Lampert family perseveres, opens new deli in McKeesport
After four years of planning and site preparation, Rick and Jan Kugler opened Lampert's Deli Express with smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes.
The couple, who have owned Lampert's Market in McKeesport's Grandview neighborhood since 1993, hosted an emotional grand opening Thursday for their new deli and convenience store at 2010 Eden Park Boulevard.
“I've got to thank everyone who is here and who helped,” Rick Kugler said. “We stuck it out.”
The site has been frustrating for the Kuglers and the government officials who have helped to bring the project to fruition.
The Kuglers purchased the property through sheriff sale on Aug. 4, 2008. By November of that year, ground was broken to remove fuel tanks from a gas station that was one of several previous businesses on the site.
At that time, the Kuglers expected to be open by spring of 2009. But their vision was put on hold when construction halted and remediation began. The project needed to comply with state and federal environmental regulations.
The Lampert's Deli Express project was embraced by the West to West Coalition and redevelopment authorities of McKeesport and Allegheny County. In January of this year, the project was approved for a $200,000 loan of Community Infrastructure & Tourism Fund monies.
“It's just a mess down there. It's been a mess for 10 years,” Rick Kugler said in January. “I took a shot 3 1⁄2 years ago. We're finally getting to the point where we can pull this off.”
McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said the Kuglers have shown nothing short of perseverance and the city appreciates their effort.
“We're all very much aware of this being an anticipated grand opening,” Cherepko said. “It's not only going to be beneficial to our residents, but to this (Eden Park Boulevard corridor) as an educational and recreational area.”
Lampert's Deli Express, located at the former site of a gas station, car repair center and various mini marts, is nestled among other businesses between the McKeesport Area High School campus and Helen Richey Field. It sits across the boulevard from the Penn State Greater Allegheny campus and many recreational attractions within Renziehausen Park.
The Kuglers hope customers will be drawn to the new store for hot breakfast and lunch items during their commute through that part of town. The deli menu includes hoagies with Lampert's meats, including hand-cut steak and homemade sausage. McKeesport favorites include Grandma's fried bologna and Isaly's chipped ham sandwiches. A new concoction, Pappy's pot roast sandwich, was invented by the Kulgers' grandchildren Mason and Madelyn as a must-add menu item. There are a variety of burgers, sides, entree salads and homemade soups.
“All of our soups and chili are made from scratch,” Jan Kugler said.
During Thursday's grand opening, customers marveled at the building, which was rebuilt almost from scratch. Keeping only the floors and frame, crews rebuilt the parking lot, the store's interior and infrastructure.
Jan Kugler said there has been plenty of prayer involved in their waiting game, as she invited the Rev. Doug Burns of Christ United Methodist Church to offer a blessing on the new store.
“A worthwhile project is worth seeing through,” Burns said. “And it's been accomplished.”
State Sen. James Brewster, who was McKeesport's mayor when the Kuglers began their project, said “seeing it through” is more than getting the store open. It's about keeping it open.
“Our job when we leave here is to patronize this place,” Brewster said. “Spend money. Don't just drive by and say, ‘Boy, that looks nice.'”
Brewster thanked the Kuglers for their patience and perseverance, noting the process carried over three mayors, two senators and two county executives.
“Here's a couple that invested their money and put a lot on the line to put a business in our town — in McKeesport, in Allegheny County,” he said.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said Lampert's Deli Express is a source of pride, not only to the Kugler family, but the McKeesport community.
“It's a proud day,” he said. “Everyone should be very proud of this grand opening.”
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.