Ever since the owners of the Beehive Coffeehouse & Dessertery announced their decision to close the South Side shop, the place has been buzzing with activity.
“Business is up,” says Steve Zumoff, who opened the café 28 years ago with his friend Scott Kramer. “We’re seeing people we haven’t seen for a long time.”
More than 100,000 people read the Sept. 5 Facebook post about the closure, prompting hordes of “Beehivians” to pay their respects in person.
The building has been sold and the new owners will transform the space into a full-service restaurant. Customers can still stop in for a daily caffeine fix through the end of the year. Plans for a formal send-off party are in the works, and details will be forthcoming about the new eatery.
It’s a bittersweet ending for Zumoff and Kramer.
In 1989, the pair took a cross-country road trip, visiting dozens of funky coffee shops along the way. At the time, La Prima Espresso Company was the only other caffeine merchant in Pittsburgh. Zumoff and Kramer wanted to cater to the artsy crowd, so they created a space where outsiders could find inspiration and kindred spirits.
The coffee novices rented the East Carson Street storefront, which, for decades, had housed Lando’s Pharmacy. They slapped a fresh coat of paint on the walls and in February 1991, the pair started slinging cups of joe. Artist Rick Bach was paid in wooden tokens to create the shop’s iconic big-haired, bespectacled logo.
Business boomed, prompting the partners to open a second location in Oakland the following year.
Even the rise of Starbucks didn’t hurt the Beehive’s bottom line. In fact, they expanded in 1995 so they could offer a non-smoking section for patrons to escape the ever-present nicotine cloud. Before cellphones, people could stop by the shop to use on-site computers for $4 an hour. The business tried banning laptops on weekends to keep the atmosphere more social, but the idea faced a backlash from techies who couldn’t part with their computers.
The Beehive eventually got a liquor license and the owners opened other boozy South Side establishments, including the Lava Lounge, Tiki Lounge, Double Wide Grill and the Rowdy Buck, which was located next door.
After a fatal shooting inside the Rowdy Buck last year, the name was changed to Trixie’s Bar and Game Room. But business never fully recovered. With the threat of higher rent looming, Zumoff and Kramer decided to sell.
What will happen to all that mismatched furniture, the dishes and eclectic décor?
Zumoff says they’ll sell off the little pieces and hold on to the rest. He anticipates doing pop-up art shows throughout the city and is in talks with the Heinz History Center to possibly put the Beehive sign on display.
Because so many regular customers were photographers, writers and artists, he hopes someone will compile a coffee table book filled with memories of the Beehive’s heyday.
“It’s possible we’ll bring the Beehive back,” Zumoff says, shrugging his shoulders. “Maybe in 10 years.”