Photo courtesy of Penn Brewery
By Brady Langmann
Take a trip to the furthest edge of Northside, and you’ll find a 19th-century marvel of sorts greeting you in Troy Hill, towering red walls, cobblestone roads, and wide gates inviting you inside. This is the home of the Penn Brewery, which is regularly packed with beer-loving Pittsburghers and out-of-towners alike. Since Linda Nyman and Sandy Cindrich took over the business six years ago, it has become a center for great Pittsburgh beer, tasty food and an atmosphere that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
In 2009, Nyman and Cindrich’s husbands, who worked at a software company together, were looking for a new office space when they came across the 150-year-old Penn Brewery building. When the women saw that the building was for sale, they immediately saw an exciting opportunity to revamp the historic brewery, which was then nearing bankruptcy. Nyman’s background in marketing, along with Cindrich’s experience with project management, made them more than capable for the task.
“We didn’t actively look for it, it sort of found us,” Nyman said.
Cindrich added: “It was sort of like starting a business all over again, or restarting. That was my personal interest. I’m a career marketer. When I heard about the opportunity to regenerate this beloved consumer brand, I jumped at that.”
Since then, the duo, dubbed the “ladies of lager,” have restored Penn Brewery to the award-winning juggernaut it used to be. Penn Brewery annually wins honors and awards at nationwide craft beer contests, which often features thousands of other beers. Part of this success is due to how the women have retained the brewery’s unique historical character, yet changed to meet the needs of modern-day craft beer enthusiasts.
“That was one of the key issues, deciding what we keep of the old versus what do we need to retain. We kept quite a bit of the old,” Nyman said. “This brewery was established as a German-style brewery, a lager-style brewery, and that heritage is very important. While all of that held true, the landscape of the craft beer category was changing.”
Partly because of their countrywide popularity, Cindrich says that about half of their customers come from out-of-town. Though, if you’re from Pittsburgh, don’t worry, the restaurant constantly updates its menu and beer offerings to keep things fresh for its steady customers. Notably, the Penn Brewery offers a “Euro-Pittsburgh” cuisine, which honors Pittsburgh’s diverse population, from German Reuben sandwiches to Polish pierogis.
“This is such a Pittsburgh landmark. I really wanted the food to also reflect sort of that European immigrant heritage,” Nyman said. “I like that because it speaks not just to our heritage as a German brewery, but as a Pittsburgh ethnic brewery. And I like to think that sets our menu apart a bit from other breweries, and certainly from other restaurants in Pittsburgh.”
Judging by the overflowing crowds at their signature events, Oktoberfest and June’s Microbrewers Fest, Nyman and Cindrich have further cemented the Penn Brewery as one of Pittsburgh’s top restaurants and breweries in their six years at the helm. And they’re still looking to better the organization and continue to develop as business owners.
“From a personal level, it was just kind of just trying that whole, like, you own a business. Okay, ‘What does it mean?’ It’s a learning experience, too,” Nyman said. “Really just trying to figure it out and embrace it, and figure out who we are and what we want to do with it, so kind of just getting over that learning curve of, ‘What does this all mean?’ It’s what does it mean to us, what does it mean to Pittsburgh, and how do you want to continue to grow, and you know, just really embrace it as ours.”
Photo by Brady Langmann
Penn Brewery co-owners Linda Lyman (left) and Sandy Cindrich bought the historic Troy Hill brew house six years ago.