Photo by Neil Strebig
The Priory Hotel in Historic Deutschtown is one of the most unique attractions of all the of the city, led by owner John Graf and supervisor Adam Frye.
By Neil Strebig
When the Graf family took over Historic Deutschtown’s Priory Hotel in 1986 they wanted to create a memorable destination for visitors; one that stood apart from the other hotels in the area.
They never expected the former-monk monastery to grow into one of the region’s premiere overnight destinations. They never expected to feature some of the finest banquet and dining facilities in all of Pittsburgh. Nor did they expect to see a Hollywood movie like “Southpaw” filmed on property.
“There’s really no business model like ours in the whole city,” John Graf, Priory Inc.’s President and CEO, said, “Which is a European-style hotel that operates like a regular hotel, but it’s independent. It doesn’t have a national flag. It kind of sets us apart here; that we have a model that nobody else has.”
Graf and hotel supervisor Adam Frye were recently acknowledged by the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association (PRLA) for their achievements in the service industry.
Graf will take over as chairman for the PRLA, previously serving as vice chairman, state treasurer and President of the local Western PA chapter. Graf decided to leave his career in law before taking over Priory Inc. in 2002.
“When you do a good job, you execute and people really have a good time in a memorable point in their life it is much more gratifying than serving someone with process on Christmas Eve just to mess with them,” Graf said of his career move.
Frye added: “I was kind of surprised, but it is an affirmation of I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It feels really good.”
The soft, but eloquently spoken Frye originally earned a BFA in drawing and painting from Edinboro University before deciding to take his abstract mind into the hospitality industry. He began working in corporate hotel management for five years before moving to The Priory two years ago. He considers the Priory, which was built in 1888, “unique” and “unlike any of the other hotels in the city,”
“You get to tell a story to everyone who walks through the door,” he said.
Priory Inc. includes the 42-room Priory Hotel, the luxurious Grand Hall, Priory Bakery on E. Ohio Street, and a hotel-consulting business. As Graf explained each facet of the business is looking to leave a “footprint” on the Northside.
“Personalized service, is very importance to us and maintaining a historical venue. I think those are two things that really set us apart from our competition,” Graf said.
Whether, it’s with delicious pastries or with superb, award-winning accommodations at both the hotel and Grand Hall, Graf proudly refers to the historical value of their guest services.
“It is a very organic thing. It is not like Disneyland; something that was created to look like something. This is the real deal. You have 14-foot high ceilings in the guest rooms, big windows; I think a lot of too is an experience…there’s a cue there that says you’re some place different.”
The Priory is one of Pittsburgh’s most unique destinations. With the red carpet, satin drapes and the burgundy hue of the wood grain architecture, the Priory embodies a sense of elegance and nostalgia.
The Grand Hall can fit between 350- 500 patrons for weddings, cocktail parties and blockbuster events like local boxing matches (see “Southpaw,” featuring actor Jake Gyllenhaal).
“I think coming from a bigger hotel to here you get to spend a lot more time individually with each guest, which you just can’t do when you’ve got 300 or 400 rooms even 100 rooms it is still difficult,” Frye said. “But we only have 42, so you get to know everybody while they’re here, which is really nice.”
Along with the opulent Grand Hall, the Priory’s Pressley Avenue location also boasts the adorable, homely, Monk Bar, the state’s smallest bar. The Monk Bar is decorated with three high-top bar stools and a custom-designed slate menu (written by Frye) that overlooks the other ten available dining room seats. The bar is open to the public from 5-11 p.m.
It is precious oddities and novelties like these that make the Priory a must-see destination in Pittsburgh. However, it is the guidance and leadership of Graf and Frye that make the hotel such a memorable establishment.
“(Our goal is) to try and innovate our product to find new ways to surprise and delight our guests so it is a different experience for them every time,” Graf said.
While both understand the hotel and catering industry presents different challenges than the restaurant side of the business, they both make it resoundingly clear that they want the Priory to be a part of the newly emerging hospitality trend in Pittsburgh, especially as a staple destination on the Northside.
“(Historic Deutschtown) is really ready to take off,” said Graf. “If you want to come to a hotel where everybody looks like you do, we’re probably not the place for you. If you want to come to an interesting and diverse neighborhood that’s perfectly safe then you should definitely consider staying with us.”
Along with changing the perception of the neighborhood, Graf would also like to use his reputation in both the city of Pittsburgh and the PRLA to help improve and facilitate the process of opening new businesses and restaurants. He currently sees the process of accessibility towards obtaining permits, coordinating the departments, and city communication. as a bit too “complicated” and “cumbersome”
“On a local level is something that we’d really like to see get done. Streamlining that process. Getting people to talk to each other. Getting the agencies to coordinate so things don’t get gobbled up.”
The historical relevance of the property offers a level sentimentally that Graf considers it “very important,” but it is equally important in both Graf and Frye’s eyes to continue improving their own locations’ services and pushing the standard of Pittsburgh’s food scene. One that both Frye and Graf consider is rivaling the food scenes of New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.
“It is closer than it has been in a long time,” Frye said. “In six years I’ve been here it is not the same city it was then, it’s phenomenal.”
Both expressed the seriousness of food tourism and how impressive it is that Pittsburgh has beaten out San Francisco on Zagat’s latest food destination cities.
“I think it is affordable and it is pretty easy to start up you own place here. There’s a lot of opportunity for some of those chefs to get going on their own,” Graf said. “What’s good is some of those pioneers like Salt Of the Earth (in Garfield), which I’d say was probably the restaurant on the vanguard of this new foodie scene (Pittsburgh) kind of paved the way for that. It was a different kind of cooking and people really responded to it. I think other chefs took a cue from that and said ‘well you know I’m going to get creative too’.”
That competitive and creative drive is exactly why the PRLA has recognized both of these individuals as stalwarts in the field.
For more information about the hotel visit the official website.