Eat'n Park considers Hello Bistro Downtown


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Pass out the Smiley cookies. Eat'n Park may be headed into the heart of Downtown.

The suburban chain is considering a former McDonald's at Wood Street and Forbes Avenue for a Hello Bistro, the latest offering from its menu of restaurants.

Kevin O'Connell, senior vice president of marketing for Eat'n Park Hospitality Group Inc., said in an email that the old McDonald's site, owned by the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, "is one of the locations we're discussing" for the restaurant. No deal has been reached, he said.

Bruce Hill III, the real estate broker handling the property for the Italian Sons and Daughters, could not be reached for comment.

Eat'n Park opened a Hello Bistro in Oakland last year and has plans to open another on the South Side in June.

The Italian Sons and Daughters property occupies a prime spot in the heart of the Fifth and Forbes retail corridor Downtown.

It sits across the street from the new 33-story Tower at PNC Plaza skyscraper under construction on Wood Street and is adjacent to the 18-story Gardens at Market Square hotel and office complex being built on Forbes.

The site has been vacant for years, last occupied by a convenience store. The McDonald's restaurant closed 11 years ago. It was seen then as another blow to the Downtown retail corridor, which also lost the National Record Mart store, the G.C. Murphy's variety store, the Lerner New York clothing store, Rue 21 and Bolan's Candies around the same time.

A decade later, the corridor -- with the construction of Three PNC Plaza several years ago, the new high-rises and a rejuvenated Market Square -- is undergoing a revival of sorts.

But if Eat'n Park does occupy the Italian Sons and Daughters building, it could put a crimp in plans for a proposed women's fashion district along that stretch of Wood Street.

The site has been targeted as a top spot for a women's boutique. At one point, the Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corp. had a non-binding letter of intent to use the space, said John Valentine, the CDC's executive director.

If Eat'n Park moves in, the loss of the location "makes it a little tougher" to establish the women's fashion district, "but I don't think it's the end of the boutique plan by any stretch," he said.

"It won't be as dense of a cluster but I think we'll still have the same amount of boutiques coming in. We'll just be spread out a little more Downtown," he added.

Mr. Valentine said that even if Eat'n Park takes the space, there's still a possibility there could be room for a boutique. About 4,000 square feet of retail space is available at the site. Eat'n Park wants its Hello Bistros to be about 2,500 square feet.

Arthur Ziegler, president of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, came up with the idea to turn the section of Wood between Point Park University and Fifth Avenue into a women's fashion hub.

He saw it as a natural complement to the men's clothing district that has settled into Fifth near Three PNC Plaza. The foundation owns three buildings on Wood, including one that houses Boutique la Passerelle, a women's clothing and accessories store.

Mr. Ziegler said Wednesday he did not think that a new Eat'n Park restaurant moving into the Italian Sons and Daughters building would be detrimental to those plans.

"I would say that's a very good tenant on a prime corner and it would give us more life and more customers," he said.

Among the menu offerings at Hello Bistros are salads, hamburgers and potato soup, a top seller at original Eat'n Park restaurants. The bistros also will sell beer and wine and, of course, Smiley cookies.

In the Downtown market, Hello Bistro would complement Six Penn Kitchen, another Eat'n Park creation that opened in the Cultural District in 2005.

neigh_city - businessnews

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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