For the better part of a century, the Frick Park Market was the kind of mom and pop store everyone wants to live around the corner from. Groceries and baked goods lined the shelves, meat was cut to order, milk and eggs were fresh, ice cream bars and penny candy stocked the cooler and counter. Something for everyone.
And if you didn't live around the corner, they delivered.
"You did things like that," says Ron Fuchs, who with his brother, Bobby, ran their parents' market for 20 more years, until they sold it in 2000. "You had quality and service."
Mom and Pop were Mary and Louis Fuchs, who in 1941 bought the store that had been in business at 7103 Reynolds St. at least as early as 1901, when Archibald Kerr ran it as a confectionery and lived above the shop.
The Frick Park Market
• 7103 Reynolds St., Point Breeze
• Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m to 3 p.m Saturday
• Phone: 412-243-6030
"My memory of coming down here," says Maggie Cook, "was Ronnie behind the counter singing something he would sing in the choir at St. Bede's and Bobby covered in blood. And I remember Mary sitting outside talking to everyone."
Bobby "Bammer" Fuchs was the market's butcher, as his father had been when Lou and Mary ran the store and raised their boys above and in it.
Today Ms. Cook, who's lived two blocks from Frick Park Market for about 25 years, is the new Mary and her fiance, John Prodan, is the new Lou. Last summer they bought the store, which had two other brief ownerships in the past few years, and are breathing new life into it.
And new songs. Mr. Prodan also sings in the store, often Motown and usually accompanying the radio, unless he's making up his own lyrics.
"Or words," Ms. Cook says.
"I can be as silly as a rabbit if I want to be," says Mr. Prodan, who likes the freedom of running their own business.
"It's ours," he says. "It's our personality."
"We've poured our heart and soul and passion into other people's businesses for a long time," Ms. Cook says. "We thought, 'Why not do it for ourselves?' ''
Churchill Area High School sweethearts in the 1970s, the couple reunited when Mr. Prodan returned to Pittsburgh six years ago to be closer to his family. She was a longtime preschool teacher at Carnegie Mellon University, Louise, and Milestones child care centers; he worked as a business manager for auto dealerships.
There's a tradition of food service in both of their families. Ms. Cook's parents and maternal grandmother operated her Boulevard Bar and Grill on Baum Boulevard in East Liberty before losing it to urban renewal in the 1960s.
Mr. Prodan's father had been sous chef at the Hilton Downtown for 30 years. When he retired, the family purchased a restaurant on the South Side for him, naming it Kyra's Diner for the family's youngest child. But when his dad's health deteriorated, Mr. Prodan ended up running it himself for five years around the late 1980s.
"We sold it," he says, "after the mills started shutting down. So did the breakfast traffic."
With the Fuchs brothers enjoying their hard-earned retirements and newfound freedom, the market's new owners are carrying on some Fuchs family traditions and starting a few of their own.
"I want to taste your black bean soup," Jay Iyengar says, taking note of the chalkboard sign on top of the deli counter, which indicates that today's entree, beef stew, already is sold out.
"It's all vegetarian, even the base," Ms. Cook says as she gives her a sample of the soup.
Ms. Iyengar approves.
"Would you like 10 or 16 ounces?" Ms. Cook asks.
"Oh, more than that. It's for my whole family."
"On your tab?"
"Yes, please," Ms. Iyengar says.
"My kids come here to eat almost every day after school," Ms. Iyengar says later, "and sometimes they eat lunch here. It's great to have this store. We all love it."
One of the reasons they love it is that, just as the Fuchs family did for their loyal customers, the owners keep running tabs for about 60 families who pay monthly. The Frick Park Market, located just a block from the park, also still delivers within the Point Breeze neighborhood, something the store's elderly customers especially appreciate.
"We know what we used to want out of this market when we lived here," Mr. Prodan says. "It's a great neighborhood. We like to do stuff for them."
And business is good. Ms. Cook says, "It's been obvious the neighborhood wants this market to survive."
While there's no longer a butcher on the premises, the owners plan to soon stock at least fresh ground meat and sausage, which customers have been requesting.
Along with traditional grocery staples lining the red and yellow shelves, the market also carries Boar's Head deli meats and cheeses, a quality brand that built its reputation a century ago by delivering to mom and pop stores in New York City. Mr. Prodan and employee Joe Enlow take turns manning the deli counter, making sandwiches to order. Customers also can choose from among six specialty sandwiches with locally inspired names, such as the popular Morning Breeze -- toasted French bread, egg salad, salami and tomato. With tables inside and outside the store, the market's a neighborhood cafe, too. This time of year, its sidewalk comes alive with colorful bedding plants for sale; inside, with its black-and-white checkered tile floor, antique sideboard and Bobby's old butcher block, the place has a welcoming, old-timey feel. At 25 feet wide by 34 feet long, it's right-sized, too: not too big, not too small.
The deli case also holds a collection of side salads: tuna, chicken, egg, potato, pasta, ham and macaroni, as well as coleslaw, all made in the store.
Monday through Friday, there's now a daily soup and entree, too. The monthly rotation includes 20 different soups, among them Basque rice and pepper, carrot and orange, zucchini watercress, minted split pea and spinach, and curry butternut squash.
Some are soups Ms. Cook has made for years, using recipes in the first Silver Palate cookbook.
There are 20 entrees, including beef stroganoff, arroz con pollo, ratatouille, chili, haluski, rigatoni with meat sauce and curry beef with rice, usually prepared by externs from the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute.
"We've tried to incorporate the flair and taste of the culinary school with comfort food," Ms. Cook says. "Both of our grandmothers were Eastern European. Haluski is comfort food to us."
Fair warning: entrees are often sold out by lunchtime.
Ms. Cook said the market focuses on buying locally made products, including breads from Wood Street Bakery and Breadworks; fair trade coffee from La Prima; milk, cottage cheese, butter and eggs from Turner's Dairy; fresh cinnamon rolls, cookies, Danishes, birthday cakes and cupcakes from Swissvale's Sweetie Sweetie bakery. The market also stocks Hershey's ice cream.
Really local -- made in the store -- is their Steeler Cheese, a dip or spread John's mother made for them 30 years ago when they watched football together. A blend of bleu cheese, cream cheese and extra sharp cheddar, it flies out of the deli case on game days at $5.99 for a 12-ounce tub.
"Although I guess with the NFL cracking down [on the use of team names], we'll have to call it Stiller Cheese," Mr. Prodan says.
"We started making it again six years ago. And for six years the Steelers have been successful," Ms. Cook says. "There's something to the power of the cheese."
"But we're afraid," Mr. Prodan adds, "that we're making the neighborhood's cholesterol level too high."
Steeler Cheese is on the market's catering menu, too, along with cheese trays, deviled eggs (available daily for 25 cents each), breakfast pastries, deli trays, party platters, side salads and fruit and cookie trays.
"Got a question," 12-year-old Jayme Brown says as he pops into the store and surveys the contents of the candy counter. But it isn't about candy.
"What's tomorrow's special?"
Ms. Cook steps from behind the counter and shows him and his friend, Nate Gray, 13, the list of soups and entrees.
"We each wanted to order soup because of a field trip -- a golf outing," Jayme explains.
The boys, students at Sterrett Classical Academy across the street, are such regulars that each has a little compartment in the market's cash register where he keeps his change, so they don't have to carry it.
"It's one of my favorite stores," the boys say in unison.
"Things are cheaper," Jayme says, "and sometimes they let you pay the next day."
Late afternoons are a busy time at the market, when students from Sterrett stop in for an after-school snack or Central Catholic boys fill up the cafe tables. Lately large flocks of St. Bede's soccer players have been showing up, fueling for practice in Frick Park.
"It's a neighborhood with lots of kids," Ms. Cook says, and they're welcome at the market even when they purchase with hundreds of saved pennies, as one group and their teacher did.
It's no surprise that Ms. Cook and Mr. Prodan know many of these children by name.
This is one mom and pop store where everyone seems to feel like family.
ZUCCHINI WATERCRESS SOUP
This is one of Frick Park Market's most popular soups, says co-owner Maggie Cook: "People call early in the morning and ask us to set it aside for them." The recipe is from "The Silver Palate Cookbook."
- 4 tablespoons sweet butter
- 2 cups finely chopped yellow onions
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 2 pounds zucchini (about 4 medium-size)
- 1 bunch of watercress
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Fresh lemon juice to taste
Melt the butter in a pot, add the onions, cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender and lightly colored, about 24 minutes.
Add the stock and bring to a boil.
Scrub zucchini well with a kitchen brush, trim the ends and chop coarsely. Drop zucchini into the stock and return it to the boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until zucchini are very tender, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, pull the leaves and smaller stems off the watercress; you should have at least 4 loosely packed cups; rise well.
Remove soup from heat; add watercress, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes.
Pour soup through a strainer, reserving liquid, and transfer the solids to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, or use a food mill fitted with a medium disc. Add 1 cup of the cooking stock and process until smooth.
Return pureed soup to the pot and add additional cooking liquid, about 2 more cups, until the soup is of the desired consistency.
Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Simmer briefly to heat through. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
-- "The Silver Palate Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman, 1982)
Patricia Lowry can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1590.