Hazelwood’s Second Avenue business district is the site of a dream come true — and not just for lovers of chicken and waffles.

C&D’s Kitchen, a classic neighborhood diner/soul food destination, is the culmination of years of hard work and community support. It’s owned by Cletus and Denise Helton, longtime Hazelwood residents who opened a takeout kitchen on Second Avenue in April 2018.

Denise, who has worked in the food service industry for many years, had always wanted to open her own restaurant. So Cletus, a longtime contractor, switched careers to work with her. “I wanted to make my wife’s dream a reality,” he tells NEXTpittsburgh.

The Heltons got a boost from the Hazelwood Initiative, a prime mover behind the ongoing rebirth of the neighborhood. George Thomas, then the board chair of the Hazelwood Initiative, came by the original C&D’s to let Cletus know that the Initiative had just bought the building adjacent to the site of the old Dairy Mart.

Thomas knew of the Heltons’ ambitions, Cletus says, “and he told me, ‘If you get over to our office right now, you’ll be first in line.’”

Cletus did, and he was.

Photo courtesy of C&D’s Kitchen.

The new C&D’s, with checkered tablecloths and seating for 30, opened in June. A featured menu item is “George Thomas’ Hot Dogs,” in honor of their friend, who died suddenly last year.

Chicken and waffles is the most popular dish on a menu featuring items like big breakfasts, fish and chicken wings and soul food sides like mixed greens, fried cabbage and grits. Homemade desserts include what may be Pittsburgh’s best carrot cake, crammed with walnuts and pineapple under a thick cream cheese frosting.

Denise and Cletus Helton in the kitchen at C&D’s. Photo by Annette Bassett.

The Heltons’ grown kids pitch in with everything, from working the grill to keeping the books, while Denise does most of the cooking. Prices are beyond reasonable — three chicken wings and a waffle go for $5; a fried cod dinner, with two sides and corn muffins, is $12.

That’s intentional: “We know our prices are low, but we can’t have them too high, or the community wouldn’t be able to come eat here,” Cletus says. “The older people can come in, have the senior special (bacon or sausage, eggs, toast and coffee for $4), and they can sit and visit.”

The Heltons’ restaurant is one of several new businesses remaking Second Avenue, once Hazelwood’s bustling main street. The owners of 61B Café in Regent Square just opened a second coffee shop, the 61Z, featuring their same array of coffee options, light lunches and baked goods.

Down the street, Elevationz, an event space/hair salon/barber shop that also features a “new to you” store, recently moved into a larger location.

Local entrepreneurs like the Heltons are an integral part of the Greater Hazelwood Neighborhood Plan, which was unanimously approved by the City Planning Commission earlier this month. It’s the result of years of community meetings and surveys, as well as casual chats at places like C&D’s. As the long-awaited Hazelwood Green brownfield renewal project progresses and the Mill 19 complex has opened, local residents and organizations are making sure that they’re part of the vision, too.

Sonya Tilghman, executive director of the Hazelwood Initiative, says “our unifying theme is development without displacement.” The plan’s holistic approach includes programs for children and families, a yearlong incubation training initiative for minority business owners and a roadmap to turn renters into homeowners.

“We welcome development,” she tells us, as long as it aligns with the community’s priorities.

By next fall, Tim Kaulen’s new Industrial Arts Workshop will be opening in Hazelwood.

And as for C&D’s, they’re doing a steady business from early breakfast to early dinner, Monday through Saturday. (Just don’t drop by on a Sunday. “We do church on Sundays,” Cletus notes.)

“It’s been an eye-opening experience, finding out the amount of work it takes to make this work,” he says. “But if we can help the community, it’s well worth it.”