Benjamin Mantica, left and Tyler Benson, right, co-founders of Smallman Galley.

In 2014, CityLab reported on how restaurants can “determine the fate of cities and neighborhoods” since the majority of city residents “consider food and restaurants to be the most outstanding aspect of cities they love.” Indeed, Pittsburgh owes a lot of its vibrancy to our fast evolving restaurant scene.

But with 60% of restaurants turning over by the third year, they can be challenging. Now Tyler Benson and Benjamin Mantica—two Naval officers who recently completed their service—are launching Smallman Galley, a restaurant incubator, designed to help restaurant entrepreneurs succeed by introducing a concept already familiar to technology companies.

“We traveled the world with the Navy and came across some really magnificent food halls that showcased incredible talent in those countries,” says Benson.  “When we returned home, we saw that there was enormous opportunity to bring undiscovered chefs to light in an energizing and interesting way.”

“There is a significant group of talented chefs in Pittsburgh who are working towards the ultimate goal of one day being able to open their own restaurants,” says Mantica. The food scene is undeniably growing in the city and Smallman Galley is going to support creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship in the restaurant industry in the same way that many organizations support tech companies.”

Benson adds, “We started Smallman Galley to break down the barriers that exist between culinary talent and successful restaurant ownership—essentially, we want to create as many amazing new restaurants in Pittsburgh as possible.  Graduates of Smallman Galley will totally disrupt the food scene here, in a positive way.”


 “We started Smallman Galley to break down the barriers that exist between culinary talent and successful restaurant ownership.”

Restaurant incubators are a relatively new concept—while there are approximately 300 technology incubators, there are only a handful of restaurant incubators, most of which only provide pop-up facilities.

Smallman Galley, which will be located in a 6,000-square-foot space at 2016 Smallman Street, will incubate four restaurant concepts for 18 months, providing entrepreneurs with investment, a rent-free space and a mentoring curriculum that covers restaurant operations, credit building, marketing, business plan drafting and financing. The social enterprise model will generate revenue with a 30% revenue share from each restaurant concept during its residency.

Aside from the four restaurant start-ups, Smallman Galley is made up of four separate bars with each bar focusing on a unique theme—one with beer from Pittsburgh’s microbreweries, domestic wine from some of the less well-known regions of the country, a craft cocktail bar that will serve as a home for mixologists to pilot innovative cocktails and new spirits, and a walk-up coffee bar on 21st Street.

Restaurant service will be high-design food hall style and seating will be a mix of communal tables and smaller tables.

Benson and Mantica are looking forward to adding “fuel to the growing Pittsburgh food scene.” As Mantica says, they want Smallman Galley to be the “bridge between incredible culinary talent and successful restaurant ownership.”

Applicants can submit applications starting April 1st on the incubator’s website. Mantica, Benson and a panel of judges will invite finalists for a live cooking demonstration. While first three chefs will be selected with this process, the fourth chef will be determined via crowdsourced voting. “It’s Chopped meets American Idol,” Benson says.

Benson and Mantica are looking to open galley doors in the fall.

Leah Lizarondo is a food advocate, writer and speaker. She is also the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, an organization that seeks to eliminate food waste to make an impact on hunger and the environment. She is the Chief Veghacker, recipe creator and curator at The Brazen Kitchen, where she writes about food and food policy. She writes about the intersection of food, health, innovation and policy.