928 and 930 Western Avenue may soon become an Italian restaurant with apartments above it, if Larry and Lois DeYoung get their wish. (Photo/Henry Clay Webster)
By way of New Hampshire, Western Avenue should get a new taste of Italy come this fall.
Larry and Lois DeYoung have been on the prowl for a restaurant location since early this year. After selling their old restaurant, Stephano’s Deli and Cucina in Dover, N.H., the couple scouted the real estate market nationwide (including San Francisco and Columbus, Oh.) only to end up in love with Pittsburgh’s Northside.
“It just felt like home,” said Lois DeYoung, co-owner and chef. “It just had an Old World side of the city. Very quaint, more open than other parts of the city. It reminds me of Boston.”
Of course the real estate prices attracted the restaurateurs as well.
“Property in New England is about three times the price here than in Pittsburgh,” Lois said.
The couple’s small 1200-square-foot upscale deli in Dover didn’t have any room for expansion and only had seats for 24 guests, she said. It turns out that a vacant, old boarding house at 928/930 Western Ave. is just what they were looking for.
The couple expects to close on the building late this month and then embark on massive renovations that Lois expects will cost a minimum of $500,000. They plan to convert the bottom level into the new restaurant, called Stephano’s Tratorria, combine two of the five upstairs apartments into their own home, and rent out the other three.
“It’s going to be lunch and dinner,” Lois said, which will be a step up from their former deli. “We’ll offer calzones, Panini, and all our pasta is homemade.”
The new Stephano’s will also continue the tradition of naming all its sandwiches after Italian artists. There’s a Raphael, a Botticelli, and a Da Vinci.
Lois also expects her spinach Catalonia, cheese manicotti and meat lasagna to be popular.
The new spot would seat 50, as well as offer outdoor seating on the porch.
Of course, it isn’t a done deal yet. The Allegheny West Civic Council has to approve the deal at an evening meeting on May 11.
“I personally don’t foresee any problems,” said Gloria Rayman, who has been active with the AWCC for seven years. “We want to make sure it’s a good fit for both the neighborhood and also for the business, because we don’t want them to fail.”
Raymond said the business had to be approved by both the housing and planning committee and the general membership. She isn’t aware of the group refusing a business’s plans in the years she has been involved.
The DeYoung’s journey to the Northside is a successful case of the city’s urban improvement apparatus working in lockstep. They contacted the Urban Redevelopment Authority, who directed them to the city’s many nonprofit groups who run state-funded Main Street Programs, which seek to improve various business districts.
“We showed them East Ohio Street, we showed them Federal Street, but Western Avenue — they just fell in love with that,” said Tom Rosselot, the Northside Leadership Conference’s business development director.
Rosselot believes the fact that Western Avenue can attract entrepreneurs from other states is a product of the many investments the Conference and the community has made on the street. These include new brick sidewalks finished last summer and new street lights.
“Here’s lesson one, if you gain anything from this, you put the dollars into the streetscape improvements. This is like the poster child for why we do what we do on Western Avenue,” Rosselot said.
Rosselot said the DeYoungs can expect a façade grant to help take some of the sting off the redevelopment costs and that officials with the Conference and its financial subsidiary, the Northside Community Development Fund, are putting the finishing touches on a financing proposal.