ImaginePittsburgh.com

On the heels of Zagat’s proclamation in December that Pittsburgh is America’s No. 1 food city, The New York Times recently weighed in:

“Everybody seems so young. And everybody’s talking about restaurants. If there are scholars who hope to study how a vibrant food culture can help radically transform an American city, the time to do that is right now, in real time, in the place that gave us Heinz ketchup.”

The full essay by Jeff Gordinier, “Pittsburgh’s Youth-Driven Food Boom,” is below and here (along with a photo slide show from Pittsburgh-based photographer Jeff Swensen).

PITTSBURGH — It hits you as soon as you get to town.

There’s the purple-haired free spirit at the Ace Hotel who gives you the lowdown on outlaw poetry gatherings and killer pizza. There are the art kids offering tips at the Andy Warhol Museum, and the tyro entrepreneurs strategizing over cocktails at the Tender Bar & Kitchen in Lawrenceville, the neighborhood along the Allegheny River that is shifting from a desolate zone where your laptop might get stolen to the place where butcher paper in the windows signifies a bumper crop of new restaurants. There’s the 25-year-old Uber driver who shoots you a crucial heads-up: “The best bartender in the world is working tonight.”

Everybody seems so young. And everybody’s talking about restaurants. If there are scholars who hope to study how a vibrant food culture can help radically transform an American city, the time to do that is right now, in real time, in the place that gave us Heinz ketchup.

In December, Zagat named Pittsburgh the No. 1 food city in America. Vogue just went live with a piece that proclaimed, “Pittsburgh is not just a happening place to visit — increasingly, people, especially New Yorkers, are toying with the idea of moving here.”

Kelly Sawdon, an executive with the Ace chain, said the company spent years trying to raise money to convert a torn-and-frayed Y.M.C.A. into a hip hotel because the “energy” of the city suggested a blossoming marketplace. Food, she said, has been the catalyst.

For decades, Pittsburgh was hardly seen as a beacon of innovative cuisine or a magnet for the young. It was the once-glorious metropolis that young people fled from after the shuttering of the steel mills in the early 1980s led to a mass exodus and a stark decline.

“We had to reinvent ourselves,” said Bill Peduto, Pittsburgh’s mayor.

And they have. Over the last decade or so, the city has been the beneficiary of several overlapping booms. Cheap rent and a voracious appetite for culture have attracted artists. Cheap rent and Carnegie Mellon University have attracted companies like Google, Facebook and Uber, seeking to tap local tech talent. And cheap rent alone has inspired chefs to pursue deeply personal projects that might have a hard time surviving in the Darwinian real estate microclimates of New York and San Francisco.

No one can pinpoint whether it was the artists or techies or chefs who got the revitalization rolling. But there’s no denying that restaurants play a starring role in the story Pittsburgh now tells about itself. The allure of inhabiting a Hot New Food Town — be it Nashville or Richmond, Va., or Portland (Oregon or Maine) — helps persuade young people to visit, to move in and to stay.

Recent census data shows that Allegheny County’s millennial population is on the rise. People ages 25 to 29 now make up 7.6 percent of all residents, up from 7 percent about a decade ago; the 30-to-34 age group now comprises 6.5 percent, up from 6 percent.

Years ago, local boosters proposed a tongue-in-cheek advertising campaign starring a mascot called Border Guard Bob, who would dissuade young people from abandoning the city’s Rust Belt remains. “That has changed dramatically,” said Craig Davis, the chief executive of Visit Pittsburgh. He said the median age in Pittsburgh is 32.8, well below the national figure, 37.7.

That’s good news for tourism; 2,800 hotel rooms have been added in Pittsburgh since 2011. “We’re really using the food scene as a driver of that,” Mr. Davis said. “There’s a reason to come to the city.”

It is also good news for business and culture leaders who seek out young employees and customers. When job candidates arrive, the new wave of restaurants is brandished as a selling point.

“The food scene in Pittsburgh is actually responsible for our landing some best-in-the-world types of people,” said Andrew Moore, the dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon and a founder of Google’s first office in the city.

Google’s presence has since expanded considerably — and almost in sync with the restaurant surge. Pittsburgh’s mayor said the food boom had played a pivotal role in restoring neighborhoods, evidence of an “entrepreneurial attitude throughout the city.”

“Ten years ago, you had some visionaries, some young people who had a dream of owning their own restaurants,” Mr. Peduto said. “They took a risk — they really did believe the place had this amazing potential.”

One of those pioneers was Domenic Branduzzi, who opened a spot calledPiccolo Forno in the Lawrenceville area 11 years ago as a way to showcase the specialties that his family had brought to western Pennsylvania from Tuscany.

“I’m an O.G.’’ — an original gangsta — “in the neighborhood,” Mr. Branduzzi said on a recent afternoon as customers filled the cocktail bar atGrapperia, a second Lawrenceville spot of his, which was celebrating its first anniversary. “If I ever want to be transported to my grandmother’s kitchen when I was a kid, I taste one bite of the lasagna.”

In the early days of Piccolo Forno, Mr. Branduzzi was warned that Pittsburghers weren’t likely to take a chance on old-school items like rabbit or wild boar. “People thought it was crazy and that it would never sell,” he said. “And now I can’t take rabbit off the menu.”

Being shielded from crushing rent increases allows Pittsburgh chefs to take risks and cook the way they want to cook without constantly fretting about going under.

“Pittsburgh is the land of opportunity for chefs,” said Justin Severino, another Lawrenceville pioneer whose Cure, which he opened on a dingy stretch of Butler Street in 2010, has won national accolades. He’s got a second baby in Lawrenceville now, too — a brand-new Basque-style pintxos restaurant called Morcilla.

A veteran of the acclaimed Manresa, in Northern California, Mr. Severino, now 38, fled the Bay Area when he realized that he couldn’t even afford a beer and a sandwich with friends, let alone a vacation or a house. In Pittsburgh he saw the capacity for ownership, and change. “While the rest of the country was floundering, Pittsburgh stood on the gas and reinvented itself as a city,” he said.

This is not to say that creating Cure was easy. Lawrenceville still has its fair share of graffiti and abandoned storefronts, but “you should’ve seen that neighborhood five years ago,” Mr. Severino said. “I got to know the prostitutes who worked the corner. I got to know the drug dealers who hated my guts.” He was always calling the police; thieves broke into Cure repeatedly.

Through it all, he stuck to his philosophy: “I’m just going to do what I want to do without regard for what people say they want.”

Early adopters like Mr. Severino, Mr. Branduzzi, Sonja Finn of Dinette,Kate Romane of e2, and Richard DeShantz of Meat & Potatoes proved that chef-driven cuisine could flourish alongside steel-town fixtures likeTessaro’s and Primanti Brothers. The next generation is grabbing that message and running with it.

At Whitfield, the new restaurant inside the Ace Hotel, Brent Young, a native son who had helped build the Meat Hook butcher shop in Brooklyn, lobbied passionately for a job conceiving the whole-animal-fixated menu, and brought in the locally grown chef Bethany Zozula and the pastry chef Casey Shively to run the kitchen. Whitfield opened in December; reaction was quick and unexpected. “On New Year’s Eve, we had a line around the building,” Ms. Zozula said.

In the Strip District, the marketplace zone that Mayor Peduto referred to as “the heart of western Pennsylvania’s food culture,” Ben Mantica and Tyler Benson, two 20-something entrepreneurs who met in the Navy, are bringing the model of a tech incubator to the food world. Their Smallman Galley consists of four kiosks in which different chefs showcase their cooking for 18 months. The chefs pay no rent; the hope is that they’ll build a following and create their own restaurants.

Mr. Mantica and Mr. Benson see Smallman as a way to cater to the tastes of the young employees of Apple, Uber and Google who are starting to occupy new apartments in the area. “We’ve seen this huge demographic shift in Pittsburgh, and now it’s a matter of, ‘What do those people want?’” Mr. Benson said.

To the northeast of Smallman Galley, in Lawrenceville, the chef Csilla Thackray and the restaurateur Joey Hilty, both in their 20s, are trying to carve out their own slice of the marketplace with the Vandal, a casual restaurant that’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Mr. Hilty grew up near Pittsburgh, and said he had plans to leave for New York or Oregon after college, but “I had too much debt. So I slowly figured out what my contribution would be to the city.” He is glad he stayed. Lawrenceville, he said, is “very youthful and it’s full of unbridled enthusiasm for this stuff.”

But there is ambivalence as well. Young restaurateurs know how gentrification works; they’ve witnessed it in Brooklyn and San Francisco. Rents rise. People get squeezed out. “We all see where it’s going to be in five years,” Mr. Hilty said. “The barrier to entry’s going to be so high.”

Ms. Thackray added, “It’s really cool — and then the bubble bursts.”

Like winning the lottery, being crowned a Hot New Food Town can complicate things. Despite his trailblazing, Mr. Severino has noticed how Lawrenceville’s newer inhabitants view him as something of a square. “Most of those hipsters hate me,” he said with a laugh. “They’ll go out of their way to tell me what a yuppie I am.”

Some of the more thoughtful leaders of Pittsburgh’s cultural youthquake find themselves vexed — worrying that the city they wanted to live in could turn, over time, into its glossy and expensive opposite, a place that evicts older residents and prices out younger ones.

“Look, I like good coffee, I like good bread, I like good food,” said Adam Shuck, 29, who writes an e-newsletter called “Eat That, Read This” and is developing The Glassblock, a web magazine about the city. “I’m torn. I love this stuff, and I’m not going to say I don’t. I welcome and applaud this changing Pittsburgh.”

On the other hand, “there’s also a part of Pittsburgh that has been left out of this excitement,” Mr. Shuck said in an email. “Poverty, food deserts and lack of opportunity and access in historically marginalized communities are big problems in Pittsburgh, and all of the praise and celebration can ring a bit hollow when you consider these realities. Nitro coffee and slow bread are not at the top of your list when you can’t even get to a grocery store.”

The present is exciting in Pittsburgh. The future? That depends.

“We just have to stay vigilant in how Pittsburgh’s redevelopment takes place,” Mr. Shuck said, “fostering the conversation and pressuring government and private capital to work together to do it right.”

If You Go …

Ace Hotel 120 South Whitfield Street; 412-361-3300; acehotel.com/pittsburgh.

Cure 5336 Butler Street; 412-252-2595; curepittsburgh.com.

Dinette 5996 Centre Avenue; 412-362-0202; dinette-pgh.com.

e2 5904 Bryant Street; 412-441-1200; e2pgh.com.

Grapperia 3801 Butler Street; 412-904-3907; grapperiapgh.com.

Meat & Potatoes 649 Penn Avenue; 412-325-7007; meatandpotatoespgh.com.

Morcilla 3519 Butler Street; 412-652-9924; morcillapittsburgh.com.

Piccolo Forno 3801 Butler Street; 412-622-0111; piccolo-forno.com.

Primanti Brothers 1832 East Carson Street; 412-325-2455; primantibros.com.

Smallman Galley 54 21st Street; 412-315-5950; smallmangalley.org.COMMENTS

Tender Bar & Kitchen 4300 Butler Street; 412-402-9522; tenderpgh.com.

Tessaro’s 4601 Liberty Avenue; 412-682-6809; tessaros.com.

The Vandal 4306 Butler Street; 412-251-0465; thevandalpgh.com.

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Pittsburgh has jobs: more than 20,000 across 10 counties. Tap into ImaginePittsburgh.com to explore southwestern PA’s trending careers and industries.

Find a job, advance your career, build a life you’ll love: ImaginePittsburgh.com.

 

Bonnie Pfister

Four months of spirited competition concluded Wednesday as San Jose, Calif-based Lucid VR won the $50,000 grand prize in the AlphaLab Gear National Hardware Cup.

Second-place winner BotFactory took home $5,000, according to AlphaLab Gear’s Twitter feed, while DogParker (my personal favorite) fetched the $3,000 third prize. (More info about the contestants are below.)

Pittsburgh-based robotics venture capital firm Startbot funded the prize money in the second-annual contest to find and support the best ideas in innovative new products. The final showdown played out to a sold-out crowd at AlphaLab Gear’s offices in East Liberty. Each inventor had four minutes to pitch and five minutes to answer questions from the panel of judges, who will weighed commercial viability, team capability and demonstrated commitment.

“Our goal is to build a network of hardware startups everywhere and increase awareness and interest in investing in them,” AlphaLab Gear Managing Director Ilana Diamond told the Pittsburgh Business Times. “These companies need a community and investors.”

Erik Norwood, of Austin, was last year’s winner with his device CURB, a product that monitors household electricity use, offers money-saving tips and lets users control usage remotely.

“Taking home the Hardware Cup provided real validation from the investment community that we were on to something extremely valuable,” he said. “We were able to leverage that win into closing CURB’s full seed round investment of $1.5 million later in 2015.”

Pittsburgh was represented among the finalists. PalpAid is a medical device that uses a novel combination of soft tissue mechanics and computer vision techniques to make currently qualitative and subjective breast exams quantitative. It was developed by Molly Blank and James Antaki, mechanical engineers at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University.

Here’s the low-down on the competition:

  • Washington, D.C.: PrintLess Plans creates sleek yet rugged large-format e-paper devices made for the demands of architecture, engineering and construction professionals.
  • Boston: Water Hero creates a smart leak detection + prevention + conservation system to avoid costly water damage from burst pipes.
  • New York: Sort of like Zipcar for canines, Dog Parker creates on-demand neighborhood doghouses in dense urban areas, allowing humans to safely board their pets for short stints while they step inside a grocery store, cafe or other no-pet zone.
  • Los Angeles: Rufus Labs creates The Rufus Cuff, an advanced wearable device that also allows for voice and video calls, web browsing and more on its 3.2-inch screen.
  • San Jose: Lucid VR creates LucidCam, a stereoscopic 3D camera that captures the world as we see and hear it. Its 180° wide-angle lens enables an active view, with enhanced audio.
  • Austin: EllieGrid creates a smart pillbox that allows users to organize their medications in seconds.
  • Chicago: Mohop allows users to create customizable footwear via smartphone by combining on-demand 3D fabrication with emerging body scanning technology.
  • Wildcard (audience award winner): BotFactory (of New York) brings the future of electronic circuit fabrication to desktops with the introduction of Squink. Just like a 3D Printer, the small circuit printer allows users to prototype in minutes instead of weeks at the click of a button.

The finale was judged by seven nationally renowned venture capitalists, including Pittsburghers Josh McElhattan of Startbot, Tom Jones of Draper Triangle and David Motley of BlueTree Allied Angels.

Each of the regional winners won $1,000 cash, a yearlong TechShop membership, $500 in 3D printing from ExOne and a one-year license with Altium, which designs printed circuit boards used in electronic devices.

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Pittsburgh has jobs: more than 20,000 across 10 counties. Tap into ImaginePittsburgh.com to explore southwestern PA’s trending careers and industries. 

Tara Sherry-Torres

The Pittsburgh Latino community has many amazing people working across a variety of sectors, from nonprofit to corporate, from artists to students. We are a community that is rich in talent and dedication to making this city the most livable for all who call it home.  

Cafe Con Leche honor these individuals with the FUERZA Award on Aug. 15 at The Hardware Store (a co-working space) in the Pittsburgh “Hilltop” community of Allentown, just above the South Side Slopes.

FUERZA! was the first-ever fundraising event of  Café Con Leche, which  connects the Pittsburgh Latino community, promotes Latino culture in Pittsburgh and create a space for dialogue and creative problem solving. All proceeds from the event’s ticket sales will directly benefit the organization’s operating expenses, and help sustain its free programming throughout the year

Fuerza Award Recipients 

See photos of the recipients and nominees (including ImaginePittsburgh.com Neighbors Jesabel Rivera and Cindy Fernandez) at CafeConLechePgh.com/fuerza/

KEYLA CRISTINA NOGUEIRA COOK
Hometown: Juquitiba, São Paulo – Brasil. Brasileira. Owner and Operator at Feijoada To Go. Creator of Projeto Madre Latina (A photo project that celebrates motherhood through Latina mothers in Pittsburgh). Administrative Coordination at Carnegie Mellon University.

Keyla has been living in the Pittsburgh area for the last 3 years. Always involved with Latino community either by serving as volunteer at COESA (Brazilian Association) or sharing a little bit of Brazil through food by cooking Brazilian food for private parties and/or Latin@ events such as Cafe con Leche. Keyla’s last project, Projeto Madre Latina ( A photo project that celebrates motherhood through Latina mothers in Pittsburgh) came to life with the help of the Brazilian photographer Lila Rodrigues.

Favorite place: West End Overlook

What are your hopes for the Latino community in Pittsubrgh?  I hope the Latino community in Pittsburgh can feel welcome and find valuable resources to live here. Find ways to preseve their heritage and consequently pass it along to future generations. I hope in the future Pittsburgh can be more diverse and good for all Latinos, by providing various types of support for latinos of all ages through culture, health and education and much more.

“Latinos independently of nationality should work together to strength our ties and keep building a strong Latino community!”

GISELLE FERNANDES
Hometown: Rio de Janeiro – RJ, Brazil. Nationality: Brazilian. Profession: Psychologist at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. COESA’s Executive Director and Trilingual Program Director.

Giselle was born in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 2004, she immigrated to the USA. Giselle has a degree in Psychology from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro – UFRJ (1999) and she is a specialist in Mental Health (2001) through School of Public Health of Foundation and Institute Oswaldo Cruz in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Giselle is a licensed Psychology teacher graduated in UFRJ (2002). She has worked as school psychologist, psychiatric counselor, school-based therapist and clinical psychologist since 2000. Giselle has a master in Social Work from University of Pittsburgh and she is a licensed clinical social worker in Pennsylvania, USA. She is currently a field advisor for master students of School of Social Work of University of Pittsburgh in combination of holding a position of school-based therapist and program coordinator for WPIC of UPMC. Giselle served as teacher assistant for the Portuguese Department of University of Pittsburgh in the past. She also is an ex-student of the Doctoral Program of Applied Developmental Psychology of School of Psychology of Education at University of Pittsburgh. Giselle has articles published about Street Children as well as disparities related to ethnicity and mental health diagnosis on incarcerated youth. Giselle is a published poet. She published her first poetry book named “Saudade” in 2010, Editora Senac-RJ, Brazil. Giselle is a co-founder and current executive director of COESA – Cultural Organization for Educational and Social Actions; a non-profit organization in the state of Pennsylvania since 2012. Giselle is a competent and passionate community leader who has been contributing for the development of educational, health and social projects in Pittsburgh, Pain the USA as well as in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She recently pledged with COESA to promote Welcoming Pittsburgh Program and she is the creator of the Trilingual Program in Pittsburgh supported by the city of Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto.

Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh? Schenley Park

What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? To become visible, united and well supported.

Is there anything else you would like to share? I love poetry.

CINDY FERNANDEZ-NIXON
Currently lives in Ross Township but grew up in NJ. Dominican. Engineer / Actress / TV & Radio personality. Ansaldo STS / La Rumba Productions ( Self Employed). Board member for Women & Girls Foundation. Also for Manchester Academy Charter School. Associate board member for Sarah Heinz House.

Engineer by training. Entertainer by passion. I believe we can do whatever we set our minds to as long as we adapt without losing what makes us who we are. Moving to Pittsburgh was a challenge as I felt I was leaving behind a huge part of me. However when I realized that not only can I bring my culture here but also get to share it with others, helped me help others feel welcome and make Pittsburgh their home.

Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh? Mount Washington’s view.

What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? To continue to grow, diversify and enrich the current culture in Pittsburgh.

JOSE MIGUEL JUAREZ
Hometown: Paterson, NJ. Nationality: Guatemalan American. Medical Student and Paramedic, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Jose Miguel Juarez completed his bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. He is very passionate about living, learning, and working among underserved and vulnerable populations. In Houston, TX, Mr. Juarez served in a low-income Latino community as a middle school teacher for Teach For America. In Florida, he worked in a medically underserved community as a coordinator of medical services for Crescent Community Free Clinic. Today, he volunteers as a paramedic for Operation Safety Net, providing medical services to the homeless of our Latino community. He is also a coordinator and medical translator for SALUD Clinic, a free clinic committed to helping all uninsured and indigent Latinos in Pittsburgh. Mr. Juarez is determined to help reduce health disparities in our community. As a doctor, he will continue volunteering and advocating for all Latinos who do not have access to health care.

Where is your favorite place in Pittsburgh? As a resident of Oakland, Pittsburgh, my favorite place to go for a delicious lunch is the taco stand outside of Las Palmas on Atwood Street.

What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? My greatest hope is for every Latino individual and family to have access to all resources in our community necessary to ensure a good quality of life. My personal goal is to become an effective advocate of the movement to ensure that health care reaches every Latino in our community, especially the underserved.

Mr. Juarez is a 2015 recipient of the American Medical Association Minority Scholars Award. The AMA Minority Scholars program not only encourages diversity in medicine and alleviates debt, but also rewards commitment to the elimination of health care disparities, outstanding academic achievements, leadership activities, and community involvement.

PAULINA JARAMILLO
Hometown: Medellin, Colombia. Nationality(s): Colombia, United States. Assistant Professor, Carnegie Mellon University.

Originally from Medellin-Colombia, I am now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. I first came to the U.S. in 1998 to a language school at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. While there, my family moved to Miami, so instead of going back to Colombia, I went to Miami where I studied Civil and Environmental Engineering at Florida International University. After graduation, I moved to Pittsburgh to pursue an MS at Carnegie Mellon University. That was in 2003 and 12 years later, I am still in Pittsburgh and at CMU. As an Assistant Professor at CMU I am involved in multi-disciplinary research projects to better understand the social, economic, and environmental implications of policy-driven change in the operation of the energy system. More recently, I have also started working on issues related to energy and environmental sustainability in developing countries, including Colombia and Brazil.

Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh? I really like the Carnegie Mellon Campus. Obviously, I spend a lot of time there. I think it is a beautiful campus and I love walking around it in the spring and summer when it is sunny. I also really like the Blue Slide Playground, where my kids spend a lot of time.

What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? When I first moved to Pittsburgh from Miami, I thought I would not have a chance to speak much Spanish, but I quickly found out I was mistaken. After 12 years here, I continue to be impressed by how vibrant the Latino community is in Pittsburgh. I hope this continues. I see that Latinos in the area are very involved in civil society and I would like to see Latinos become more involved in local government. Since I work at a university, I hope we can continue to attract talented students from Latin America. I hope we can establish connections with universities in Latin America so that their students can come spend time here in Pittsburgh and our students can go there. I think this kind of education exchanges would be valuable for Pittsburgh as well as for the countries in Latin America.

What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino population? The one other thing I hope for the Pittsburgh Latino community is that as the restaurant scene in Pittsburgh continues to grow, we can see more Latin American restaurants. As in most U.S. cities, Pittsburgh has some really good Mexican restaurants and there are also some good Peruvian eateries. It would be great to also have, for example, Colombian, Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Argentinian food.

CAROLINA LOYOLA-GARCIA
Hometown Santiago, Chile. Nationalities USA and Chile. Media Artist, Filmmaker, and Performer. Robert Morris University; Associate Professor of Media Arts.

Carolina Loyola-Garcia is a multidisciplinary artist, filmmaker, and performer. She works primarily in media arts, including single-channel video art, video installations, video design for theater, digital printmaking, documentary, and as a performer has worked in theater and dance. She received her MFA from Carnegie Mellon University and is Associate Professor of Media Arts at Robert Morris University.

Through her work she has explored topics related to social justice, the dislocated identity that results from colonialism and migration, and questionings around issues related to aspects of human existence such as relationships, the transient nature of the postmodern experience, memory, and the tense interaction between economy and the environment.

She has been on stage with Quantum Theatre on the productions of The Red Shoes, Ainadamar, Maria de Buenos Aires, and Mnemonic; and is the founder of the Pittsburgh-based flamenco ensemble Alba Flamenca.

A Few Favorite places in Pittsburgh: There are several places I love in Pittsburgh, including Biddles Escape to meet up with friends or hide and get work done; Highland Park, where I go for runs when the weather is nice; the shops on Bryant Street; and the Gallery Crawl event four times a year. I have been enjoying the variety of the restaurants that have been opening in Pittsburgh in the past ten years, always something new and exciting to try.

Hope for the Latino Community in Pittsburgh: As the Latino community continues to grow its presence in Pittsburgh, I hope that more organizations will recognize all that we can contribute to the cultural diversity of the region and will grow their support of activities and events around Latino and Hispanic heritage and interests.

MÓNICA MÉNDEZ
Hometown: Alajuela, Costa Rica. Nationalities: Costa Rica, United States.  Executive Director, Dress for Success Pittsburgh.

Mónica Méndez, PhD, began her tenure as the Executive Director of Dress for Success Pittsburgh after her move from Orlando, Florida, where she was the Executive Director of the House of Mentoring and Empowerment (HOME), a human trafficking organization for youth and young adults. Dr. Méndez has served as a gender-consultant to corporations, non-profits, and government organizations. She has published and presented her work in both national and international forums and in front of a wide variety of audiences. Recently, Dr. Méndez was named a Forté Fellow, which is a prestigious and competitive fellowship awarded to business women with diverse backgrounds who are in business school and who exhibit exemplary leadership and demonstrate a commitment to advancing women in business. She was also named an Echoing Green Global Fellowship Semifinalist for her work with HOME and for showing that she understands the needs of her community and strives to provide the possible solutions for the challenges it faces. Her work, passion and understanding of the issues affecting women and their families was also recognized in 2011 when Gloria Steinem presented her with a medal on behalf of the Veteran Feminists of America (VFA) honoring feminists in Florida who made extraordinary contributions to the empowerment of women. Her goal is to make Pittsburgh a stronger, healthier community by promoting the financial and social empowerment that women need in order to break the cycle of poverty. She is the wife of her wonderful husband and enjoys spending her “free time” with him and her dogs.

Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh? Mt. Washington

What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? We come together as one voice for the well-being our communities and future generations.

GIANNA PANIAGUA
Hometown: Miami and New York City. Nationality: Cuban American and Puerto Rican. Papercutting Sculptor, Self Employed.

Originally from a blend of New York and Miami, Gianna Paniagua is a papercutting sculptor based in Pittsburgh who creates work about her experiences living with a heart transplant. Her upbringing was rich in culture, coming from Cuban and Puerto Rican families, and her mother made an extra effort by teaching her spanish as a first language. Living with a transplant, her reactions and emotions towards certain situations found a way into her artwork. Now, Gianna creates largescale installations that spark a discussion concerning the fragility of the human body and promotes the success of organ transplantation. She has exhibited in Wood St Galleries, 707 Gallery, the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and at the Scope Art Fair: New York. Recently she received the grand prize for the Emerging Young Artist Program at the Kennedy Center who honored artists with disabilities. She continues to spread her story through her work, and future plans include a residency at the De Young Museum in San Francisco and an installation for admitted children in New York Presbyterian Babies Hospital.

Favorite place in Pittsburgh: Children’s and Rivers Casino. You can thank my dad for this. I am still followed by the transplant team at Children’s Hospital, and go there for small procedures each year. My dad and I started a tradition that after each procedure, we would celebrate by going to the all you can eat buffet at River’s Casino. Anyone who knows me knows that I base all my social activities around food, and this place gives me an unlimited supply. My mom, dad, and I all go to the casino after a long day at the hospital and then play a few slots.

What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino Community? My hope is that it grows and introduces to Pittsburgh to the numerous amazing cultures and vibrancy that exist under the umbrella term of “Latino.” I moved here 10 years ago, and I was the only one in my high school who came from a Latino background. Coming from cites like New York and Miami, that was extremely disorienting for me. Now, thanks to all that the city has to offer, we are seeing more Latinos coming to Pittsburgh. We all come from two backgrounds that we have to blend, and now it’s time to introduce Pittsburgh to that blend.

MARISOL WANDIGA VALENTIN
Hometown: Ross Township. Nationalities: Kenyan, Puerto Rican. Humanitarian Aid Program Officer, Global Links

Marisol Wandiga Valentin is the Program Officer for the Caribbean Region for Global Links, a medical relief and development organization dedicated to supporting health improvement initiatives in resource-poor communities and promoting environmental stewardship in the US healthcare system. In addition to her role at Global Links, Marisol serves on the Boards of Directors of the Society of Contemporary Craft and North Hills Ebony Women, and sits on the Advisory Boards of the Latin American Cultural Union and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Education & Community Engagement Department. Marisol is half Kenyan and half Puerto Rican. She holds a B.S. in International Business from Duquesne University and is certified as a Humanitarian Aid and Development professional by La Roche College and RedR. Marisol enjoys spending time with her best friend and husband, Oscar Valentin, and her family and friends. Her passions are predictive marketing, social justice, non-traditional career pathways, cultural exchanges and folkloric dancing.

Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh? St. Benedict the Moor Church

What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? Latinos have added so much to Pittsburgh’s history and achievements -from names internationally recognized like Roberto Clemente and Christina Aguilera to those more locally known like Eduardo Lozano and Salome Gutierrez. In the past our contributions have been narratted as a semi-colon in Pittsburgh’s history. I believe the new Latino community is making its mark, and soon we will be a full blown exclamation mark.

“We need to [...] cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens this community – and this nation.” — Cesar Chavez

MARÍA EUGENIA NIEVES ESCORIAZA A.K.A GEÑA
Hometown: Quebradillas, Puerto Rico. 
Musical director of Pittsburgh band Machete Kisumontao; Educator

I have played music all my life in Puerto Rico, NYC, and now in Pittsburgh, my home for the last 11 years. I’m raising my lovely daughter in this wonderful town. I’m always happy to contribute to the arts and culture of the Latino community and the Pittsburgh community. I’m happy and proud to call Pittsburgh my home. My daughter and I have had so many beautiful adventures and experiences here. We’ve met best friends, and it’s been the perfect environment for me to attain personal achievements; grow as an artist and individual, and hit life’s major milestones.

Where is you favorite place in Pittsburgh?
My favorite place in Pittsburgh is the Strip District in the daytime with all the shops from different parts of the world. There’s so much variety and you can find pretty much anything you want there. I also love the South Side, the North Shore, Oakland… and all the bike trails. You know what?! I love all of Pittsburgh!

What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino population?
I hope that businesses and institutions are proactive in their support of artists, the cultural ambassadors of the Latino community. I hope that the Latino community can unite and work together to bring more music, art, food, and all things culture to Pittsburgh.

Fuerza Award Nominees

ALICE BECKETT-RUMBERGER

Hometown: Pittsburgh, by way of Washington D.C.
Nationality(s): Ecuadorian-American
Profession: Physical Therapist
Employer: Therafusion

Alice Beckett-Rumberger is a wonderful mix of entrepreneur, mother, and wife. Alice is the Owner/Founder of TheraFusion. A direct bill Physical Therapy practice. TheraFusion is a vehicle for patient rehabilitation and healing for injuries but her focus on injury prevention is a benefit to both young athletes, weekend warrior or anyone that wants to life a healthier life. Her speaker series on “Real Food, Real Life” is especially engaging as she helps folks better understand food labels, healthy food shopping, food preparation and more. In addition to her business ventures, she is also an ardent supporter of the arts, children, those in need, and non-profits. For years, she has been actively involved with the Pittsburgh International Children’s Theater, which brings high quality children’s theater to Pittsburgh. Alice has played a leadership role in fundraising for the Non-Profits she serves. Whether she is pulling off a Fashion Show for the North Allegheny School District Foundation or running a leg or a marathon for Dirty Vagabond Ministries (one of a small number of ministries to inner city youth endorsed by the Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh) she shows all the vibrancy and passion of a strong minded, action-oriented Latina! Alice has a global perspective on helping others and is an ambassador for there is No Limits Foundation. She balances these causes while being a mother of seven wonderful kids and wife to her husband David!

What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? 
My hopes for the Latino community in Pittsburgh is to keep our heritage alive and be leaders in our respective professions. Working together for cultural understanding and all the benefits that diversity brings to a community.

DIANA BELLINI
Diana Bellini is Vice President – Latin America Account Manager at BNY Mellon. She is Ecuadorian by way of Queens, New York and is passionate for the advancement of Latinos. Diana currently mentors several college girls as well as serves on the board of ALPFA in order to help expand Latino leadership. Her focus is to help female Latino entrepreneurs sustain and expand business in the Pittsburgh region. Diana also wrote a blog about her work in Pittsburgh recently, you can read what she has to say here. 

BERENISE BERMUDEZ
Berenise is a motivated, insightful and energetic emerging professional who arrived in Pittsburgh from California just one short year ago. She came to Pittsburgh to accept a fellowship with CORO, a highly competitive, national fellowship program. During that year she worked for Governor Wolfe’s transition team, started a mentoring program for young women in Westinghouse High School and did research projects for both The Neighborhood Learning Alliance and The Mentoring Partnership. Berenise has a commitment to working with community organizations breaking down barriers for youth who struggle with inequalities of race, economics and opportunity. We need to keep her as an asset to our community by recognizing the work she has done here. Part of her consideration for wanting to return to California is the lack of Latino culture in Pittsburgh. As a young, Latina, emerging professional in public service, Berenise has the opportunity to lead the way for other young people like herself to find a place and a home in Pittsburgh that values not only her work but her culture.

JOSE DIAZ
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Nationality(s): Puerto Rican
Profession: 
Program Director
Employer: 
YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh

What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community?
Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods — 90 of them, to be exact; all vibrant and all rife with distinct character. Conversely, that same distinction has, in some ways, created division. And when you belong to a group that hasn’t traditionally been a part of that social makeup, the gap feels even wider. Latinos in this city represent such a group, but that appears to be changing because the region is changing — slowly, oftentimes painfully,  but changing nonetheless. I’ve noticed an increased interconnectedness among Latinos here in recent years. It’s evident when you hear Spanish being spoken on the buses and on street corners (a rarity ten-plus years ago), Latino products being sold in grocery stores, and authentic food selections from Las Palmas to Chicken Latino popping up in areas you wouldn’t typically expect them in. We’re more visible, more recognizable. As part of that visibility, there’s a real opportunity to tell more of our stories, to embrace and celebrate our uniqueness, and showcase ”nuestra cultura” as part and parcel of the distinct character of those aforementioned 90 communities. We’re here, we’ve been here, and we’re not going anywhere. In fact, you could say we’re just getting started.

KENYA DWORKIN

Kenya works tirelessly and endlessly in keeping our culture together! Her work with Coro Latinoamericano is proof of thatt. Her work strengthens Pittsburgh through unity and diversification, keeping Latinos connected through culture and music. Kenya’s work gives us a place to call home – wherever we can sing…. we are home! Her knowledge of the different Spanish speaking countries as well as knowledge of the host community gives the Pittsburgh Latino community the ability to be inclusive.

SANDRA LOJEK
Hometown: Bogota, Colombia
Nationality(s) Colombian/USA
Profession: Civil Engineer
Employer: Williams Energy/ Colombia en Pittsburgh

Sandra is very committed and dedicated to the Latino community she gives all her time to help and do things for others under her initiative Colombia En Pittsburgh became a nonprofit and is now growing and helping many of the refugees that have come to Pittsburgh. The Latino community is growing and do are their needs with people like Sandra it’s easier for others to adjust and stay in Pittsburgh because they find the support they need to get a fresh start

What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community?
I came to Pittsburgh 10 years ago and this place had very little to offer to the Spanish speaking community, I am proud to see that the community is growing and I would like to see more support for those who arrive here and break family ties, and need to start from scratch, there are many names that come to mind when it comes to help, but only a few that are really dedicated to this cause, and many more families coming that we need to integrate to the new big latino family of Pittsburgh.

JESABEL RIVERA-GUERRA
Hometown: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Nationality(s): Puerto Rican
Profession: Health Strategy Consultant
Employer: Highmark Health

What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community?
My hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community is for it to continue to grow and increase its visibility without losing its sense of CommUNITY. That we can continue to support each other and to collaborate, not only with those of our nationality or only those who are Latinos, but also the community at-large. I hope the community continues to grow its tolerance towards new ideas and different groups, as well as to embrace all the different cultures in the Pittsburgh community, without losing its identity; always remembering that every step we take has been supported by those who were there before us.

JANETTE SCHAFER

Hometown:  Born in Maracay Venezuela, raised in Bath MI
Nationality(s): Spanish/Venezuelan/Irish
Profession: Assistant Vice President/Business Development Officer   
Employer:  WesBanco Bank

Janette has done much advocacy work around financial literacy, poverty alleviation, and tax preparation for low to moderate income families in the Greater Pittsburgh area. She has spoken for many area groups such as Lawrenceville United, Hill District CDC, Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, Presbyterian Senior Homes, Focus on Renewal and others on such subjects as budgeting, lending preparedness for small business owners, home ownership, identity theft and fraud, and rebuilding credit. This year Janette was pleased to help the United Ways’ Money In Your Pocket Coalition by preparing tax returns for low to moderate income residents in the Homewood area. Through her profession, she also takes considerable joy in working with new business owners and small businesses in helping them better understand their financial picture through relationship banking. Janette is enthusiastic about her culture and heritage. She is passionate about using her skills and expertise in banking to empower clients to have a better financial future.

What are your hopes for the Pittsburgh Latino community? 
To work more cohesively across multiple channels to network together, support and promote Latino based businesses and causes, and to celebrate Latino culture is this vibrant growing urban center.

Bonnie Pfister
EGC Clementes from stage 062214CROPPED
Luis and Roberto Clemente Jr., sons of the late Pittsburgh Pirates All Star, introduce fellow Puerto Ricans El Gran Combo at the Pittsburgh JazzLive Festival June 22, 2014.

The Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival wrapped up Sunday with sunshine and salsa as thousands of fans danced in the streets of the Cultural District to the rhythm of the legendary El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. (See videos and photos on Flickr and ImaginePittsburgh.com’s social media channels, links above right.)

In its first-ever performance in Pittsburgh, the 52-year-old orchestra — sometimes described as “the Rolling Stones of salsa” for their high-octane longevity — drew fans from across Pennsylvania, Ohio, western New York, Maryland and Washington D.C. – as well as many Puerto Ricans, Nuyoricans and other Latinos who have chosen to make the Pittsburgh region their home.

In the pulsating crowd a few rows back from the stage, local musician María Eugenia “Geña” Nieves Escoriaza said it was hard not get a little teary. “I use to see them live all the time at festivals in Puerto Rico. It’s been almost 20 years since the last time,” she said. A native of Quebradillas (about an hour west of San Juan), Nieves moved to Pittsburgh from New York in 2004. “I needed this so badly. Props to those who made it possible!”

The concert was sponsored by Fifth Third Bank and ImaginePittsburgh.com as part of the ¡HolaPittsburgh! partnership, which has launched a year-long effort to highlight the Pittsburgh region as a place of opportunity for people from Puerto Rico and other Latinos around the country who may be considering new career opportunities. Cleveland-based Noël Quintana and the Latin Crew, which performs frequently in Pittsburgh, played for a smaller but equally joyous audience at Katz Plaza between performances by El Gran Combo and jazz singer Dianne Reeves, the festival’s closing act.

Even mid-week, Pittsburgh’s social and digital media scene continued to buzz with excitement about the concert. “Pittsburgh will never be the same!! Salsa from the best! Muchas gracias!!” wrote one commenter on JazzLive’s Livestream page. “THANK YOU for bringing them to Pittsburgh. I haven’t danced that much and had that much fun since I moved here 5 years ago,” said another.

“Jazz festivals should be more than simply a collection of concerts. They should be celebrations of music; festive, as the word implies,’ wrote Bob Karlovits on TribLive.com.  “(JazzLive Director) Janis Burley Wilson has kept it on the streets. The result is a festival with a sense of democracy…. It was also a great celebration of types of music. Nothing showed that better than the performance of El Gran Combo.”

What’s next for the ¡HolaPittsburgh! initiative? Look for social media updates under the hashtag #HolaPittsburgh on Facebook.com/HolaPittsburgh, Twitter.com/Hola_Pittsburgh and the ImaginePittsburgh Instagram account or Pinterest page.

In addition to ImaginePittsburgh.com and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust (presenter of the JazzLive festival), other ¡HolaPittsburgh! partners include The Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Latin American Cultural Union, Roberto Clemente Foundation, Pittsburgh Hispanic Development Corporation, Allegheny County, Allegheny County Airport Authority, City of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Pittsburgh Promise, Point Park University, World Affairs Council-Pittsburgh, Vibrant Pittsburgh and VISITPittsburgh.

 

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Looking for a job? Pittsburgh’s got ‘em — more than 20,000 open positions across the 10-county region. Check out our powerful job search aggregator at ImaginePittsburgh.com/work.

Find a job, advance your career, build a life you’ll love: ImaginePittsburgh.com.

ImaginePittsburgh.com
Franktuary owners Tim Tobitsch and Megan Lindsey say start-up costs in Tobitsch’s previous home in the New York metro area would have been triple what they are in Pittsburgh.  Photo Copyright John Heller/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Franktuary owners Tim Tobitsch and Megan Lindsey say start-up costs in Tobitsch’s previous home in the New York metro area would have been triple what they are in Pittsburgh. Photo Copyright John Heller/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

New York, Chicago, Philly, Boston. Innovative chefs and restaurateurs are increasingly flocking to Pittsburgh as a place where they can not only afford to open their dream business, but also to live and raise a family. As one new arrival recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Melissa McCart, “Easy living, affordable everything and a burgeoning food scene: This is an area that will soon get attention on a national level.”

McCart cites what we like to call “the power of Pittsburgh” – that friendly willingness to share information and nurture the economic growth of others to the benefit of the whole community –  that’s given rise to such welcome additions as Notion, Bluebird Kitchen, Cure, Root 174, Fukuda, Stagioni and Franktuary.

Read more about it here.

Meredith Fahey

More than 2,640 people have found jobs through ShaleNET, a comprehensive recruitment, training, placement and retention program for high-demand, hard-to-fill entry-level jobs across the Marcellus Shale footprint. That’s according to the March newsletter of the ShaleNET initiative, which was launched in July 2010.

A ShaleNET intro to oil and gas operations class at the Bushy Run Center near Export, Pa. Photo Copyright Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A ShaleNET intro to oil and gas operations class at the Bushy Run Center near Export, Pa. Photo Copyright Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Industry leaders, policy makers and educators will discuss ShaleNET at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 26 at Westmoreland County Community College, which is one of the educational institutions sponsoring the program. Individuals interested in learning more about training should check out the Resources and Training Providers tabs at ShaleNET.org.

As the first, $5 million round of ShaleNET funding for training programs in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York winds down later this year, the second round grant of $15 million is gathering steam to expand the program’s reach with additional classes this fall.

With the maturing of the industry and with the additional money, participants will be able to continue their education and training by earning certificates and two-year degrees that will help them find jobs in the midstream and downstream part of the industry – beyond the drill rigs and in the processing of oil and natural gas. The program will also expand its geographic scope, reaching further into Ohio and into Texas through partnerships with Stark State College in Canton, Ohio, and Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. The hope is that ShaleNET can be scaled into a national job training and education model.

To learn more or to sign up for the newsletter, visit ShaleNET.org.