REV. GLENN GRAYSON SR., center, very excited about the opening of the CARES CommuniTEA Cafe, on Centre Avenue in the Hill District, Feb. 1.
by Diane I. Daniels
For New Pittsburgh Courier
Community partnerships and collaborations between public and private entities are vital to successful efforts of community development and the revitalization of Pittsburgh neighborhoods, says Diamonte Walker, deputy executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh.
Such an example is the Centre-Heldman Plaza in the Hill District.
In November 2019, the URA purchased the plaza for a reported $1.6 million with the goal to ensure protection from the private market and to enable some level of community input and engagement around its next steps, its future.
THE CARES COMMUNITEA CAFE, INSIDE THE CENTRE-HELDMAN PLAZA
Consisting of 2.57 acres, the plaza once housed the Crazy Mocha Coffee Shop, a Subway restaurant, a Farmers Insurance agency and a Shop ‘n’ Save, with a Dollar Bank branch inside the grocery store.
Those businesses are no longer part of the Centre-Heldman Plaza.
But on Feb. 1, the first day of Black History Month, a huge step was taken for the plaza. The CARES CommuniTEA Cafe made its long-anticipated grand opening at 1836 Centre Ave., inside the plaza, on the former site of the Crazy Mocha shop.
The CARES CommuniTEA Café combines the expertise of Hill District professionals as a learning lab for work experience for local youth, according to a release from the URA. The cafe will also house special events and initiatives that aim to connect the Hill District community, such as community conversations, book clubs, art displays and jazz events.
The CARES CommuniTEA Cafe is part of the Avenues of Hope initiative. Avenues of Hope addresses Pittsburgh’s lack of community development and economic inclusion in African American communities utilizing a holistic, community-centered approach, the URA said.
REV. GLENN GRAYSON SR., left, founder of The Center That CARES.
The Center That CARES is a community organization that was started by Rev. Glenn Grayson Sr., pastor of Wesley Center AME Zion Church, in the Hill District. It’s dedicated to the development and enrichment of youth in the area. The Center That CARES offers, among other things, after-school enrichment, STEAM education and career development. Rev. Grayson told the Courier that the collaboration between his community organization and the cafe will have positive “long-term effects” in the Hill District, which also was echoed by Walker.
“We’re incredibly excited about CARES CommuniTEA Café’s grand opening and what it means for the Hill District,” Walker said in a statement. “This is a perfect example of how a publicly-owned asset—Centre Heldman—can be leveraged to support community driven initiatives, which is a core component of Avenues of Hope.”
REV. GLENN GRAYSON SR.,with URA Deputy Executive Director Diamonte Walker, left, Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, second from right, and City of Pittsburgh Chief Equity Officer Majestic Lane, right.
“We look forward to the community and city supporting our youth social enterprise endeavor as we share in the revitalization of the Hill District,” Rev. Grayson added in a statement. “Bringing this café to fruition during this pandemic is a reflection of our city’s determination and commitment to push forward and spark innovative change through collective impact.”
The youth that will work at the cafe can learn entrepreneurial skills early, Rev. Grayson said, understanding how businesses operate, how to deal with customers and learning healthy food choices.
Claudy Pierre, known around Pittsburgh as “Chef Claudy,” is the operations manager for the CARES CommuniTEA Cafe. He established a non-profit, Empowerment Awareness and Training Initiative, Inc. (EAT Initiative), which envisions a world of fed and sustainable communities. “We achieve this vision by hosting hands-on cooking demonstrations and career development via hospitality training,” with a focus on food-vulnerable families.
PITTSBURGH MAYOR BILL PEDUTO JOINED IN ON THE FUN AT CARES COMMUNITEA CAFE…
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto was one of the attendees at the grand opening on Feb. 1. “This project demonstrates the mission of Avenues of Hope to help realize the community’s vision by supporting and investing in local entrepreneurs and neighborhood-based economic development initiatives,” he said in a release.
The URA has been looking for potential tenants for the vacant storefront buildings in Centre-Heldman Plaza, along with the 20,000 square-foot building that once housed the Shop ‘n’ Save grocery store. When the URA purchased the property from the cash-strapped Hill House Association, it kept other private entities from coming in and redeveloping the large space into something that may not have a benefit to the Hill District residents. “We are in the visionary stages for the whole plaza,” Walker told the Courier. “The short-term strategy is to try to find the appropriate retail mix with the hope to get community-serving goods and services in the neighborhood, while supporting Black and Hill District-owned business and institutions in the space.”
PITTSBURGH COUNCILMAN R. DANIEL LAVELLE
“I am tremendously excited about the opening of CARES Café,” said Pittsburgh Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, in a statement. His City Council district includes the Hill. “This is a great example of leveraging the public for community good. I know The Center That CARES has poured their hearts into ensuring this new coffee shop is second to none. They are setting the stage for the type of business we want to see continue up Centre Avenue and to be part of Avenues of Hope across the city.”
MARSHA GRAYSON, ESQ., REV. GLENN GRAYSON SR.