Stroll along S. Braddock Avenue in Regent Square, and you’ll see crowds gathered around the vibrantly colored Square Café. Celebrating its 15th anniversary, the ever popular Square Café embodies the vision of owner Sherree Goldstein: to share fresh, local and seasonal food (don’t miss the lemon berry ricotta pancakes) in a friendly, neighborhood-based atmosphere.
Sherree’s big heart and charitable spirit extend to the Café’s business model, which cultivates local talent by partnering with numerous nonprofits on fundraisers and special events. While rolling out her new spring menu — and celebrating her birthday — the East Liberty resident takes time to share some insights about running a small business in Pittsburgh.
Favorite thing about Pittsburgh or Western PA?
I love this city. It’s really the sum of all of its amazing parts. Food, affordability, rivers, mountains close by, and my family is here.
When not at Square Café, what is your favorite restaurant to visit and why?
One of my favorite restaurants is Bistro 19 in Mt. Lebanon, although I don’t make it out there as often as I’d like to. I have enjoyed going to Mediterranean Grill in Squirrel Hill for a zillion years. The food is always perfect, it has a great family and neighborhood feel, and Friday and Saturday nights they have THE BEST kibbee!
We arrive at your house for dinner. What’s on the menu?
The truth about coming to my place for dinner over the past five years is that you’d be disappointed! I haven’t been cooking at home for too long. I just started cooking again. Last weekend I had a group of friends over for a completely Paleo menu — halibut with lemon caper sauce, roasted asparagus and shallots and baked sweet potatoes. Cooking game is ON.
What about the Pittsburgh food scene excites and inspires you?
There are so many great restaurants in Pittsburgh. I am digging all of the ethnic flair, diversity and that there is so much more plant-based food available. I love the Federal & Smallman Galleys — the opportunities for new startups are phenomenal.
Where will we find you on a Sunday morning?
At the café, Bitter Ends Garden & Luncheonette in Bloomfield (drinking Zeke’s Coffee and eating an amazing breakfast sandwich and a sweetbread dessert), or out of town as much as I can make it happen.
What advice would you give to a new restaurateur or chef just starting out?
My best advice to anyone starting a new restaurant is: DON’T DO WHAT I DID. I was extremely under-capitalized, and I opened with a business partner who was in the middle of a bankruptcy that I didn’t know about. After two years, I took over the business 100 percent. The café was in terrible debt with the state and many vendors. We were about three weeks from being locked out of our building for not paying rent, and our insurance was terminated. Over the next seven years, we dug out of debt and became profitable. I would recommend developing a stable — not trendy — concept, hiring smart trustworthy people, and building your capital before opening.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as a restaurant owner?
There are many challenges running any business, and for restaurants the stats are not great. I think success runs off of attitude. Believe you can do it, create an environment of love, respect and prosperity, share the victories and the mistakes, be human and most importantly have fun. That’s why we are here — to live a fun, happy and service-oriented life!
What book is on your nightstand or in your e-reader right now?
“Mating in Captivity” by Esther Perel, recommended by my friend Jodi.
Where do you always take out-of-town visitors?
Ironically, all of my out of town guests mostly want to start their day at Square Café. I think it’s food, coffee and vibe-driven.
Last photo you took on your phone?
A photo taken at Pittsburgh Action Against Rape’s Teal Ball with a crew of nicely dressed, smiling ladies.
Bridge you LOVE to walk or bike over?
As the city has become more and more bike friendly, I am finding myself out of the woods, off of my mountain bike, and on my road bike. I like to hit as many bridges as possible on my rides. It’s always so beautiful to see the sun shining off of the rivers.
At what Pittsburgh restaurant do you always order dessert?
Dessert is my favorite food group. I order it EVERYWHERE I go.
Best part of your job?
There are so many great parts to my job. I get to work with amazing staff who care about what they do and who they do it with. We work hard. We have fun. And we make a difference by sharing love in our food and service.
You need a drink. Where do you go?
Currently, my favorite drink place is Clean Juice East Liberty. I’m trying it all one thing at a time; no alcohol for this lady!
What question do you wish we had asked?
What do I do for fun other than work? All things two wheels and tooling around in my 1983 Jeep CJ7.
What upcoming events are you excited to attend?
Our café menu changed on Tuesday, so I’m working with Chef and General Manager Kevin Kelley on plate presentations and last-minute tweaks. The rest of the week is at the café, time with my girlfriend, son and other friends and family.
My birthday is Friday so we are headed to Onion Maiden in Allentown. A good week for me has many gym days, biking days, lots of work, fun friends, family, excellent food and some chill time … not in that order.
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