Like most food businesses forced to shutter in March 2020 because of the Covid pandemic, Everyday Cafe in Homewood had to figure out how to attract customers when dining restrictions eased that summer.
It started with a few outside tables and a simple “Covid menu” of BLT and PB&J sandwiches, and a handful of pastries — all conducive to takeout, says Sarah Spurgeon, cafe manager.
“And of course masks everywhere.”
By the time Ron Harper joined as executive chef in late 2020, a few patrons were sitting inside.
With a culinary background that includes a decade working for Parkhurst Dining and cooking for corporate customers, Harper revamped Everyday Cafe’s menu from basic coffeeshop fare to more salads, paninis, flatbread pizzas, quiche, muffins and scones.
Many items are made in-house.
Spurgeon was the brains behind the new coffee drinks — like a sweet potato pie latte — and creative iced teas.
They sponsored pop-up events such as poetry readings and showcases where entrepreneurs could promote products and foods.
Still, the cafe, located at 532 N. Homewood Ave., near the Martin Luther King Busway, had challenges generating the volume of business it enjoyed during pre-pandemic times.
“There was literally no vibe,” says Spurgeon. “We had the same music playing but no energy.”
Now a fresh social media and advertising campaign that targets residents throughout the city’s East End and features a billboard and banners on Pittsburgh Regional Transit buses has helped revive traffic, say Spurgeon and Harper.
“We’re at an all-time high,” says Harper of the cafe, which opened in 2016.
For the first six months of 2023, foot traffic and transactions at the cafe grew by 25% and sales were up by 20% compared with January-July 2022, says Patti Phillips-Best, development and communications director for Bible Center Church, which operates the cafe as a social enterprise venture.
The campaign was funded with a $15,000 grant from the Black Kitchen Initiative, a partnership between The Kraft Heinz Company, The LEE Initiative and Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice that provides capital for Black-owned restaurants and food enterprises.
Heinz, the global food brand with Pittsburgh roots, has invested a total of $2 million since the initiative started in 2021 and this year will distribute another $1 million through 60 grants capped at $25,000 each.
“The company understands how important Black-owned food ventures are to the restaurant industry and American culture as a whole,” said Alyssa Cicero, brand manager for Heinz, in an emailed statement. “Heinz launched the Black Kitchen Initiative to help preserve and promote the health of these businesses.”
Based in Louisville, Kentucky, The LEE Initiative was founded in 2017 in response to the #MeToo movement to address working conditions for women.
“We knew we could not simply sit and watch this unfold,” said Lindsey Ofcacek, co-founder and executive director of The LEE Initiative, in an email statement.
Besides initiatives for women, The LEE Initiative added programs for other underserved workers in the food industry including the Black Kitchen Initiative grants for Black food entrepreneurs, says Ofcacek.
Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice was launched in 2020 by a coalition of restaurant workers — including chefs, bakers and owners — to raise funds and provide emergency relief for Black-owned restaurants that were struggling during the pandemic.
Heinz reached out to LEE and Southern Restaurants “to work together to foster a more diverse and equitable restaurant industry,” says Cicero.
In 2013, Bible Center Church, a 67-year-old Homewood congregation, launched The Oasis Project, an outreach arm that provides local residents with training and employment through a community kitchen, youth education, a transportation service, entrepreneurship courses, property maintenance and the cafe.
Revenues generated by the cafe pay its expenses and are reinvested in other Oasis Project programs, says Patti Phillips-Best, director of development and communications for Bible Center Church.
The cafe operates from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays, and employs five people, most of whom work part-time.
The cafe was envisioned as a so-called “third space” for the Homewood community — a place where people could gather for coffee and conversation, group meetings, or to work remotely.
“We push ourselves as the meeting place,” says Phillips-Best. “We encourage people to use us as a meeting place even when they’re not buying [food and drinks] from us.”
But Homewood can be a tough sell for people who want to venture out.
“You watch the news and Homewood gets a bad rap,” says Harper.
Once home to streetcar lines and a thriving business district, the neighborhood began to deteriorate in the 1950s and 1960s. Allegheny County records show that from 2016 to 2021, Homewood had the highest concentration of homicides in the city.
A billboard was erected at the busy intersection of Frankstown Road and Fifth Avenue and signs were placed on buses based at the East Liberty garage.
“I wanted people in our backyard who could walk here,” says Harper. “And then we’ll hit people gradually in other areas.”
The deadline to apply for the next round of Black Kitchen Initiative grants is Aug. 11.