Connie Fauth, of Baldwin Township, sat at the old-fashioned, horseshoe-shaped lunch counter at St. Clair Hospital Friday eating a club sandwich, drinking coffee and commenting on how sorry she will be to see the quaint snack shop close tomorrow.
As part of its ongoing renovation and upgrading of facilities, the hospital will renovate the 31-year-old year old snack shop with its three lunch counters that one employee described as looking like a scene from the malt shop of the television series "Happy Days."
The new snack shop, which will be called Cafe 4, will include a coffee bar with a trained barista, a "Salad By Design" counter, soup station and sandwich and panini counter. It will be decorated in earth tones, much like a Panera or Starbucks, and will have table and booth seating and free Wi-Fi.
"We are going from 'Happy Days' to martini bar, except that our martinis will be milkshakes," said Susan Baux, who manages the snack shop.
The renovation is expected to take about eight weeks, said Thomas Ague, vice president of facilities and planning at the Mt. Lebanon hospital.
During that time, extra staff will be put on at the hospital cafeteria to accommodate the increased traffic expected there.
Ms. Fauth said she has been eating at the snack shop since the 1970s when she started visiting doctors there for a series of previous health problems that required numerous surgeries.
Last week, she was there for a routine checkup with a doctor and decided to stop in for a club sandwich. Priced at $3.25, it was so large she took half of it home.
"I have a lot of doctors here, and every time I come for an appointment, I come here to eat," she said. "I hate to see this go."
Ms. Fauth is typical of many of the regular customers, who have shown up faithfully over the years following their doctors' appointments and medical procedures.
But the snack shop is also a destination point for other regulars who come there simply for the food.
"On the weekends we have people who come here just to eat. It's close for them and you can't beat the price," said Earla Connors, a waitress at the snack shop.
Favorites on the menu have been the club sandwiches, tuna melts and the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches and, of course, the milkshakes. And it's not just the tasty food that the customers like. The prices were unbeatable: $2.70 for a hamburger; $2.55 for a tuna salad or chicken salad sandwich.
Earl Haag, of Whitehall, tried to stop at the snack shop for one last milkshake last week, but was disappointed to find that the milkshake machine was broken. Mr. Haag was at the hospital because his wife was having outpatient surgery.
He said he had been coming to the shop since 1952 when the first of his children was born. "It's a fine deal," he said of the lunches.
William O'Hosky and his son, Bill, have become reluctant regulars at the snack shop since early January when a family member was admitted to the hospital.
The father and son from South Fayette spend from eight to 10 hours a day at the hospital and visit the snack shop two to three times daily, sometimes for coffee and bagels, other times for a meal.
"It's comfortable and it's very reasonable," Bill O'Hosky said, adding that they serve "the best chocolate chip cookies."
The current snack shop is accessible through the doors of the gift shop that is operated by the hospital auxiliary. When the renovation project is finished, there will be a new 18-foot-wide entrance, a new gift shop and expanded space for the snack shop.
The new gift shop will continue to offer similar items to those it has carried in the past, including stuffed animals, jewelry, clothing and balloons.
But the Cafe 4 menu and offerings will be updated and up-scaled. Instead of folks gathered around the lunch counter, the likely scene at Cafe 4 will be patrons checking e-mail on their laptops.
While hospital officials said they weren't sure what traditional sandwiches and dishes from the current snack shop menu may be carried over to the new one, they were certain about one thing: The famous milkshakes will be available at Cafe 4.
"I had one lady who said she had her baby here rather than another hospital so she could get one of our milkshakes," Ms. Connors said.
The waitresses said they've seen their share of happiness and sadness among their customers. Some sit and discuss the medical prognosis of family members and share their worries. Others, like the new fathers, brim over with joy.
Seating at Cafe 4 will be available at booths and tables arranged throughout the cafe area as well as on the outside patio that has been available during warm weather.
Another change is that the new cafe will not be open 24 hours as is the current snack shop. The new hours have not yet been determined.
"The regular customers are going to miss this," said Anita Schock, who has been a waitress at the snack shop for 17 years. "But I think we have to accept change."
Mary Niederberger can be reached at email@example.com or 412-851-1512.