Hookah bar on tap for Greensburg

| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 10:51 p.m.

Ben Pardus of Hempfield will open Greensburg's first hookah bar, just a few steps away from his target market.

The Stack Hookah Lounge, where patrons share flavored tobacco, will open Monday in the Stark Building, across Harrison Avenue from Seton Hill University's arts center and about a block from the university's dance and visual arts center now under construction.

“I think with the location by Seton Hill, and being able to cater to those who don't want to drink, we'll do pretty well here,” said Pardus, a 2012 Seton Hill graduate who is enrolled in the university's MBA program.

Charlie's and Doe's East Coast Dogs, both restaurants, formerly set up shop in the space in the West Otterman Street building owned by the Westmoreland Cultural Trust.

A hookah is a single or multi-stemmed pipe for vaporizing and smoking flavored tobacco, called shisha. The vapor or smoke passes through a water basin before it is inhaled.

Hookahs are increasingly popular with young adults. One recent study found that up to 40 percent of college students smoked a hookah at least once in the last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Medical experts say hookah use can be just as dangerous as smoking cigarettes, and it could be even worse, especially with frequent use.

Pardus said he suggests “everything in moderation.”

As an alternative to tobacco, he will offer “flavored stones” to put into the pipes.

“It's the same flavor, but it's not tobacco- or nicotine-based,” Pardus said. “It's the flavor that's put on the stones.”

In a statement, Seton Hill officials said they welcome “new businesses to the vibrant and growing Cultural and Historic District of downtown Greensburg, and we wish local entrepreneurs and business owners the best in their endeavors.”

University officials said they are “particularly interested” in the lounge's opening, given that Pardus is a student.

“We hope he finds himself welcomed into the community as he begins this new venture,” the statement adds.

Tobacco use is prohibited in university buildings. University officials support prevention and intervention programs that encourage students to make healthy lifestyle choices, the statement notes.

Pardus, 27, plans to rent the hookahs to patrons and sell the tobacco.

He said he became involved with hookahs about eight years ago.

“They're prevalent in Pittsburgh,” he said. “There are a couple of chains down there, and that's kind of where I got the idea.”

Another hookah bar — Hookah Connection — opened in 2011 behind the Westmoreland Mall in Hempfield.

“Ben approached us with an idea, a concept, that specifically catered to those in their 20s, the college crowd,” said Michael Langer, president of Westmoreland Cultural Trust. “It seemed like a good opportunity for our area of Greensburg.”

Langer said he and others considered the potential health risks to Pardus' customers before agreeing to lease the space.

“Certainly, it was a consideration. However, the medical research we've seen, it certainly, without abuse ... it's not as harmful as regular cigarettes,” he said.

Pardus turned to the Greensburg Community Development Corp. for help in finding a suitable storefront, according to Executive Director Steve Gifford.

The development group suggested eight possible sites for the business to set up shop, and Pardus settled on the Trust-owned property. The spot offers high visibility, close proximity to potential customers and good parking, Gifford said.

“It's an interesting component because this business is fashionable, a trendy lifestyle,” Gifford said. “I think the individuals who do it understand the risk.”

Gifford described the lounge as supplying a service, with people choosing whether to take part.

Pardus is a “young entrepreneur who's spent a whole year developing his business plan,” Gifford added.

The business also will sell prepackaged drinks and snacks.

Some people have inquired about his lounge already, Pardus said.

“They're excited about it, and it's definitely an alternative to a drinking establishment,” Pardus said.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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