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New Allentown coffee house heats up its neighborhood

By Kristin Snapp, Point Park News Service:

Pittsburgh’s Allentown neighborhood got an awakening in August with the opening of Black Forge Coffee House, located behind the Zone 3 Police Station on Arlington Avenue.

Two current Allentown residents, Ashley Corts and Nick Miller, own the shop. The two met through their involvement in Pittsburgh’s thriving entertainment industry, while Corts was working a show at the Altar Bar in the Strip District.

Photo courtesy Chloe Jakiela.
Ashley Baldauf waits for an Earl Grey tea at the Black Forge Coffee House located in Pittsburgh’s Allentown neighborhood. Photo by Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service.

“That was the big step forward for us to actually do this,” Corts said. “….Let’s show people we can get this done.”

The duo began looking for commercial space, and found a few real estate listings in Allentown on Craigslist. Before long, Corts and Miller met with Joe Calloway, Founder of RE360, a real estate organization in Pittsburgh that purchases empty spaces and leases them at an affordable rent –  as long as the tenants are adamant about putting a genuine effort into bettering the community.

For under $35,000, Corts and Miller were able to establish Black Forge Coffee House. They furnished the shop using as much recycled wood and pallet wood as possible. Miller built a counter top himself that would fit the overall aesthetic of the coffee house – an artistic hub, as Corts described it.

In an ode to Pittsburgh’s thriving music scene, Miller extended a preexisting stage in the space, which will be used for performances varying from music to stand-up comedy.

Photo courtesy Chloe Jakiela.
Nick Miller, co-owner of Black Forge Coffee House in Allentown, Pittsburgh, hands a shot of espresso to customer Chanel Gallo. Photo by Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service.

Drusky Entertainment, a Pittsburgh-based concert promoter that Corts has been working for since 2011, will be booking shows in Black Forge, bringing live music to a neighborhood of Pittsburgh that doesn’t offer many music venues.

Aside from being a music venue, the shop has become an attraction in just over a month. According to Miller, within two weeks of opening, neighborhood redevelopers were asking the co-owners for permission to use Black Forge as a selling point for houses in South Pittsburgh, but specifically Allentown.

“We appreciate that. That sends us business,” Miller said. “After [the redevelopers] would leave, we’d think about it and be like, ‘They’re actually seeing potential in the neighborhood because we’re here. We’re actually a selling point for the neighborhood to move here.’”

RE360, The Hilltop Alliance and other small businesses in the area have meetings in the shop regularly, and even the neighboring police are taking advantage of the space.

Officers from the Zone 3 police station recently hosted an event called “Coffee with a Cop” at Black Forge, engaging residents and community members to have an open forum where the police can gauge the community’s needs, and the community can express any concerns.

Photo courtesy Chloe Jakiela.
Nick Miller, co-owner of Black Forge Coffee House in Allentown, chats with customer Ian Insect over a cup of cold brew. Insect is also the host of Black Forge’s Open Mic Night for musicians, poets and comics every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Photo by Chloe Jakiela, Point Park News Service.

A chalkboard-painted wall on the side of the shop boasts a large calendar of events, with nearly every day booked.

And, of course, Black Forge Coffee House serves a variety of brews made from beans roasted by the local Zeke’s Coffee in East Liberty. Personal friends of Corts and Miller, the roasters at Zeke’s formulated a house blend.

“We have changed the minds of multiple customers that usually drink their coffee with cream and sugar,” Miller said. “Now they drink it black.”

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