Kittanning pizzeria turning blight into courtyard dining
Jeff Bowser is building a foundation for his Kittanning pizza place by taking a crumbling building down brick by brick.
The owner of Bugsy's Pizza on South Jefferson Street started tearing down the former Golden Scissors hair salon building on Friday. Bowser will turn what remains into a courtyard for his restaurant. Bowser's restaurant wraps around the Creative Visions Hair Salon beside it at 180 S. Jefferson and connects to the Golden Scissors property in back.
“I'm doing downtown a favor,” Bowser said as he surveyed the dilapidated building that was a hardware store in the 1960s and has been empty since Golden Scissors closed more than 10 years ago.
Bowser will leave three of the building's brick walls 5-feet-high to transform the space into a courtyard for his outdoor cafe. He said he will add a deck, iron gates and a water fountain in the courtyard.
He is looking forward to the project but doesn't know what to expect from his foray into construction.
Though he has plenty of pizza experience, the brick-and-mortar aspect of the restaurant business is new to him.
“I can tell you how many different types of pepperoni in the world, but when it comes to demolishing a building, I don't know anything,” he said.
One thing he knows for certain.
“We're taking it down literally brick by brick,” he said. “It's a pretty big building. It's pretty tall. So safety is of the utmost importance.”
With that in mind, traffic was restricted on Jefferson Street on Friday when work started. The sidewalk in front of the business will be closed for up to three weeks. Customers will have access to the pizza shop's entrance and Creative Visions while demolition is going on.
The demolition will be complete in October.
Debra Bonello jokes that Creative Visions may not survive the demolition, but the hair salon's owner welcomes her neighbor's expansion.
“He's very enthusiastic and community-minded,” she said. “You've got to give him credit for being an entrepreneur. I'm glad he's back.”
Bowser opened Bugsy's in 2001 but closed it six years later to take a corporate job with Papa John's. In 2013, he reopened Bugsy's and went back to being his own boss and doing what he loves — making pizzas.
“It was pretty good money, but I was trained by old-school Italian guys,” he said.
He learned how to make pizza 30 years ago working for Vinnie and Tony Malvone of the long-running J & S Pizza shop in Harrison Township, Allegheny County.
When he reopened his shop last year in Kittanning, he was pleased to find that customers remembered him.
“I was out of business for years, and they were still calling me ‘Bugsy,' ” he said.
Though Bugsy is not his nickname, his pizzeria's fun-loving nod to mobsters has caught on, Bowser said. A cartoon mobster with a cigar and a scowl adorns his delivery van. He jokes that the courtyard will be called “Bugsy-lagio” — a twist on Las Vegas's Bellagio resort.
“The kids dig it,” he said. “They love to see the big yellow van pull up.”
The courtyard — which will open next year — is part of a plan to make his pizzeria a permanent fixture in the borough. “I think the stigma for businesses in town is these pizza shops come and go. But I've been doing this since 1982. I told these guys, we're not building a business. We're building an image.”
Julie E. Martin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1315 or firstname.lastname@example.org.