitchen, at their new restaurant in Leechburg, which is supposed to open October 9.

Jeff Knuckles beams with pride when he talks about what his family has accomplished in New Kensington.

When Knuckles' sister-in-law, Claudette Knuckles, for whom soul food restaurant Claudette's Kitchen is named, passed away in October 2015, Jeff Knuckles, 62, said her son, Antwon Knuckles, 34, stepped into her shoes and ran.

“I am so proud of my nephew. He has really came into his own, really made something of what his mom started,” he said outside of the restaurant's Fourth Avenue location.

Jeff Knuckles hugged his niece, Antwon's nearly nine-months pregnant wife Shawnee, 31, as she walked in the door and started working. He pointed to his brother, Antwon's father, Mark Knuckles, 59, behind the grill, and explained, “You see, its a real family restaurant, but Antwon runs the whole deal.”

That restaurant, opened in early 2016 and started as a catering business, itself had its roots in Claudette Knuckles' own kitchen.

Now, the family-run business is expanding, with a second location set to open in Allegheny Township at 1001 S. Leechburg Hill Road on Oct. 9.

Antwon Knuckles said the success that his family has had in New Kensington has come from a simple set of rules: cook like mom did and, work hard and give back to the community.

“My mom was a big-time cook and an old-time cook. She raised a whole lot of kids, so she always had to cook,” Antwon Knuckles said. “And she used to cook for different people, and when people didn't have food she would hook up a dinner. She would basically cook for the town and, whoever was hungry, she'd say come past and eat. We just took a couple of her menu ideas and ran with it.”

Antwon Knuckles said the restaurant serves a mix of southern soul food, barbecue and seafood using recipes that you won't find anywhere else.

“That's the good thing about us, that's why we have thrived so much: We are unique. We make our own menu up. You can't find our menu anywhere else and that's the thing about us that people like,” he said.

According to Christy Andrews, 30, of Pittsburgh, that is exactly why Claudette's Kitchen is one of the best parts of New Kensington.

“I make sure to eat here when I'm in town. I look forward to it, actually. Its's one of the best places to eat in the area, no doubt, and you can only get their food here,” she said.

Andrews said she is sure the new restaurant will do as well as the first.

“You can't go wrong with crab legs,” she said.

As for moving into Allegheny Township, Antwon Knuckles said he knows his food already has a following there and its the right place for expansion.

“We have a big fan base out there. We get tons of people coming from Leechburg, and the location is impeccable,” Knuckles said. Knuckles said the restaurant should open as scheduled if Shawnee has the baby when due Wednesday.

When asked why he would open a new restaurant so close to the birth of a new baby, considering all of the work involved with an infant, Knuckles said, “We always knew this would be lots of work, but that's what we do. We're workers, man, we work.”

Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4675, mmedsger@tribweb.com, or via Twitter @matthew_medsger.

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