On February 1st, one of the coldest and snowiest days of the year, people drank hot drinks at the new CARES CommuniTEA Café in the Hill District.
The sight warmed Shinora Grayson-Johnson’s heart. As COO of Center That CARES, she is delighted that the organization’s latest project opens its doors to the public.
The hotel is located in Center Heldman Plaza on Center Ave. 1836, not only serving breakfast and lunch to the people of one of the city’s food deserts, but also offering teenagers and young adults experience in the workforce and is the first step in revitalizing the neighborhood.
From Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., customers can enjoy a variety of coffee blends – made with beans ground daily by Coffee Tree Roasters – named after famous Hill District residents (August Wilson) and other notable African Americans (Cicely Tyson).
The menu includes breakfast and lunch dishes that range from soups, salads and fresh fruit with muesli to avocado toast and bagels with smoked salmon and capers. The popular Blessed Hands Catering offers weekly specialties such as lasagna with seafood. People can take their goodies to sit or relax in the room that used to be a former wacky mocha.
The five-person staff consists of schoolchildren and students who participate in CARES vocational training programs. Through a partnership with Community Kitchen Pittsburgh, attendees can earn their food service certification.
Works by local artists adorn the walls and goods from local vendors are sold throughout the store. There is free WiFi and a reading corner with books for the whole family.
Grayson-Johnson says it’s more than a restaurant, it’s a community hub and learning lab. Once the Covid restrictions are lifted, events such as jazz performances and book club meetings will be held on the site.
The café is part of the city of Pittsburgh’s Avenues of Hope initiative, which was launched in October 2020 to invest in small businesses in seven historically black neighborhoods. Homewood, Larimer, Center, Perrysville, Chartiers, and Warrington streets are prioritized, as is Irvine Street in Hazelwood. Avenues of Hope is working with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to ensure that higher quality, affordable housing is being built in the neighborhoods.
“We are very happy about the opening of the CARES CommuniTEA Café and its importance for the Hill District”, says Diamonte Walker, Deputy Managing Director of URA. “This is a perfect example of how a public good – Center Heldman – can be used to support community-based initiatives that are a core component of Avenues of Hope.”
In the fall of 2019, URA acquired the 2.57 hectare property for 1.6 million US dollars. In March 2020, URA published an Interested Tenant Request (RFI) for the vacant retail space in the plaza, which has a 30,410 square meter grocery store (a former Shop ‘n Save) with a commercial kitchen and four semi-finished kitchens, each with ready-made retail space are between 777 and 1,527 square feet.
URA received more than a dozen responses from potential tenants, but Covid concerns forced many to abandon those plans.
The CARES CommuniTEA Café was chosen based on community feedback. The Gallery on Center, a retail incubator for minority companies, is slated for the storefront next to the cafe this summer. It is similar to the gallery about Penn in East Liberty, part of the Catapult: Startup to Storefront Entrepreneurship program.
Rev. Glenn Grayson, senior pastor of AME Zion Church at the Wesley Center and President and CEO of Center That Cares, is excited about the future of the hill.
“Center That CARES, with the excellent support of Mayor William Peduto, Councilor R. Daniel Lavelle, and URA is thrilled to kick off Black History Month with the opening of the CARES CommuniTEA Cafe in the heart of the Hill District Center Avenue corridor. “he says.” We look forward to the community and city supporting our social youth enterprise as we participate in the revitalization of the Hill District. The making of this cafe during this pandemic reflects our city’s determination and commitment, through collectives The effect of driving and triggering innovative changes. “
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