The Pennsylvania Building occupies most of the block between 18th and 19th streets and Penn Avenue and Smallman Street in the Strip District. The more than 18,400-square-foot property whose backside faces the original Primanti Bros. has seen bullets fly, restaurants and bars open and close and the rise and fall of the “Godfather of Pittsburgh.” Now, since Anthony DiCio bought it in March 2016, it’s on track to become a drinking and dining destination.
Last spring, it became the home of a handful of vendors from the failed Pittsburgh Public Market, including East End Brewing and The Olive Tap. By this spring, it will house an upstairs food hall, a wine bar and on the 18th Street side, a courtyard with covered stalls where a coffee vendor, produce seller, bakery, pizza place, blacksmith and others will sell their wares.
It’s a major change for a building that was bought in 2003 by Vincenzo "Vince" Isoldi, star of A&E’s short-lived “Godfather of Pittsburgh.” He operated an Italian restaurant called Isoldi’s and a club called Pure on the site.
Later occupants included Taverna 19, the clubs Chemistry, Mosaic and Fever — the site of a fatal shooting — and Ivy Pittsburgh, where gunshots in 2015 drew the attention of the Allegheny County district attorney.
Goodbye to all that.
The Pennsylvania Building
A growing empire
Though Tony DiCio primarily lives in New York, he knows Pittsburgh well. Three generations of his family have owned White Oak Farm, which straddles Hampton and Indiana townships. It’s the site of the annual hatch chili festival as well as farm dinners and the Italian barbecue.
His brother, Nicola, owns Casa Renya restaurant in the Strip, and, since 1987, Reyna Foods. He also operates a tortilla factory in Armstrong County.
Mr. DiCio’s career trajectory has also included stints with People’s Express, The New York Times and ownership in a restaurant group based in New Jersey. In Pittsburgh, he also owns the building that will house the roastery for Der Fer Coffee & Tea and another that’s the location for Kaya, a Big Burrito Group restaurant.
Back at the Pennsylvania Building, Mr. DiCio heads upstairs to a vast open area where Amish contractors have finished laying new hardwood floors and are working in the space designed by his employee, Anastassia Schlussel.
The ballcap-wearing entrepreneur points out a far wall where a charcuterie maker will feature food that pairs well with wine; he’ll be one of several vendors. Mr. DiCio heads to the center of the room to show a floor-to-ceiling display for bottles that will soon hold a bar to sell wines from Tuscany and Australia that are exclusive to the venue.
Mr. DiCio goes out of his way to point out a diaper-changing area along a nearby wall. “Even though wine is the centerpiece, I want this to be family-friendly,” he says. Then he walks along a bank of windows to show some outdoor seating areas upstairs. The 7,000 square-foot space can seat up to 400 people.
Downstairs and out a door that faces 18th Street, a courtyard is taking shape, with strings of lights overhead and a mural of horse-drawn carriages on a wall. Some stalls have been outfitted with kitchen prep areas and one displays a pizza oven behind the bar. Communal tables and bar stools fill the center.
Mr. DiCio has chosen a handful of vendors, though he’s still looking for a few more businesses for indoor and outdoor stalls. Unlike nearby Smallman Galley’s incubator for vendors, “I want them to stay long-term,” he says.
Ground floor tenants
The complex’s ground-level retail corridor on 19th street filled in shortly after Mr. DiCio bought the building last year.
This is East End Brewing’s third home in the Strip following the closing of the Pittsburgh Public Market at Penn Avenue and 24th Street in February. After serving as an anchor tenant in the market for six years, East End owner Scott Smith likes this building’s drinking/dining history. “The bones were there.”
East End opened this summer with 12 taps featuring a rotating selection of the brewery’s 35 beers. The space has 30 seats and is “BYOF”; Mr. Smith encourages patrons to bring to-go food from other vendors for now.
The 14-year-old brewery based in Larimer employs about 15 full- and part-time staff and brews about 3,000 barrels a year (31 gallons each). Unlike the regulars who stop by to sip and buy growlers in Larimer, “we definitely get a lot more casual walk-ins” in the Strip District taproom, Mr. Smith says. And of course, there are more tourists.
“It’s more of a day-drinking crowd, which is fine by us,” he says. People grab seats for brews as early as 10 a.m. — with the bestseller the beer flight trio — and it gets quiet around 8 p.m.
Jonathan Moran Woodworks from Mindy and Jonathan Moran also moved from the Pittsburgh Public Market. Their business has experienced the most dramatic step up since relocating to the Pennsylvania Building. Their larger space allows them to display bigger pieces and more custom furniture, all made from reclaimed items and upcycled wood.
The Olive Tap, the third refugee from the public market, fills a spacious room lined with tins of olive oil and vinegar. Hersh Petrocelly and Karen Jorgensen’s shop is seeing more customers interested in its 35 olive oils and 50 vinegars, including balsamic from Modena, Italy.
Two doors down, Courtyard Winery from Randy and Laura Graham is new to the Strip. In addition to selling wines by the bottle and case, the shop hosts tastings and events, especially for pet owners. Kopy Kat Sanctuary has held weekend gatherings to benefit strays, and the Proper Pit Bull recently drew more than 30 attendees for an event.
The wines are made by the vineyard based in North East, Pa., where the Grahams grow 30 varieties of grapes. Their wines include a dry chardonnay, a semi-dry vignoles, the best-selling Cabernet Sauvignon and a peppery Noiret made from grapes bred at Cornell University especially for this climate. They also stock an array of sweet wines as well as a port.
“We’re doing better than we could have imagined” since opening in August, says manager Joanne Jeffers.
Potential vendors can contact Mr. DiCio at email@example.com
Melissa McCart: firstname.lastname@example.org; Instagram@postgazettefood; Facebook@postgazettefood
First Published December 13, 2017 6:52 PM