Homestead having a Black business surge and borough’s council members are majority-Black; first time in history

MIKE REID is the force behind EON, a new bar and grill at 106 East Eighth Avenue, Homestead. More Black businesses have been opening in Homestead of late. (Photo by Merecedes J. Williams)

by Merecedes J. Williams
For New Pittsburgh Courier

Homestead’s business district is shifting, and showing signs of prosperity.
The small borough now has five Black council members and its first Black borough manager, Vanessa McCarthy-Johnson. And what’s flown under the radar is John M. Burwell, who is African American, defeating longtime incumbent mayor Betty Esper in the May 18 primary election.

Together, they are looking to increase the number of Black businesses in Homestead, particularly along well-known Eighth Avenue.

“We want to create a safe, more friendly space for Black businesses,” said McCarthy-Johnson, in an exclusive interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier.

McCarthy-Johnson wants Black residents, who make up 51 percent of the borough’s population but only five percent of the business owners, to see business owners who look like them, and use it as inspiration. She also wants locals to be able to call Homestead “home.”

Over the recent months, there have been new Black-owned businesses flooding Homestead’s main thoroughfare. Mike Reid credits the work of McCarthy-Johnson and Council President Don Dais as to why he chose Homestead as headquarters for his restaurant and lounge, EON.

Nestled in the heart of Eighth Avenue, EON provides food, music, drinks, private rentals, catering, and the full VIP experience.

“There is nothing like this in Pittsburgh,” Reid told the Courier. “And our food is amazing.”

EON’s kitchen is led by Tanisha Brissett and Sam Darkins, private caterers and co-owners of Soul of Grace, LLC. Folks travel far and wide for their famous lamb chops and seafood boils.

A few blocks up the street from EON is an upscale night lounge offering exclusive hookah and specialty crafted cocktails. “Soldi” officially opened on April 30, and has seen 2000s R&B legends Ashanti and Ginuwine already make their way to Homestead as special guests.

LAUREN LONG is owner of Soldi, which has already seen R&B stars Ashanti and Ginuwine visit the lounge at 519 East Eighth Avenue, Homestead. (Photo by Courier photographer Merecedes J. Williams)

Soldi owner Lauren Long moved to Homestead when she was 14, and Soldi marks her second business venture.

“It is a great feeling to drive down the same street I used to frequent growing up, seeing the developments, and being a part of it. It is necessary for the community and the culture,” she said.

Homestead’s business landscape is widely associated with The Waterfront, an open-air shopping mall that opened in 1999 to much fanfare. But while The Waterfront features national chains like Dick’s, Dave and Buster’s, Target and Barnes and Noble, McCarthy-Johnson said that “we’re not just The Waterfront. You will see a lot of these great small businesses to support, which is what we want people to see when they think of Homestead as a destination.”

TENEL DORSEY is owner of Dreamz Hair Salon, located at 216 East Seventh Avenue, Homestead.

Tenel Dorsey, an 18-year Homestead business veteran, has 11 employees and continues to expand her hair salon, Dreamz, which is pretty much a Homestead staple. The salon provides a wide range of services, including natural hair styling, barbering, hair replacement, coloring, and luxury hair extensions and wigs.

Last summer, after 17 years, Dreamz moved from Eighth Avenue to Seventh Avenue.

“It amazes me how Homestead was so deserted at one point throughout the 18 years we’ve been in this community,” Dorsey told the Courier. “I think it is absolutely amazing that our people found a space where they can flourish, and now, we as Black people can flourish together. After all, the goal is for us to come together.”

Dais, the Council President who was elected in 2018, is all in when it comes to pushing for more Black businesses in Homestead. “I’m inviting Black businesses into this area, removing the obstacles, small problems, and hurdles,” he said.

Dais was one of the first people to welcome Reid and EON to the neighborhood.

“Homestead felt like home because we were welcomed. We could not have accomplished what we accomplished without the Borough of Homestead assisting us,” Reid said. Reid originally had a business on the North Side, but the Perry Traditional Academy and Indiana University of Pennsylvania graduate said he’s happy to be in Homestead.

“The borough is super supportive and they want you to succeed,” Reid said.

“They are really helping us and making sure we are on track, and that was from jump.”

Dais said establishments like EON “strengthen and beautify this community,” and when you come across a Black business in Homestead, he doesn’t want you “to see color, but progress.”

And progress is being made for African Americans in borough government.

Burwell, who is a minister, received 223 votes to Mayor Esper’s 210 votes in the primary. And Dais is now joined by Mary Nesby, Rev. Louise Benton, Jou’Al Burwell, and Min. Connie Burwell as the five Black council members in Homestead, a majority-Black council.

They all are on board on elevating Homestead’s Black business community, which also includes, among others, Mona’s Angels, a child care center on Eighth Avenue, and the newly-opened Live Fresh, a cold pressed juice and smoothie bar, located next to EON, at 114 East Eighth Avenue. Its owner is Brett Gilliam.

And when there are Black businesses, there are jobs being created. Twenty new jobs have been created between the openings of Soldi and EON, the owners said.

What’s next for some of these Black businesses in Homestead? Well, EON is looking forward to their first full summer and expanding in Homestead and surrounding areas. Soldi is opening their kitchen soon, offering an elevated tapas menu. And Dreamz Hair Salon recently opened a warehouse to store hair care products and luxury hair extensions to ensure distribution stores like Sisters Beauty Supply in Downtown Pittsburgh can be restocked quickly.


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