By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Neighborhoods are often defined by their business districts. For the neighborhood of Friendship, the opposite is true. Known predominantly for its stately residential homes, most businesses are relegated to the neighborhood’s borders with Garfield and Shadyside.
Friendship Perk & Brew is breaking the mold with its Friendship Avenue location, placing it in the heart of the neighborhood. Co-owner Nick Redondo opened the coffeehouse in October 2017, with the goal of creating a meeting spot for locals, in a building close to the history of both the neighborhood and himself. A Friendship resident since 1959, Redondo celebrates the history of the neighborhood through Perk & Brew, from the exposed wood beams and brick of the 19th century building, to the black and white photos of Friendship a century ago that adorn the walls.
Tell me a little about the building. How did you come to own it?
This was actually a house in the 1800s. In the 1920s, the store was added on, and it was called Kushner’s Market. When we moved here in 1959, when I was four-years-old, it was called Margolis’. Minnie Margolis and her son, Ralph, they owned it and ran it as a grocery store. When I was a boy, about 12 or 13, I got my first job in their grocery store. I used to stock shelves and slice lunch meat, stuff like that. In 1979, my father decided to buy the building and called 7/11. They came in and tore through the walls of the house and the store, and combined them into one big store. It was a grocery store for 7/11 for about 22 years.
Why did you decide on a coffee shop?
I went to the community and neighborhood groups and said, ‘What do you guys want here?’ And everybody told me they really wanted a coffee shop. I always wanted to do one anyway. I thought of this idea when I was in the Navy in 1983. I was off the coast of Lebanon, thinking it would be really cool to have a coffee shop.
What has business been like since opening?
It’s been tough because people don’t know we’re here. We’re not on a main avenue like Liberty or Penn. It’s been an educational process, letting people know we’re here. I did have five people yesterday come in for the first time, so people are learning.
Tell me a little about your food and drinks.
My sister’s really good with food, so almost everything we make food-wise we make from scratch. We do soups, salads, sandwiches. Our main soup is Italian wedding soup, made with escarole like it’s supposed to be made, not with spinach. We have a selection of beers, not a giant selection, but we have bottled beers and beers on tap. I didn’t want to be a bar or a biergarten. We just wanted to be a place where you can get a nice beer with your food, grab a beer with friends. Our coffee is roasted in Cranberry by Kivahan.
Do you host any events here?
During the fall and winter we do a Tuesday lecture series on all different topics. We had a sex therapist, a marriage therapist, a chiropractor talking about inflammation, we had politicians talk about affordable housing in Pittsburgh, guys coming in talking about travel hacking, any number of topics that might be of interest to people. On second and fourth Friday’s we have trivia, and on the weekends we usually have music of some sort. It gives them some exposure, and brings people in to buy from us, so it works out for everyone.