Upgraded Tic Toc diner to stay on the clock

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Early Friday morning, the Tic Toc's many clocks were piled on tables and counters around the iconic restaurant on the first floor of Macy's Downtown store. The walls were bare, the hostess stand empty and no one would be coming in that day to order a tuna melt at one of the 50 seats at the lunch counter.

The Tic Toc is getting its first overhaul in a couple of decades, although Macy's store manager Joe Hladiuk wasn't sure exactly how long it's been since the last remodel.

When the crew tore down the old cream-colored wallpaper and cleared out the kitchen, a box of special holiday menus from about 50 years back turned up, proof the restaurant has been around at least that long. More than a few Pittsburghers recall getting a Tic Toc Tea Plate -- tea sandwiches that came with a choice of chicken salad or Jell-O -- while shopping with their mom or their grandmother.

Tradition can be endearing and frustrating.

The department store operator is faced with the challenge of preserving what some customers love while trying to appeal to those who see such places as past their prime.

But that's been true of many things since the owner of Macy's bought the owner of the Kaufmann's stores in 2005, a purchase that included the huge former flagship of the Kaufmann's chain.

In the years since, change has come to the old building on Smithfield Street. At this point, store merchandise has been consolidated in the lower floors and the company is looking at ways to allow other users to repurpose the upper levels.

The store's core customers are Downtown workers, but it's also starting to see more students from nearby colleges and universities that have been expanding. Neither group has a lot of time to shop.

"Do they really have the time to go up 11 floors in an hour?" asked Mr. Hladiuk. That kind of thinking drove Macy's decision to group women's dresses and suits on the third floor, not far from the shoes, as well as to concentrate all the missy's sizes on the fourth floor.

Keeping things simple for customers has also been a factor in the decision to invest in the Tic Toc. Mr. Hladiuk, with Macy's for 15 years and in Pittsburgh for the past year, said there was never any consideration of closing the restaurant. "Absolutely not," he said. "This is a big part of our building."

In fact, the historic restaurant may have lasted long enough to be considered trendy again.

The industry has come back to the idea that customers stay longer if they can get a bite to eat. The Nordstrom store that opened at Ross Park Mall in 2008 included both a coffee shop and a small restaurant.

Mr. Hladiuk noted Macy's has been installing more food options in its stores around the country, and he'd heard the retailer's store in the South Hills Village mall may be getting a Starbucks.

"The company is definitely looking in investing into restaurants in our buildings," he said.

On Friday, with the work on the Tic Toc still in progress, the restaurant still looked like its familiar self, only with ceiling fans and more lights.

A painter was applying a coat of mauve along a lower wall. "We've tried to brighten it up," Mr. Hladiuk said.

Regulars -- and he said there are many -- should still be able to order many of their favorite items when the remodeled restaurant reopens early next week. There will also be new options, but even those may not stray too far from classic diner favorites. Mr. Hladiuk said a Reuben sandwich will be added, along with the turkey variation of that known as a Rachel.

The store's executive chef, who also leads the Arcade Bakery and the store's catering operations, is developing specialty menus like the Oktoberfest one that will include German sausage potato soup ($4.95) and Jagerschnitzel, which is breaded pork cutlets in a mushroom sauce with spaetzel and red cabbage ($11.95).

Lest anyone thinks things are getting a little too daring, they also plan to borrow a few holiday offerings from those 50-year-old menus.

businessnews - dining

Teresa F. Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com or at 412-263-2018.


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