Priory is SBA family-owned small business of the year

Priory Hotel owners Suzanne and John Graf and General Manager Tim McGlothlin take pride in the details that make the Priory unique. (Photo/Kelly Thomas)
Priory Hotel owners Suzanne and John Graf and General Manager Tim McGlothlin take pride in the details that make the Priory unique. (Photo/Kelly Thomas)

From the SBA:

In the 1980s, residents of Pittsburgh’s historic Deutschtown neighborhood were the recipients of the immaculate redirection.

It wasn’t a game-saving football play but an interstate blueprint redesign that kept the former Saint Mary’s church and adjacent monastery intact for purchase by Edward and Mary Ann Graf. Their artistic vision transformed the structures into the Priory Hotel and Grand Hall at the Priory.

“They were going to turn it into office space, when a friend suggested they convert [the monastery] into a small hotel for people staying at Allegheny General Hospital,” said son John Graf, vice president and director of operations for The Priory Hospitality Group. “The place had been boarded up for years and had paint peeling and water damage, but with the original woodwork and high ceilings you could see it could be something neat.”

His parents’ vision of a hotel became reality when the Priory Hotel opened in 1986. John Graf, an attorney, made a second-generation contribution to the family business by transforming the church into The Grand Hall, a majestic facility suitable for weddings and banquets.

Graf, 46, who joined the hospitality group full-time in 2002, will be honored by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) as the Family Owned Business of the Year. Graf and eight other local small business owners and advocates will be lauded at the Western Pennsylvania SBA May 27th Awards Luncheon at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel Pittsburgh. The luncheon is held in conjunction with the 48th annual celebration of National Small Business Week.

While his parents assembled collections of Victorian-era furniture for the rooms and added bathrooms to each guest room, as the monks shared a single bathroom, Graf has put his own touches on the thriving destination.

“In addition to the Grand Hall, I’ve updated operations by utilizing the internet to boost reservations,” he explained. “Also, when a fire destroyed a nearby apartment building and parts of The Priory, I purchased the building and added a 17-room handicap accessible addition.”

The new rooms offer a seamless transition to the original Priory Hotel, which now is complimented by The Monks Bar – an intimate pub for guests and residents to frequent. Graf also has plans for an outdoor urban garden and bike parking area.

It was his concept of a Winter White Wedding Package garnered him accolades as the Grand Marketer of the Year by the American Marketing Association.

“We have twinkling, white lights on the tree, the dance floor looks like a skating rink and we sell a package consisting of the Grand Hall, hotel space and cakes and we even have a bakery a few blocks from the hotel,” Graf added. “We offer a complete package with exceptional food, cake, accommodations and parking because we know that if they all are goo,d then people will come back. If one aspect is off, guests won’t return.”

Graf even paired with Pittsburgh’s business community to offer a complimentary wedding package to a veteran of the Iraq or Afghanistan War. “Local merchants donated wedding dresses and tuxedos, entertainment and photography services and even wedding bands,” he explained. “We’ve done it for two years and we will continue until our soldiers are out of harm’s way.”

According to Western Pennsylvania SBA District Director Carl Knoblock, Graf and his family were bold visionaries who opened a city inn and perhaps helped turn around Pittsburgh’s Deutschtown neighborhood “You can see the rehabilitation and civic pride all through this historic neighborhood,” he said.

Graf said winning this award accentuates the family side of his business.

“It’s exciting, to be a part of this business where people come for a respite and leave their problems behind, we try to do it right so they leave happy.”

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