Echt Coffeehouse isn’t just a place to grab a cup of joe and run, it’s an experience worth savoring.
“We look at it as a destination for good coffee and good food,” co-owner James Tyler says. “We want people to enjoy themselves in a pleasant environment.”
Even before you enter the former fire station and after-hours club at 107 Penn Ave. in Mt. Oliver, you’ll see a sign defining the name. Echt, pronounced esht, is a German word meaning authentic, genuine and pure.
There’s ornate metalwork on the front doors, which was designed by Tyler’s husband and business partner, Jörg Gerlach. In fact, much of the décor, from the spiral staircases and tables to the shelving and light fixtures, was dreamed up by Gerlach and fabricated in Echt’s on-site welding shop.
“He likes to keep himself busy,” Tyler says with a laugh.
That’s a bit of an understatement. The German-born Gerlach, an M.D. and Ph.D., is a researcher and professor of surgery and bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, where he’s been since moving to the U.S. in 2003.
Tyler, who grew up in Johnstown, recently retired from a career in nursing.
Echt is the couple’s labor of love, accented by blue and orange hues (their wedding colors).
They purchased the 15,000-square-foot building, located a block off of Brownsville Road, in 2015. Soon after, they opened Echt Design Services to bring the ideas of architects, developers and homeowners to fruition in the form of steel, stone and glass. Exposed brick and beams give the interior an industrial vibe, which is softened by stained glass windows.
While the blowtorches are burning, customers in the neighboring coffee lounge can sip an espresso, an Americano or an affogato served with homemade ice cream, candied ginger, cocoa and confectioners sugar.
Single-origin beans are slow-roasted in small batches at Echt.
There’s currently a small menu featuring dishes such as grits with braised greens and bacon.
But this summer, a bistro with a full kitchen will open on the building’s third floor, complete with a chef’s counter, a wood-burning oven, an event space and a rooftop deck.
Tyler, who inherited a love of fine food and beverage from his late mother, says the menu will change with the seasons and incorporate fresh ingredients from local farms and purveyors.
Also opening this summer will be the basement distillery. Echt Liquor Lab and Tasting Room boasts a 100-liter copper still from Germany that will be used to make rum, whiskey, vodka, amaro and other libations. The booze will be used in specialty cocktails and sold in handcrafted ceramic bottles.
Attention to detail is everything to Gerlach and Tyler, who also own the former G.C. Murphy Co. building on Brownsville Road. In the next few years, they plan to transform that building into a coworking and gallery space for artists and musicians.
It’s all part of a resurgence in the Hilltop neighborhoods. In the coming months, the area will welcome The Cheese Queen, Bottlerocket Social Hall, Storyville Lounge and an Inner Groove Brewing taproom.