After sitting vacant for over seven years, the former Dimperio’s Market in Hazelwood’s central business district will become home to a new production facility and storefront for La Gourmandine bakery.
The new bakery, scheduled to open this summer, is the result of a years-long search by downtown residential nonprofit agency Action Housing to revitalize the old commercial district along Second Avenue as the $1-$2 billion Almono development begins to move forward.
The move came about in a very Pittsburgh sort of way, says Linda Metropulos, Action Housing’s Acting Deputy Director.
“Pittsburgh being Pittsburgh, with so much happening via word of mouth, we found out–in a very serendipitous way–La Gourmandine was looking for a space to do production baking.”
With locations in Lawrenceville and Mt. Lebanon, economically distressed Hazelwood may not seem the logical choice for a French bakery. Owner Fabien Moreau says that people told him the same thing when he opened his first location.
“When we opened in Lawrenceville, six years ago, it wasn’t the hipster area that it is now,” says Moreau. “We are not a luxury store. People think because it’s French food it has to be expensive. But actually, we really try to be careful with our price, so everyone can enjoy our food.”
Moreau hopes to hire between 8 to 10 people at the new location, which will be located at 5011-5013 Second Avenue. Moreau says it isn’t feasible to install a bread oven at each of his stores, so the Hazelwood facility will bake bread and some pastries for all three locations while each shop will continue to bake their own danish and similar fare in-house.
Both Action Housing and La Gourmandine are investing money into the buildout phase of the project. Construction began in October with funding from a variety of sources, notably the Heinz Endowments, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, and Dollar Bank.
For years, Hazelwood residents had hoped that Dimperio’s would once again become a grocery store or market. Metropulos says that was Action Housing’s goal all along, but after 18 months of negotiations they couldn’t find anyone who could make it work.
“Ultimately,” she says, “we just couldn’t find someone that thought they could make a successful business running a small grocery store in Hazelwood at this time.”
Sonya Tilghman, executive director at the Hazelwood Initiative, says that while it is “a bit of a disappointment” that the Dimperio’s location did not turn into a grocery store, it’s not the end of the pursuit. She cites the opening of Dylamato’s Market at the 5400 block of Second Avenue as the type of “synergistic food business” that Hazelwood hopes to attract more of as they attempt to leave the “food desert” designation behind.
As for La Gourmandine, Tilghman says the ultimate test will come when the business is open and operating, whether or not they are hiring locally and how they fit into the community.
“We’re happy to see them come,” she says. “We know they have a history of being a good neighbor, so we’re just looking forward to that being the case here.”