How This Duo is Turning Old Buildings in Pittsburgh Into New Foodie Experiences

Brian and Irwin Mendelssohn are the force behind Row House Cinema, Bierport, Lawrenceville Market House and Fulton Commons.
Fulton Commons2


Brian Mendelssohn never starts a new real estate project on an empty stomach. Food is always a key element in each of his endeavors — including a Lawrenceville restaurant inspired by a certain film by Tim Burton. It’s expected to open some “Day-O” this summer.

Since founding Lawrenceville-based Botero Development in 2007, he’s transformed numerous old buildings around Pittsburgh into unique places to live, work, shop and eat — such as Row House Cinema and Bierport.

With a new culinary program and restaurant on the way, 2023 is expected to be another banner year for the brand.



Before starting Botero, Mendelssohn would stare out the bus window on his commute to a corporate job, surveying the rundown structures he passed. He saw potential in Pittsburgh’s condemned properties.

“There’s a challenge in restoring old buildings that I really like,” he says. “I appreciate the natural materials and the artistry. It enables me to take a more creative approach and ask myself, ‘What does this building want to be?’”

In one recent project — and the first one outside of Lawrenceville — Botero turned the former Saint Joseph School in Manchester into Fulton Commons, a coworking office space and kitchen incubator. In the basement of the 18,800-square-foot building, sunshine filters through the glass block windows, bathing 32 kitchen stations in natural light.

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More than a dozen culinary entrepreneurs, from bakers and caterers to food truck operators, pay a monthly fee for 24/7 access to the shared commissary space, which is equipped with prep tables, storage, color-coded sinks designated for meat and vegetables and walk-in freezers. Members can also access coworking amenities on the first floor. After getting their feet wet at Fulton Commons, some participants — such as the owners of Castle Shannon’s Anthos Greek Bakery — have gone on to open their own brick-and-mortar locations.

Irwin Mendelssohn, who joined his brother’s development company in 2015, oversees the kitchen that opened 1½ years ago. With a federal agriculture grant, Fulton Commons will launch a Packaged Food Incubator & Accelerator program this month. The 12-week course is open to anyone who wants to see their shelf-stable brands in grocery stores, farmers markets, retail outlets and online platforms.

Sessions are limited to between eight and 10 businesses at a time and will be held twice a year. The curriculum includes partnerships with local universities and food system leaders.

Whether it’s pierogies or toaster pastries, the Mendelssohns want to see store shelves stocked with more Pittsburgh-made products.

“Our goal is to provide the knowledge, resources and infrastructure so entrepreneurs can have the tools they need to run a successful business,” Irwin says.

As entrepreneurs themselves, the brothers have a lot of experience to share.

In 2014, Botero Development redeveloped the busy corner at Butler and Main streets that includes Row House Cinema and Bierport and more recently the Lawrenceville Market House.



The Market House is a retail hub in a former bank building at 4112 Butler St. that offers nine co-retailing spaces on the first floor.

The mom-and-pop shops, which sell everything from home goods and apparel to chocolate bars and books, are anchored by Oliver’s Donuts, which the Mendelssohns run. Cafe employees bake 10 varieties of large, cake donuts throughout the day using organic flour grown and milled in Pittsburgh.

At Market House, proprietors rent a customizable station with a lockable storefront on a month-by-month lease with a minimum occupancy of three months. They can peddle their wares and establish a customer base in the heart of the neighborhood’s bustling business district without paying high rent.



As with Fulton Commons, entrepreneurs can use the mixed-use development as a springboard for business growth. For shoppers at the Market House, that means the old-fashioned arcade is a constantly evolving retail destination.

By this summer, the Mendelssohns hope to open the full-service eatery with Tim Burtonesque decor in the basement of Lawrenceville Market House.

They’ll soon break in the restaurant’s kitchen equipment by whipping up smash burgers and fries that can be ordered for delivery and take out. Customers across the street at Row House Cinema and Bierport will be able to scan a QR code to chow down while watching a movie.

The 84-seat, single-screen theater and attached craft beer bottle shop was Brian’s first foray into filling one of his renovated properties with his own dream.

“I was less about retail and more about providing an anchor in the neighborhood,” says Brian, who grew up in South Florida and is now a Lawrenceville resident. “Plus, the idea of creating a movie theater seemed really awesome.”

Erected in 1864, the former department store was gutted to create upper-floor apartments, a craft beer mecca and a place for cinephiles to bond over cult, independent and foreign films, beloved classics (“The Princess Bride” is Brian’s favorite flick) and new releases that rarely hit the multiplexes.

Patrons, including more than 500 Film Club members, enjoy a snack bar that sells national candy brands and fountain Coca-Cola along with local snack offerings and fresh popcorn made in-house with local Amish butter and Pennsylvania Macaroni Co.’s Sicilian Sea Salt.

The theater also hosts movie-themed events such as beer and cupcake pairings, as well as early-morning kid’s classics with a cereal bar. Patrons have watched “Roman Holiday” while eating locally made gelato and went on a carbohydrate binge during a screening of “The Bread, My Sweet.”

Even when Row House Cinema was closed for 18 months due to the pandemic, customers still purchased bags of popcorn and online movie packages to keep the place afloat. The facility reopened with a bang on Sept. 4, 2021 by showing “Pulp Fiction.”

If you’re 21 and over, you can grab a brew from Bierport’s bottle shop and sip during a screening or enjoy it in the underground taproom, which is staffed by Cicerone-certified bartenders.

As the Mendelssohn brothers work to redevelop more historical properties throughout the city, they’re mindful of creating places that generate memories as much as money.

“We’re creating entertainment venues,” Brian says. “It’s not just about sitting and watching a movie. It’s a great night out; it’s a fun place to be and you’re surrounded by people who also love what you love.”

Bierport & Row House Cinema
LAWRENCEVILLE: 4115 Butler St.,

Lawrenceville Market House
LAWRENCEVILLE: 4112 Butler St.

Fulton Commons
MANCHESTER: 1546 Fulton St.

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