Friendship Perk & Brew unlocks new potential

Story by Andrew McKeon, the Bulletin
ABOVE: Nick Redondo (right) enjoys a “Kodak moment” with friends and family at his new eatery, Friendship Perk & Brew (300 S. Pacific Ave.). Photo by Andrew McKeon.

Friendship – A few decades ago, when Nick Redondo worked for US Air, Pittsburgh’s one-way departures far outnumbered its new arrivals.

And now that his hometown has become a destination city, Redondo thinks residents old and new are thirsty for change – and for coffee and beer. His approach to quenching this new thirst: “Friendship Perk & Brew.”

Punctuated by old, black & white photographs, with a fireplace to take the chill out of a cold winter morning, the neighborhood eatery captures the high-contrast history of its namesake while also accommodating new palettes and tastes. Patrons can order a craft beer just as easily as they would a cup of coffee – or enjoy a variety of hot sandwiches, appetizers, and gelato.

Redondo and his sister/co-founder, Joanne, curated the store’s atmosphere and menu by simply polling their neighbors.

“I’ve been soliciting my neighbors, asking them what they’d like to see or eat here. They’ve had a lot of input,” he said. “Even the folks who were opposed to it…once they finally come in and see what we’ve done with the place, they’re impressed and they keep coming back.”

Friendship Perk & Brew feels like a hub of old and new energies situated at 300 S. Pacific Ave. In the months since he opened up shop in September, Redondo has reconnected with a number of old friends and made many new acquaintances.

“When you go into a Starbuck’s, it’s all about Starbucks. Here, it’s about the neighbors,” he explained. “Nothing against Starbucks. I mean, they’ve been much more successful than I have, so I’ve got to give them credit.”

Redondo is fond of relaying local histories, telling the stories behind the street signs; mere minutes into a conversation with the Bulletin, he went “full oracle” and detailed a list of famous Friendship residents and local landmarks.

Zoned for commerce ever since it was constructed in the 1920s, the Perk & Brew building remains an outlier in the residential neighborhood of Friendship. Growing up across the street, Redondo spent his days hunting for pop bottles in the alley; returning enough bottles earned him candy or toys from the neighborhood store.

He even got his first job there, sweeping floors as a kid. So, it comes as no surprise that he chose to staff his eatery with area residents.

The building, which has been in Redondo’s family for decades, once housed a 7-11, and was most recently operated as a convenience store that sold six packs of beer. Upon meeting with angry neighbors and representatives from local community groups, who viewed the store as a “nuisance bar,” Redondo decided not to renew the previous tenant’s lease. “I wasn’t happy with the way it was being run,” he said. “A convenience store just didn’t suit the needs of our neighbors.”

While the first-time entrepreneur endeavored to cut through all the red tape involved in rehabilitating an old structure for modern commercial use, the property laid fallow for years. Now that Redondo has unlocked its potential, he is figuring out how to turn the eatery into a valuable community asset.

The ideas often come to him in serendipitous ways – like when a West Penn Hospital employee stops by for a chat and, as a result, Redondo has begun looking at hosting an indoor Bocce tournament at his establishment.

Mike Pochan, who met Redondo in 1977 (when they were freshman at Carnegie Mellon University), did not reconnect with his college chum until recently, when they bumped into each other at Friendship Perk & Brew.

Now, Pochan regularly drives in from the suburbs to loaf on S. Pacific Ave. He feels very comfortable there: “If it’s too snowy outside to drive home, or if it’s too late and I’m tired, I could always just sleep on that couch over there. Right, Nick?”

Redondo said he does not worry when Pittsburghers move away to other neighborhoods and cities because he knows that they will be back. And, when they return, new places like the Perk & Brew will remind them of home.

“What it’s about is community,” Redondo said. “It’s about Friendship.” The Friendship Perk & Brew is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday; and 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.