Cafe in the works on Troy Hill

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

So often when I am out in neighborhoods walking down main drags I think, “This could be such a cool retail corridor.”

By cool I don’t mean a street that has everything you need. The Strip is the coolest without a theater or a shoe store. But no retail corridor in Pittsburgh has recovered the depth and breadth of function of a thoroughgoing main street  — the kind that in the old days kept you from having to drive anywhere.pighillcafe

Murray and Forbes together in Squirrel Hill come pretty close. Lower Lawrenceville is helping Central Lawrenceville make Butler Street a pretty continuous cool corridor. Even lacking retail variety, East Carson Street on the South Side should be the coolest place in the city, but public drunks kill cool.

The North Side has a bunch of could-be-so-cool-if-only corridors — East Ohio Street (Deutschtown), Western Avenue (Allegheny West) and Lowrie Street (Troy Hill) among them.

If only two or three more young entrepreneurs would land there... if only another good name brand would invest ... if only the neighborhood wouldn’t fight it... if only the bureaucratic process of small business weren’t such a major pain in the you know what... there are lots of if-onlys.

Yet little ventures stick their necks out all the time, willing to be in a vulnerable business that’s taxed. Maybe if she would call her cafe the Marcellus Shale Cafe, Naomi Auth could get a free ride on Lowrie Street, but she has chosen a name that honors the neighborhood’s history — the Pig Hill Cafe.

Pig Hill was the moniker for the downhill ski run that’s officially called Rialto Street. In the old days, pigs were run down Rialto to the slaughterhouses on Herr’s Island (now Washington’s Landing).

When I found Naomi inside the open door at the Pig Hill Cafe the other day, she was on her knees bent over a would-be chair. The tools and debris of the pre-opening blues were scattered about.

She was willing to take a break to tell me about her vision: a breakfast and lunch place with an ever-chaning menu based on what is available locally.

She spent her youth in Mt. Lebanon and has experience as a cook. Two years ago, casting about for a place to open a cafe, she found the building at 1721 Lowrie, a former tattoo parlour, and bought it.

In the spirit of our great urban history, she is living above the cafe. Between putting chairs together and waiting for inspectors, she is trying to get the place open before the end of spring.

The cafe’s parent company is Red Star Specialty Foods, a business she established to sell live cultured and fermented food and drinks — giardinera, spiced onions, sauerkraut and a drink called Kombucha.

She has a few retailers for Kombucha, which is made with green tea and a live culture that is intended to cleanse you of toxins and aid in digestion.

Clarion River Organics sells it at the Public Market in the Strip, as does Lili Coffee*Shop in Polish Hill.

Keep an eye on Naomi’s website for word of her cafe’s opening.

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