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Plans finally come together for McKeesport restaurant

| Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, 10:29 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
The centerpiece of Eat ‘n Park’s interior renovations is an upgraded salad bar that can accommodate a wide selection of fresh vegetables and side dishes.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Eat'n Park servers Taurniece Cromerdie and Judy Black offer hot tea to regular customers Carmella Ferraro, left, and Mena Melcarsky of Port Vue during Wednesday's lunch service.
Photo Courtesy of Eat'n Park Hospitality Group
Eat’n Park’s presence in McKeesport dates to the 1950s, when it opened at the intersection of Walnut Street and Eden Park Boulevard.

The last chapters are being written in a saga that began when the Coursin Street flyover ramp was built from Lysle Boulevard into the Regional Industrial Development Corp. of Southwestern Pennsylvania's Riverplace City Center of McKeesport.

Ramp construction took out part of the parking lot at one of the Eat'n Park chain's oldest restaurants and prompted a deal to keep the diner in McKeesport, which involved investments by Homestead-based Eat'n Park Hospitality Group and county, state and federal governments.

“It's really a commitment of us reinvesting back in the McKeesport community,” Eat'n Park spokeswoman Becky McArdle said. “We've been here for over 62 years, so we're really excited to continue to be here for another 62.”

Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County approved $500,000 in December 2011 to facilitate the renovation and expansion of the restaurant's parking lot and other improvements along Lysle Boulevard.

More funding was obtained through a federal Community Development Block Grant, while Eat'n Park committed more than $1.1 million.

While Eat'n Park officials await action from the county about the outdoor renovations and expansion, interior improvements are nearing completion.

Group vice president for design and construction E. Andrew Dunmire said on Wednesday that everything was redone, from the floors to the ceiling. The soup and salad bar was expanded and moved from the right side of the entrance to the center of the dining room. A podium was placed at the entrance to help employees seat customers faster.

A few seats were removed to make more space for larger parties and families, with round conversation tables and reupholstered booths.

Other upgrades include new registers, kiosks and a bakery case. Restrooms will be renovated within a few weeks.

V-Line performed the mill work and Paden Construction installed the flooring, walls and other improvements in the $150,000 project, which began early in December.

“This is one of the few remodels I've ever done where some of the guests actually want to come up and give you a hug for fixing up their restaurant,” Dunmire said. “It's just so warm to come here and see people's faces and how the change has affected their community.”

All the work was performed outside the restaurant's weekday hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays.

Restaurant general manager and McKeesport resident Abbey Miller said her employees and customers enjoy the upgrades.

“I was really excited to come here and have all these great changes,” Miller said. “We have definitely seen an increase in business.”

Of Miller's 34 employees, seven have at least 19 years of experience. Judy Black of White Oak began working there as a server more than 34 years ago.

“It's like a hometown restaurant with the nice pictures, the atmosphere,” Black said. “The colors are awesome. Everything looks great. It was like, ‘Out with the old, in with the new.' Everything is real nice and clean and fresh. It's an awesome atmosphere now.”

One of the pictures is a photograph of several McKeesport firefighters standing by one of their trucks, holding Smiley cookies. Eat'n Park spokesman Kevin O'Connell said more pictures of McKeesport area landmarks will be hung in the near future.

“I think it looks better, but I think the parking lot stinks,” McKeesport resident Kevin Streams, a regular customer, said.

O'Connell said parking lot improvements are on hold because of county concerns. County officials have a different view.

County Department of Economic Development senior deputy director Bob Hurley said tht, since 2011, “we went back and forth with a number of things.”

He said RIDC ended up buying the Mega Muffler property on the other side of Miller Street from the Eat'n Park.

“It was demolished and a couple underground tanks had to be removed,” Hurley said. That happened in late 2012 and early 2013.

“Then we had to go through a series of issues,” he said, including a memorandum of understanding between RIDC and the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County related to the upcoming work to create a new parking lot for the Eat'n Park.

The effort involved the city, a public right of way between the restaurant and the Mega Muffler property, Martin Street, and a piece of property behind the restaurant and Mega Muffler where an agreement was needed with CSX, its owner.

“We completed all of those in mid-to-late 2013,” Hurley said. “In December we finally got the final specs from the Eat'n Park team” regarding the plans for renovating the restaurant.

“They went through a couple of different schematics,” Hurley said. “We've been meeting with them on and off for a couple years. We had to wait until they finalized their interior and exterior designs.”

That happened in December.

“In the next week to two weeks we will actually put out a request for bids for work to be done,” Hurley said. “RIDC will oversee the work.”

Hurley said the work will be done in two phases. The first will involve Martin Street, the narrow, hilly roadway between the restaurant and the Mega Muffler lot. It will be filled in and a retaining wall will be built.

“That will be allowed to set over the balance of the winter,” Hurley said. “Then, come spring into early summer, we will do the balance of the work on the (Mega Muffler) site.”

Other work includes a new drive-through entrance and pickup window, lights and additional parking spaces to bring the total outside the restaurant to 65-70.

“Ultimately there will be a subdivision of the Mega Muffler property,” Hurley said. “Then a portion of the Mega Muffler site will be incorporated into the existing Eat'n Park property.”

The work involves bringing the site into compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, and other zoning requirements.

O'Connell said he could not give a time frame for the drive-through, but he believes everything could be completed sometime this year.

Patrick Cloonan and Michael DiVittorio are staff writers for Trib Total Media. They can be reached at 412-664-9161, Cloonan at ext. 1967 or, DiVittorio at ext. 1965 or

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