Pittsburgh’s tiniest grocery store, the Squirrel Hill Market, is held together with the sweet taste of honey.
When Covid shut down Pittsburgh Honey, co-owner Adam Revson found himself in the honey delivery business, driving from Squirrel Hill to Bridgeville and New Castle and all points in between. The company’s locally-made honey, from the Fine family apiary in Monongahela, was still in demand, with Pittsburghers locked down at home craving a little familiar sweetness.
Then he noticed that people started asking him for other things that weren’t made out of honey.
“I would have a customer say, ‘Hey … I’ll give you $10, could you just get me a gallon of milk? You’re out anyway. Could you get me some peanut butter, please? Or some fresh bread?’ And we were happy to do it.”
That led to an idea. Revson and his wife, Alyssa Fine, noticed that the space next door stood empty. The beloved proprietor of Chair Restorations by Aleph, Howard Reisner, was an early victim of Covid in Pittsburgh.
“I said, why don’t we see if we can open a pantry of sorts?” recalls Revson.
So instead of constantly running to the store, they opened what is perhaps Pittsburgh’s smallest grocery, Squirrel Hill Market. Refining the idea, they came up with a concept called “curated convenience.”
At 300 square feet, there wasn’t much space to work with. The idea was to cover the basics, but choose each from among the best local foods possible. For milk, that meant Marburger Farm Dairy in Evans City.
“They have award-winning buttermilk,” says Revson. “So even if we bring in a staple, we try to curate it to make sure we bring the best and most cost-effective product available.”
Then, they went looking for a bakery that was still open and found Sanchioli Brothers Bakery, a hidden gem in Bloomfield.
“They’ve been a family business for 100 years that nobody really knows about, because they really do commercial baking,” says Revson. “They do Tessaro’s buns, and Morton’s signature rolls.”
“So you can get a loaf of sliced white bread from us. But you can also get a wonderful fresh Italian loaf, French baguettes. We have a signature bread that they make us — it’s an Onion Egg Pullman. It’s sort of like brioche but with onions.”
Other local favorites include Batch jellies and jams from Saxonburg, pierogies from Pierogies Plus in McKees Rocks, Parma Sausage products from the Strip and pickles from Pittsburgh Pickle Co., run by three brothers in Verona.
They also offer artisanal salt varieties from Steel City Salt Co. in the Strip, cheeses from Indiana Township’s award-winning Goat Rodeo Farm & Dairy and all kinds of Italian specialties from DeLallo in Jeannette.
The other big seller is Penn State Berkey Creamery Ice Cream. Since they head out that direction periodically for pickups, they also scour central PA for superior products, like potato chips from Gibble’s in Hanover) and Middleswarth in Middleburg, maple syrup from Brantview Farms outside of Shanksville, and Zimmerman’s peanut butter from Harrisburg.
Pittsburgh Honey has reopened, so now there’s a synergy between the two shops.
The honey shop is the main outlet for the Fine family apiary, which has grown from six beehives in Al Fine’s backyard in 1985 to nearly 200 hives. Al’s daughter, Alyssa, also uses the premium beeswax from the honey extraction, along with the honey itself, to make a line of natural cosmetics, from lotions to lip balms.
Shopping online at both stores is easy; they still do delivery and curbside pickup, and the market even has a takeout window. But they’re also open for customers who want to visit.
“I can name half a dozen customers that live in North Squirrel Hill and Greenfield who really haven’t ventured out of the house since March,” says Revson. “It’s sad. It’s difficult. But if you’re going to be at home, and you’re going to endure this … You can get the basics and get some local and regional favorites. That’s why we did it. It’s very rewarding.”
And while masks can conceal a certain amount of delight, they don’t hide all. “When you bring somebody some Egg Nog Ice Cream from Penn State, or some French butter that we’ve imported and a hot baguette — you know their eyes light up.”