Allegheny County fertile feeding ground for new restaurants
After 17 years of working in restaurants, Kimberly Waigand of Baldwin Borough decided she wanted to own one.
“We were going to buy a turnkey restaurant, but that didn't go through,” she said.
Then she saw a business for sale in Brentwood and liked the location. “We're across from the town square and there are over 40 businesses within walking distance,” she said referring to Crack'd Egg, which opened the second week of October.
Brentwood ranks high among Allegheny County suburbs in terms of attracting food establishments. A Tribune-Review analysis of three years of Allegheny County Health Department data put Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon at the top of the list, with 14 new eateries each, and generally showed dozens of restaurants opening in suburbs with thriving commercial districts.
Joseph Ciotti, a management consultant with the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center, said a good restaurant location balances factors including property cost, customer base and competition.
Gather demographics, but also talk to residents and other business owners to get a feel for the neighborhood, he advised.
“At the end of the day, I think it ends up being a gut decision. You have a vision for your business and you have to decide, does this location fit that vision?” Ciotti said.
Crack'd Egg in Brentwood's Brownsville Road business district offers free-range eggs and grass-fed beef, to set itself off from competitors, Waigand said. She and her husband, Donald, are the owners.
Ciotti said restaurants tend to show up in clusters, in part because they want to locate near a customer base such as an area where workers on lunch breaks gather.
“Knowing your target market is hugely important, not just for choosing your location but picking your menu and setting your prices,” he said.
If there are too many competitors, the market gets saturated, he said, and rents in commercial areas also tend to be higher.
Still, locating a restaurant in an isolated area is a gamble because only a destination restaurant — one that offers a night's entertainment — usually thrives in that situation, Ciotti said.
The foot traffic and general “hustle” of Bellevue attracted Jennifer Cirlingione, one of the owners of Grille 565.
“I grew up in Brighton Heights. Bellevue was always the place to go,” she said.
The restaurant and nightclub opened in August 2014 and poured its first drink last week after Bellevue voters passed a referendum ending the borough's status as a dry community.
The community offers a “city” feel without the traffic, she said.
“I love that it's like a little walking community,” she said.
“That's something Pittsburgh really needs. It's so cool to walk places and meet people and look at the shops.”
La Gourmandine Bakery and Pastry Shop chose Mt. Lebanon for its second location based mainly on customer requests for a South Hills presence, said Lisanne Lorin Moreau.
“I feel like it's in the middle of the South Hills,” she said.
She and her husband, Fabien, also get considerable business from the North Hills and Cranberry at their Lawrenceville location, she said, but they know opening a third location would require that they take on partners.
The ideal location for a restaurant is a place that's starting to grow, that doesn't have a lot of dining choices, said Mary McKinney, director of Duquesne University's Small Business Development Center.
Inside the city, Lawrenceville has been trendy for a while and is attracting restaurants, she said.
Outside the city, the airport area and the North Hills are growing.
The North Hills, particularly, seems like fertile ground, she said.
“I was surprised that you have to go all the way down to McCandless and to McKnight Road to find certain kinds of restaurants,” she said.
Being the first restaurant can be an advantage, but also carries a risk, she said.
“It's a great thing. But you want to make sure the neighborhood is starting to get hot,” McKinney said.
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301.