The Food Column: New galley in the Strip hopes to turn out top chefs

Two former U.S. Navy officers are starting what they envision as a launch pad for hot new restaurants and chefs.

On April 1, Ben Mantica, a Sewickley native, and Tyler Benson opened applications for four kitchen spaces in Smallman Galley, a Strip District space that will be renovated as a food hub. Aspiring chefs will be selected to inhabit the spaces, which will also have bars offering different types of wines, beers and coffees.

Prospective chefs are invited to pitch their restaurant concepts online at Mr. Mantica and Mr. Benson, along with local advisers from food and restaurant businesses, will select three chefs to take over the kitchens, and a fourth will be selected through online voting.

Naval travels inspired the duo to flesh out this concept. They were stationed in San Diego but traveled the world, and in many countries such as Singapore, Japan, Thailand and United Arab Emirates, they visited “large-scale food halls with several restaurants inside them,” Mr. Mantica explained.

At these halls, what they generally found was chefs from the community cooking authentic local fare. This is what gave them the inspiration to start a “chef incubator” for “undiscovered talent” in Pittsburgh, Mr. Benson said.

The two were project managers in the Navy. They’ll couple their management experience with the expertise of local food professionals, including the Troiani family, owners of Papa J’s Ristorante in Carnegie, and Leah Lizarondo of Brazen Kitchen. The Troiani family owns the Strip District building, a former nightclub in the 2000 block of Smallman Street, that will be Smallman Galley.

The first four chefs will spend 18 months in an apprenticeship program there. They’ll be responsible for buying ingredients and hiring and paying any needed staff, but instead of paying rent, they’ll enter into a profit-sharing agreement. On Mondays during the first 12 months, the restaurants will close and the chefs will receive training from local business leaders, bankers, marketing experts and restaurateurs. During the chefs’ final six months in Smallman Galley, they’ll focus on networking, raising capital and otherwise preparing to leave the nest and start their own free-standing restaurants.

And then a new group of four chefs will take over the Galley.

Applications are always welcome, Mr. Mantica and Mr. Benson noted, because even after the first crop of chefs leaves, another will be waiting in the wings.

The duo intends to select restaurant concepts focusing on four different types of cuisines, but they don’t have any preconceived notions of what types of cuisines they hope to attract. The two will run the bars associated with the kitchens; the chefs will be responsible only for the food.

Mr. Mantica and Mr. Benson hope to have their first class of four chefs selected by July. Building renovation is scheduled to start June 1, and they hope to have the Galley open by early fall.

Following his naval service, Mr. Mantica was planning to return to Pittsburgh anyway because his wife is a neurology resident at UPMC. But he felt Pittsburgh would also be the perfect location for the team’s concept because “Pittsburghers support our own -- we have a real pride for the city.”

Of course, the Smallman Galley name came from the pair’s naval experience; a galley is a ship’s kitchen.

Besides offering great food and drink, Mr. Mantica said he and his partner have a “social mission.”

“We hope this will evolve into the food center of Pittsburgh, the place where all the new, exciting chefs get their start.”


Pancake Festival: All-you-can-eat pancakes and eggs. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, April 12, at Beth El Congregation in Scott. Held in conjunction with South Hills Genealogy Day. $8 for adults; $5 for children ages 4 to 12; free for children under 4 (family maximum of $25). Reservations: E-mail or call 412-849-5549.

Greek Gourmet Odyssey: Behind-the-scenes tour of Salonika Imports, four-course Greek dinner with wine pairings, traditional music and tales of life in Greece. 6 p.m. Saturday, April 18 and May 9, at Salonika Imports in the Strip District. $60 per person. Reservations: 412-576-1755. Information: (click “Tastings”). 

Charitable events

Pieces of Hope Campaign: Pittsburgh-area Panera stores will sell Puzzle Piece shortbread cookies April 13-19 to raise money for The Dan Marino Foundation and Wesley Spectrum. In the past three years, Pittsburgh-area Paneras have raised more than $110,000 to support organizations associated with autism and other developmental disabilities.

A Taste of Lebo: Battle of the Appetizers: Mt. Lebanon restaurants battle it out for best appetizer, as determined by crowd vote; Mt. Lebanon school student ensembles provide entertainment. 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 18, at Clearview Common in Mt. Lebanon. $25 for adults; $15 for students and seniors; free for children ages 8 and under. Proceeds benefit the Mt. Lebanon Foundation for Education. Advance tickets:

Cooking for a Cure: Farm-to-table meal with optional wine tasting, plus speech by breast-cancer survivor Bonny Diver. 7 p.m. Saturday, April 18, at Sewickley Heights Golf Club. $75 per person; $115 with wine tasting. Reservations: E-mail or call 412-849-3850.


Every Kid Healthy Week mini-grant awards: Every Kid Healthy Week, April 19-25, celebrates health and wellness programs in schools. Shoot video of your Every Kid Healthy Week event and upload by May 31 to for a chance to win a $500 mini-grant for your school.

“PB My Way” recipe contest: The Southern Peanut Growers are running their annual contest in search of the best recipes that include peanut butter. To enter, submit your recipe by April 15 at Prizes include a KitchenAid stand mixer and a year’s supply of peanut butter.

Chefs needed

Peters Township Farmers Market seeks local chefs to do cooking demos for a “Guest Chef Spotlight.” The market is set up from 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays from May 20-Oct. 14 at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Venetia. For information or to participate, call 412-833-5979 or go to

Rebecca Sodergren: or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.


Hot Topic