How a Trio of Pittsburgh Eateries are Getting Some Much-Needed TLC
A national grant program is giving three landmark restaurants — The Harmony Inn, Penn Brewery and Khalil’s — some much-needed love.
What’s old is new again.
In 2022, three landmark eateries in the region received $40,000 grants from American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation: The Harmony Inn in Harmony, Penn Brewery in Troy Hill and Khalil’s in Bloomfield. Now in its third year, the Backing Historic Small Restaurants Grant Program awards $1 million collectively to 25 recipients across the country.
Over the last few months, the respective owners of the local establishments have been busy restoring their properties so they’ll last another century.
The Harmony Inn
Bob McCafferty was an archeologist before he opened North Country Brewing Co.
It’s fitting that he and his wife Jodi own The Harmony Inn, a relic from 1856 nestled in Harmony, a borough 30 miles north of Pittsburgh that’s listed as a National Historic District. The couple also run Slippery Rock’s North Country Brew Pub, which is in a building erected sometime between 1805 and 1835 that once served as a funeral home.
In 2013, the McCaffertys bought the inn and began resurrecting the structure, a former residence and later the county’s first craft-beer bar. Bob worked on Revolutionary War-era taverns and bullet-riddled buildings in Gettysburg. Preserving the past is his passion.
OK: So is beer.
“It’s taken a lot to bring it back from a rough-and-tumble saloon,” Bob says. “These old buildings need help.”
The grant money helped fund the replacement of multiple windows, with the frames, soffit and trim reconstructed by Amish workers with wood milled in Ligonier. The eatery also got a new sign and lots of cosmetic touches that customers might not notice but will keep the building standing for decades to come.
While the pub up north didn’t receive any funding from the grant, workers are putting the finishing touches on a separate project that will expand the patio to an adjacent lot. It will be similar to the sprawling outdoor area at The Harmony Inn.
Last year, the company opened North Country Corn Crib taproom, a coworking space inside Freedom Farms Farmers Market and Kitchen, which is located about 9 miles south of the city of Butler on Route 8.
Hey, yinz guys! Want to drink liquid gold in a 56-year-old lagering cave?
That’s now possible thanks to this grant.
Penn Brewery owner Stefan Nitsch took over the iconic company on Aug. 1 after the previous owners applied for the grant in hopes of installing a large awning over the biergarten.
He reallocated the money to the ongoing cave restoration project at the Troy Hill property. Although Penn Brewery started making beer there in 1986, three buildings on the site were constructed by different breweries in the mid-1800s and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Before the invention of refrigeration, brewers used the caves to keep beer barrels cool. Now they’re the ultimate chill-out spots, open to the public for seating and available to rent for private events.
Bloomfield-based Iron Eden created wrought-iron gates inside to keep patrons from tottering into the subterranean depths (gates are also stationed at the entrances and will remain locked when the caves aren’t in use). A color-changing, low-voltage illumination system was installed by Strobe Lighting and Sound, and Nitsch would like to class-up the caves with chandeliers.
Someday he hopes to make a beer in a cave. Perhaps he can name it after “The Goonies.”
Sisters Leila and Dalel Khalil, second-generation owners of Khalil’s in Bloomfield, can still feel the joyful spirits of their parents inside the Middle Eastern restaurant at 4757 Baum Blvd. They want the aesthetics of the building to match that radiance.
Thanks to the grant money, they’re keeping the legacy of Mikhail and Agnes Khalil alive by giving the facade and sign a facelift.
To Leila, who helms the kitchen while Dalel handles front-of-the-house operations, the completion of projects that have long held spots on the family’s to-do list is a welcome relief.
“We could not have been able to move forward without this grant,” she says. “I don’t have the words to say how grateful we are.”
The financial boost also allows them to tackle new projects, such as upgrading the outdoor space, renovating the upstairs banquet facility and launching a new menu featuring Syrian classics as well as tapas-style offerings and village favorites. Dishes include Silk Road Rice, Basmati rice with aromatic spices, safflower, dates, apricot, walnuts, figs, toasted pignolia nuts and almonds.
Leila is creating her own culinary legacy with her lamb shank, a nod to her dad’s signature lamb kebabs.
Opened in 1972, Khalil’s once had three locations. It managed to survive everything from Steel Mill closures and the pandemic to serious illnesses and death.
Through it all, the family gave back.
Immigrants would show up to the restaurant directly from the airport and Mikhail would give them a job and a place to stay. The sisters work with organizations such as Hello Neighbor, a nonprofit that matches immigrant families with dedicated local families to help ease the transition to their new home.
While exiting the restaurant, faithful customers often throw kisses to a portrait of Mikhail and Agnes. The image received a lot of love on June 17 when Khalil’s threw a 51st anniversary celebration to benefit victims of the earthquake that rocked Turkey and Syria in February.
“It’s important for each culture to keep their traditions and customs, but it’s also very important to open up, to evolve, to learn and to grow,” Dalel says. “Every culture has all of these amazing things to bring to the banquet. There’s room for everyone at the table.”