Renovation Inspiration Contest: Blast from the past
May 13, 2016 10:42 AM
The second floor of Dorothy 6 Blast Furnace Cafe in Homestead.
By Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When Tom Kazar decided to buy the former Karma on East Eighth Avenue in Homestead and remodel it into a bar and restaurant, his friends and family thought he was crazy.
“Everyone tried to talk me out of it,” he says.
And really, who could blame them? Vacant for four years, the 100-year-old brick building had a multitude of problems when the West Mifflin resident purchased it in 2011 for $70,000. For starters, it had 4 inches of standing water in the cellar.
Mr. Kazar had assumed all the abandoned space really needed was a good cleaning. In reality, drying out the basement took 11 months. It also meant installing a French drain with two sump pumps and tearing out many feet of rotted plaster to replace it with drywall.
An auto mechanic and metal worker by trade, Mr. Kazar had never undertaken such a large renovation project and had absolutely no experience in the food industry. Yet he believed.
“Every time I walked in a place, I thought, ‘I could do this better,’” he says.
Turns out he was right. After three years working nights and weekends, his Dorothy 6 Blast Furnace Cafe opened in October 2014 and quickly drew a devoted following for its food (his sister Bernadette makes the pierogies) and decor honoring the area’s industrial past. Then judges from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Design Center chose it as the winner in the commercial category of the 2015-16 Renovation Inspiration Contest, sponsored by Dollar Bank.
Mr. Kazar, who grew up with six siblings in Hazelwood and has several steelworkers in the family, first looked to buy in Oakland. Lower prices sent him across the Monongahela River to a spot just a block from where U.S. Steel’s Homestead Works once stood.
The cafe’s slogan is “If we can’t pour steel, we’ll pour beer.” Its centerpiece is a handsome, 32-foot-long bar that Mr. Kazar made with the help of friends Clint Washabaugh and Chris Ruffner. It features a poured concrete top inlaid with the company logos of five mills where his relatives once labored -- U.S. Steel, Mesta Machine, Dravo, Jones & Laughlin and Levinson.
While Mr. Kazar never worked in the mills, his father was a fabricator. “He stuck a torch in my hand at 10 years old,” he says.
He used that skill to turn salvaged light-gauge rails that once guided trains into the bullnose edge of his bar. The 300-pound crane hook over the bar is another nod to Homestead’s industrial past. Mr. Kazar dug it out of the dirt at his auto body shop, where he still works full-time. He also reused cable, railroad spikes and pieces of chain link to make handles for the bar’s 20 beer taps. Even cooler are a pair of shelves crafted from the gears of a 19th-century steel locomotive he salvaged in Lima, Ohio.
While the hardwood floors are original, it took lots of sanding and polishing to bring them to their current luminous state. He also removed drywall and plaster (with chisel and wire wheels) to expose brick walls running the length of the building. Paintings by local artist Rick Bach add a funky punch of color on the walls. Another friend, Billy Mills, created a painting of the Titanic using floor tile.
Artifacts from former tenants Karma and Alexander Graham Bell Cafe add to the quirky decor. Mr. Kazar was happy to leave the tin ceiling on the second floor intact, but the space was hard to reach via a spiral staircase. He replaced it with a larger industrial one supported by a pair of 20-by-12-foot steel beams. He also added a sunny space with a 12-seat table overlooking Eighth Avenue.
Less noticeable improvements include all new plumbing and wiring and stainless- steel walls in the basement kitchen. The exterior was cleaned and Mr. Kazar used repurposed bricks to create a new wall and gate leading to a new concrete patio. The gate is topped by a stone ornament salvaged from a Downtown building. His brickwork is so meticulous you can’t tell what’s new and what’s original.
While renovating the facade, Mr. Kazar was delighted to discover an original J &L steel beam over the front door. Of course he left it exposed behind the sign for Dorothy 6, whose name comes from a blast furnace at the nearby Duquesne Works.
“I’m just so proud, of everything,” he says.
Gretchen McKay: email@example.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.
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