Emily & David Hood

When it came time to get out of Dodge — in this case, San Antonio — the Hoods went about it scientifically. Bringing with them a background in the restaurant industry and a hankering to be somewhere more temperate, they were looking to create their own authentic Tex-Mex eatery — somewhere. Listing the criteria — real estate prices, cultural amenities, restaurant scene (without an authentic Tex-Mex lunch counter) — the heap was topped by Sacramento, Kansas City, Charleston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

But that was all digital research. Then they visited. In February, when the weather can be a challenge.

Not for the Hoods. “We’re used to Texas summers,” David says. “That means 100 degrees. We’ll take anything that’s not.”

But Pittsburgh had a lot more. “Not only did it have everything we outlined,” he recalls, “but it also felt like home. It was gorgeous. And the people were beyond friendly. The combination of everything just overwhelmed us.”

“We fell in love immediately,” Emily adds.

Six weeks later, in April 2016, they moved. They rented first in Highland Park then bought a home in Edgewood.

“It’s the oldest house we’ve ever lived in,” David says. “117 years old. All the charm — and work — that an old house comes with.”

Emily winks. “And no ghosts.”

Laura Coyt Zavala. Photo by Elan Mizrahi.

Laura Coyt Zavala

Pittsburgh dreaming all the way from California? That was the case for Laura Coyt Zavala.

Born in Mexico, she and her family emigrated to Stockton, California when she was a young child. She lived at home and commuted to college but when it came to graduate school, “I was looking for something different,” she says. “I wanted to explore a different city, a different culture.

“When I came here,” Coyt Zavala adds, “I didn’t know much about Pittsburgh. But I quickly fell in love with the city. I’d never seen anything like it in California — its rich history. Hometown feel. Different neighborhoods. Plenty of places to go, plenty of things to do.” She chose Pitt for grad school three years ago and has been here ever since.

Now working as the academic coordinator of La Escuelita Arcoiris, a Squirrel-Hill-based Spanish immersion pre-school, her Pittsburgh epiphany came three years ago. “I hadn’t experienced snow in California,” Coyt Zavala recalls. “Then one morning there was a really pretty snowfall. It looked like something out of a movie, so beautiful and peaceful. I said, ‘wow, this place is amazing. I love that I get to experience this.'”

Coyt Zavala pauses. “I would like this to be a permanent relationship with the city. It’s quickly become my home. I also believe it’s on the brink of something really special, something much more cosmopolitan and diverse — another Renaissance — I want to be part of that. I want to be the Latina who welcomes people, who says, ‘hey, there’s a place for you here. It’s beautiful, it’s homey, it’s inviting. And it’s for you, too!'”

Elena & Rob Davis

Philadelphia natives Elena and Rob Davis — she a speech therapist, he a psychiatrist — were happily ensconced in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. But they found, as their observance deepened, their needs outstripped suburban Philadelphia. As practicing Orthodox Jews, they needed a more robust infrastructure: an Orthodox synagogue, kosher food market and a school for their growing family.

Searching for suitable digs within a five-hour drive of their hometown, the Davises crossed off certain areas as too large, too expensive or too unwieldy. As it turned out, Elena had friends who had similarly made the trek to Pittsburgh. “You would love the community here,” one told Elena.

So beckoned, five years ago they came for a visit. Spending a Sabbath in Squirrel Hill, Elena and Rob found everything they needed within a short walk. “We really liked the fact that the whole community was in one neighborhood,” Elena says. “The synagogue, the school — even the Jewish Community Center. They were all in close proximity.”

Adds Rob: “It was a warm, welcoming community with a lot of professionals like us.”

Of course, there were jobs to nail down, which took some time. Finally, Rob took his place as co-medical director for the community-oriented Wesley Family Services, and Elena as an Allegheny Intermediate Unit early intervention speech therapist.

Then there was housing, which required 10 separate trips on the Pennsy Pike to find the right house in the right condition in the right location at the right price. Finally, “everything,” Elena recalls, “fell into place.”

The linchpin was like-minded Orthodox Jews with whom they could share weekly Sabbath observances, meals, holidays and life events. “We needed a deep environment,” Elena says. “Families around us. Friends for our children. And we found it all here.

“We jumped in immediately,” she adds. “Made friends. Volunteered. We love it.”

They love other amenities the city offers, too. Now, with four kids ranging from six to 14, the Davises frequent the Children’s Museum, Aviary, Zoo —  the rich cornucopia that is Pittsburgh life.

Lately, they can be found taking long walks through neighboring Frick Park, visiting the flowers at Phipps, canoeing down the Yough and attending sporting events large (Steelers and Stanley Cup games) and small (the Riverhounds). They’re also no strangers to attending celebratory events at Wigle’s Smallman Street distillery.

“I tried everything they had,” Rob smiles. “Elena drove us home.”




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About The Author

Contributing Writer

Abby Mendelson is a veteran Pittsburgh writer and reporter. A novelist and short-story writer, he is also the author of numerous Pittsburgh-related books, including Arena: Remembering the Igloo, Pittsburgh: A Place in Time, Pittsburgh Prays: Thirty-Six Houses of Worship, Pittsburgh Born, Pittsburgh Bred, and The Pittsburgh Steelers Official History. As a journalist, he has written on countless subjects in a wide variety of publications, local and national, print as well as electronic.

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