The East End Food Co-op—one of Pittsburgh’s original sources of organic produce, vegan offerings and bulk foods—is looking to expand to a second location, in addition to the existing Meade Street store and cafe.
“We’ve been looking at a market study of metro Pittsburgh,” says Justin Pizzella, general manager of the Co-op, ”and a lot of sites are under consideration.”
“We’ve grown rapidly over the past three years,” he says. “We need a space to better serve our community and members.”
The Co-op, which has been around since 1980, now has 11,500 members—although anyone can shop there.
Pizzella cites several reasons for the growth: More people have become health conscious, so the products the Co-op sells now attract a larger audience. Operationally, they have improved as a business. And there’s a real word-of-mouth component to this sudden spike: “As people come to know us, they come to love us.
“We are a local business, and we support local businesses,” he says. “It’s one of our core things—it always has been—and a lot of people value that.”
In general, the Co-op model—a “values-driven business”—is now embraced by a wider swath of people.
Wherever the co-op adds this additional square footage, they will offer their wide array of natural foods and organic produce—but step it up a notch. Their existing store is 4,500 square feet, and they are looking at spaces that range from 15-20,000 feet.
Although the Co-op is “not committed to downtown,” one such space they have been considering is the food court at PPG Place—which could breathe life into the cavernous space.
PPG’s underground eating area hopped with throngs of downtown workers with big hair and padded shoulders in the age of the food court, but for the last decade or so, the court’s reputation—perhaps unfairly—is that of the guy who never lost his mullet and T-top Trans Am: So 80s.
PPG has been working to reconceive the space to make it into a thriving gathering spot for downtown workers and residents once again. And if food co-op meets food court—perhaps this could be the odd couple that somehow makes it work?
At this point, Pizzella is keeping mum about any other potential sites.
With the extra breathing room, no matter the new location, they plan to expand the produce, dairy and frozen sections—but one likely area for big growth is meat and cheese—”perhaps we might offer a full-size meat and cheese counter,” if the space warrants. Pizzella would love to get into beer sales either as part of a restaurant or in a stand-alone department.
Their mainstays—a vegan hot foods bar, fresh juice, smoothie and coffee bar and refrigerator case of freshly made prepared foods, like hummus plates and sesame noodles, will be part of the model.
Each of the potential locations “offer unique opportunities,” so the Co-op will tailor their store to the space.
“We are looking at places where we can be financially viable but also give back to the community as a result of being there,” says Pizzella.
One of the things he likes about downtown is the “accessibility for transit.” For people who live on the South Side, North Side or in the West End, “it wouldn’t be difficult for them to get over to downtown,” he says.
Stay tuned for more news on this expansion. There’s a members’ open forum on March 12 at 7 p.m. in the Co-op cafe on Meade Street. Call 412-242-3598 to RSVP.
But fear not, faithful East Enders: “We will not abandon the East End,” says Pizzella. “It’s our core and where we’re always going to be.”