When Pittsburghers talk about salt, they’re usually referring to the stuff they toss on icy sidewalks or sprinkle on French fries.
John and Candy Tarallo hope to enhance that conversation.
“Salt is one of those universal things,” John says. “There are thousands of varieties in the world.”
As the owners of Steel City Salt Company, the Tarallos specialize in gourmet salts, whole and freshly ground spices, infusions, rubs and blends. The couple started the business in 2014, selling their products online and on weekends from a stand outside of Mon Aimee Chocolat at 21st and Penn Avenue in the Strip District.
As demand grew so, did the Tarallos’ need for more space.
While still maintaining their Strip location, they renovated a long-vacant building on Grant Avenue in Millvale, which now serves as their production facility, storefront and, thanks to a second-floor apartment, home.
They held a soft opening on July 6, a day after floodwaters ravaged most of the borough. The Tarallos weathered the storm without any damage. A grand opening celebration will be held on August 18.
Pink Himalayan salt lamps illuminate the room with a warm, inviting glow. The shelves are lined with house-made specialties, such as the Steeltown Garlic & Herb, which is used to enhance the taste of everything from chicken and pasta to popcorn and salad.
Other offerings include the light and airy Fleur de sel from France; Tellicherry peppercorns from India; coarse black Hawaiian sea salt combined with activated charcoal; the hot and spicy Trinidad scorpion salt; Alderwood smoked salt — perfect for the rim of a cocktail glass — and a limited edition malt vinegar salt, a single customer’s request that has since grown into one of the company’s bestsellers.
Visitors are invited to sniff each product, which is like aromatherapy for foodies.
Patrons also can purchase pink Himalayan salt blocks and shot glasses, which naturally add flavor to meats, vegetables and, of course, tequila.
John Tarallo, 27, grew up in Lawrenceville, in a large Italian family where everyday meals were more like all-you-can-eat buffets. As a teenager, he worked at Groceria Italiana, a Bloomfield landmark that closed its doors on Saturday after 60 years in business.
“That’s really what sparked my interest in cooking,” he says, adding that his time there kept him off the streets and out of trouble.
Eventually, he became a pizza maker at Lawrenceville’s Piccolo Forno.
His experience in the restaurant industry exposed him to an array of natural, unrefined salts from around the world that not only tasted better than your average sodium chloride but were healthier, too.
He experimented with his own blends, which were fully endorsed by his grandparents, bonafide culinary experts in their own right. He recently took a trip to Peru – Candy’s homeland – and will debut a new Peruvian salt mix this week.
As Steel City Salt Company grows, the Tarallos hope to expand their selection, host cooking classes and events, sell other Pittsburgh-made goods (including syrups, pickles and barbecue sauces) and partner with local grocery stores and restaurants (beer lovers can already find Steel City Salt products at Mindful Brewing in Castle Shannon.)
“I do a lot of cooking and a lot of working with funky ingredients,” John says. “It’s a really interesting business.”