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New businesses seek to go beyond 'generica' restaurant scene in Cranberry

Lance Donston, 31, of New Castle, sets aside wine glasses in preparation for the Tuesday opening of Juniper Grill in Cranberry.

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Saturday, March 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

Cranberry resident Gary Winterhalter describes the Cranberry restaurant scene as “generica.”

“Developers should be more involved in trying to get unique restaurants out here,” Winterhalter said. “You go up Route 19 and Route 228, you see every chain that exists in the country. I think that's probably typical everywhere.”

On Tuesday, McMurray-based Juniper Grill will open a location along Route 228 in Cranberry, seeking to add a new and upscale element to the evolving restaurant scene.

The thriving business district and growing population in Cranberry, said Nick Koustis, director of concept development for Juniper, should help drive the 35-and-up professional person to the restaurant.

“These are the types of guests we're looking for,” Koustis said, as workers cleaned glasses, trained in the kitchen and prepared for the opening at Cranberry Crossroads. “There's a higher density of rooftops with a higher income level.”

Restaurants are big business in Cranberry. Township officials said there are about 80, from mom-and-pop shops to chain restaurants. According to a township study, residents, workers and visitors spent more than $150 million in 2012 in what's classified as “food away from home,” or food in restaurants.

In 2010, according to the study, people spent nearly $140 million.

The complaint that Winterhalter and others had during a community meeting earlier this month with township Manager Jerry Andree is that there were few upscale restaurants, mainly chain businesses. Andree pointed to Juniper and the Freedom Square diner along Freedom Road as examples of different brands that are starting to move in, with more expected as commercial development continues throughout the township.

Though Juniper sits across the street from the Westinghouse business park, with thousands of employees, Koustis said the restaurant would have likely opened in Cranberry even if Westinghouse hadn't moved there from Monroeville several years ago.

The restaurant, with another location in McMurray, offers American cuisine with a Southwest flavor. The owners also run the Atria's and Ditka's restaurant chains locally.

“We offer something different,” Koustis said. He added that the company believes its competition will mostly come from the nearby Springfield Grille in Adams.

Even though people call for variety, they're not always quick to embrace it.

Brian and Terri Hammond, owners of Echo Restaurant along Route 228, which includes charcuterie and bistro menus, said when they opened in December 2010, people initially viewed them with a bit of wariness.

“It was an education for us, and an education for our guests as well,” Terri Hammond said, adding that if customers want variety, they have to support local restaurants.

As word of mouth grows, so does business, said the couple, both 34 and Seneca Valley High School graduates. The business, though it offers upscale dining, also has a hometown flair. Bee hives on property produce honey for the restaurant, and staff is preparing to plant tomatoes, beans, peppers and other produce to be used in the kitchen.

“We were seeing a changing (restaurant) scene in Pittsburgh, and it hadn't reached its way up here yet,” Brian Hammond said of the decision to open the restaurant in Cranberry. “We're fighting against expectations.”

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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