For most restaurateurs, losing a chef can be a major blow. But for brothers Pete and Matt Kurzweg and their business partner Adam Henry, it was a nudge from fate.
The team had established Independent Brewing Company and Hidden Harbor at the corner of Forbes and Shady Avenues as neighborhood destinations for Squirrel Hill, with chef Monique Ruvolo at the helm of their kitchen.
Then last December, they connected with chef Jamilka Borges when she and her mother, Jenny Muniz, served a homestyle dinner at the Independent to raise money for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico. Hidden Harbor pitched in with a $1 donation per drink all month.
“We sell rum,” Pete Kurzweg says. “We saw how badly Puerto Rico was hit by the hurricanes, so it felt like the appropriate place to put our resources.”
The fundraiser also gave Kurzweg and his team a chance to work with Borges just as Ruvolo was departing to pursue her catering company, Above & Beyond. Ruvolo, whose Middle Eastern fusion approach distinguished the Independent from other beer-forward restaurants, opened a storefront near Churchview Farm last winter.
“It was a good time for her to make that leap,” Kurzweg says, and it was perfect timing to move forward with Borges. “The stars aligned. We told her we were looking for a chef and it materialized.”
The team hopes their latest venture — set to open early this summer — will also be perfect for East Liberty, where they’ll set up in the Werner Building with Borges, formerly of Spoon and Bar Marco.
“We want to be a place where the community can gather and have its beers and cocktails,” says Kurzweg.
It will also be a place to enjoy Caribbean-inspired dishes, thanks to Borges, who was featured in the Pittsburgh episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” last fall.
A 2015 James Beard Rising Star semifinalist, Borges is looking forward to showcasing a variety of influences at the three restaurants. She plans to introduce a small wine list to the Independent, but she’s also excited to expand her knowledge of beer.
Kurzweg sees the partnership as a chance to “give beer its moment.” He adds, “It will have an opportunity to shine next to Jamilka’s food.”
That food may include family-style dinners, pasta and seafood dishes at the Independent; Borges will put her own spin on the menus at the new restaurant and at Hidden Harbor, too.
The name and theme of the new restaurant are under wraps for now, but Kurzweg says it will open early this summer. The location at the corner of South Highland Avenue and Baum Boulevard — most recently home to the upscale cocktail bar, the Livermore — dates to 1905 and features historic details like marble accents and stained-glass transom windows.
Henry is eager to create a new neighborhood gathering place in what he describes as a “very beautiful location, right in the shadow of East Liberty Presbyterian Church.”
“We’re excited about taking everything we’ve learned over these last four years about drinks, design and hospitality and translating them into a new concept in a new location with its own unique history, culture and energy,” he says.
Earlier this month, Borges prepared a five-course dinner at the James Beard House in New York City and the Kurzwegs and Henry joined her to sling custom cocktails.
“It was the ultimate test of how well we are going to work out as a team,” says Borges. “I think the most important thing is that we all believe in hospitality, we want to make the best product we can, serve it to you in the most fun, approachable way we can, and make sure our guests are having the best time of their lives.”