If you live in Regent Square, chances are you’ve had a meal at Square Cafe on Braddock Avenue. Their buttermilk pancakes, fluffy omelets, and deliciously rich coffee keep customers coming back again and again.
Amidst the breakfast and lunch crowds at the café you can see Sherree Goldstein (the owner of Square Café) bussing tables, running the register, and seating guests.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Sherree a few questions.
What initially interested you in becoming a business owner? Why did you choose to open a restaurant?
I grew up in a family business, so it thinks it’s not only in my blood but also in my nature to be a business owner. My mom worked just about every single day that I can remember. As kids my brothers and I would spend many with her at custom craft furniture manufacturing business. My grandfather, Jack Zion started this business in the 1940′s. First it was located in the north side then moved to the west end. The business quickly became a family affair as my uncles, aunt and my mom grew up. My cousins, brothers and I spent any time that we weren’t at school doing whatever they told us to do. I also had 3 paper routs as a teenager.
I worked for Gateway Rehab center for about 12 years when I decided to go with my “pipe dream” of opening a cafe. I had been looking at spaces and writing a business plan for about 4 or 5 years, but nothing seemed to fit until I came upon the space in Regent Square. At the time I had a friend who became my business partner and we just ran with it. She was very interested in having a breakfast place in Regent Square, and my focus was on a place for culture, excellent coffee and great desserts. Within 2 months we signed the lease, bought all of the equipment and designed the dining room. Square Cafe was born May 17, 2003.
Every time I drive by Square Café it’s bustling- especially on the weekends. What is the most exciting part of working during those busy times?
The cafe is a busy place just about every day of the week, especially on the weekends. We have been known to serve close to 700 guests on Saturdays and Sundays. At these busy times we seem to function at our peak performance; we love the hustle and bustle of a busy day. The staff is the most amazing well-oiled machine I have ever worked with. They are a living example of teamwork. During the interview and hiring process one of the things that we really try to impress upon everyone is that their jobs include doing EVERYTHING. Of course we all have our jobs that we function best at, but we try to get the whole staff familiar with all aspects of the business, things just go better that way, and makes more sense to everyone. We all know that everyone is working just as hard as we are; if not, they don’t last long. You have to be a special person to work at the square. We have created a unique culture at the cafe. It’s hard to put a finger on just what that is but we can feel it. We have heard from hundreds of customers how it just feels good in here they say, “it’s the energy”.
We as a staff has to believe in what we do every day if not we can sense it and so can you-our customers.
What has owning a restaurant taught you about good food? What are some of your favorite dishes, and places to eat?
Before opening the café, I didn’t know much about food or the restaurant business. My learning curve was steep, and I could definitely feel gravity pulling me back. My biggest lessons in the beginning were probably about perseverance, tenacity, and work until your fingers bled. It’s paying off. I think I finally have a good handle on menus, ordering, staffing, marketing and flipping eggs.
I love to eat out. I actually eat out almost every meal. It’s embarrassing, but I rarely cook at home anymore. My kitchen has milk, coffee, cream, fruit and seltzer water at all times but not much more. Well, actually I do have a weakness for ice cream (shhhh).
It’s been so nice seeing such great restaurants opening up all over the east end. Regent Square has some of my favorites. I can’t say enough great things about root 174, Keith fuller. Everything I have had at Alma has been absolutely delicious. I’m also a huge fan of Mediterranean grill in Squirrel Hill, Brgr, Burgatory, and Bistro 19 in Mt. Lebanon has been my favorite since it opened. And of course Plum for sushi makes my mouth water. Basically there’s not much I don’t like. As long as the food is good and the service is friendly, I’ll be back.
I’ve heard you’re very involved in the community- what are some of the local causes that are important to you? How do you support them?
We do make an attempt to get involved with as much community activity as we can, and also support many non-profits in the area. Our favorite is POWER in Swissvale. I was asked to be on the board of directors several years ago, and couldn’t turn down such a great opportunity. Prior to being on the board, we had employed several of their residents, and fed most of their staff on a regular basis. In the last 4 or 5 years we have done whatever we can for them. We are also big supporters of WYEP, and this year we were asked to cater their rock the block VIP party in September. And of course, we are honored. We also have an event for Power in September. We also cater and sponsor their event to celebrate national recovery month at Perlora in the south side.
Have you ever thought of opening a second Square Café?
I think i get asked every single day “where will your next location be” my answer remains the same, “I love what I do… being at work every day and have been fortunate enough to be home with my son after school just about every day, so we’re going to stick with what we have… it’s working!
Everyone knows Sherree the hard-working business owner. What do you do when you’re not working?
When I’m not working, you can find me hanging out with my son Daniel, sitting on my deck reading, mountain biking or walking with my dog in Frick Park. I’m always out eating at local restaurants. I really enjoy the Laurel Mountains and I will escape to the outdoors whenever I can.
Chef Chuck Kerber