The owners of 4609 Butler St. are creating a food hall with plans for a bar called Dear James. Photo by TH Carlisle for NEXTpittsburgh.

You can easily walk by 4609 Butler St. and not notice the large brick building that now stands vacant. But that could soon change.

If all goes as planned, by the spring of 2021 Lawrence Hall will be a beautifully-designed food hall with five vendor stations and seating for about 130. Husband-and-wife team Brett and Phoebe Minarik and their business partner Adam Harvey, all Lawrenceville residents, plan to operate a 26-seat bar called Dear James and a sixth vendor area in the front that will include a walk-up service window accessible from the street. The concept of that space is undetermined, but it could serve coffee or other fresh, grab-and-go items.

Constructed in the 1890s, the building — which boasts 27-foot ceilings — housed everything from a movie theater and a laundromat to an automobile dealership.

Large, slidable glass entry doors will replace the existing garage door. The owners also plan to widen the two rear windows and remove and re-purpose the tin ceiling tiles, exposing a cathedral ceiling accented by wooden beams. To top it off, skylights will be installed. The entire space will be available to rent for private functions.

Preserving the integrity of the structure is important to the owners who are working with mossArchitects on the design. They’ve already found old postcards and artifacts they want to include in the redesign.

As for the food, the team will accept applications from new and established chefs, road-weary food truck operators and entrepreneurs who either can’t afford or don’t want the hassle of running a brick-and-mortar shop. Unlike a restaurant incubator that hosts pop-up restaurants for a year or two, Lawrence Hall leases will be indefinite. Lawrence Hall will provide each vendor with most of the kitchen equipment, including refrigerators, three-compartment sinks and point of sale systems.

In addition to helping launch businesses, they will partner with the Estelle S. Campbell Boys & Girls Club of Western PA, located directly across the street, to offer a career-training program for local youth interested in the culinary industry.

Because parking is limited in Lawrenceville and the owners want to promote responsible drinking, customers who use ride-sharing programs will get a discount. There will also be incentives for employees who use public transportation to travel to work.

The Minariks, who have backgrounds in finance and marketing, met Harvey, a veteran of the hospitality industry, at a networking event in 2018. It was a perfect partnership which they hope will result in a perfect addition to the neighborhood.

“You can start your night here, you can end your night here,” Harvey says. “We want this to be a community hub.”

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.