Pittsburgh’s food scene is booming and there are countless new restaurants opening each month. While Pittsburghers always welcome new restaurants into the scene with excitement, there’s nothing like your old favorite spot that you’ve been visiting for years. Pittsburgh is filled with classic restaurants that have been open for 45, 55 and even 65+ years. These restaurants work to keep the nostalgia alive, while also keeping up with the changing times.
Adzema Pharmacy first opened in 1959 with one side as a pharmacy and the other side a lunch counter that served up classic diner dishes. Bob Adzema, the original owner, grew up in the 1940s on the North Side, where every pharmacy had at least a soda fountain. His son, Jay Adzema, graduated college in 1988, then came to help run the store. He is now the current owner of the store.
Adzema maintains that the lunch counter’s menu hasn’t changed much since its opening. They’ve always served breakfast and lunch. Some of the staples are homemade milkshakes, daily lunch specials and two freshly made soups a day. “Our classic dish is the Frizzleburger-grilled chipped ham and American on a bun,” said Adzema. It can’t get more Pittsburgh than chipped ham.
Adzema has faced the same staffing issues that have plagued many Pittsburgh restaurants. He’s even had to step away from the pharmacy counter to cook once a week, so he hopes the future brings the counter another cook.
Currently, Adzema Pharmacy is the only pharmacy in Pittsburgh that also runs their own lunch counter. Adzema attributes the store and lunch counter’s success to his customers.
“The reason for our long running success is a commitment to community. We were the first place that our regulars were willing to come out to post-COVID,” he said.
Community is also what has kept Valliant’s Diner, which opened in 1968, successful. “We are incredibly fortunate to say that we have multiple families that have been customers for generations. A few loyal families in particular are on their fourth generation and still coming in for breakfast and lunch,” said Gerri Valliant, current owner, and Alexandra (Valliant) McMullen, his daughter.
The diner was opened by Peter and Helen Valliant, Gerri Valliant’s mom and dad. When it opened in 1968, it was initially called Valliant’s Dairy. Peter and Helen converted a small house into a restaurant and convenience store. Gerri helped out at the diner from a young age and eventually took over the family business in November of 1995. He then converted it to Valliant’s Diner with an expanded, American-fare menu and only opened for breakfast and lunch.
The menu hasn’t changed too much over the years, except for a few additions here and there. “At the request of our customers, we have taken former specials and added them permanently to our menu—such as our hot sausage and some of our omelets,” said both Valliants. Bacon, eggs and home fries (the classic diner breakfast) is by and far Valliant’s most popular dish. They also make homemade soup, which is freshly prepared by Gerri himself with recipes passed down from his dad, Peter. “Our popular hot turkey sandwich has a cult following, probably because it is the real thing, turkey straight off of the bone, and always has been since we first opened,” said the Valliants.
In addition to their loyal community, the Valliants believe that both the quality of their food and the feelings of nostalgia their diner provokes has kept them in business for almost 55 years.
“We have always cooked our food fresh to order. Customers can tell the difference between precooked and cooked-to-order, and it keeps them coming back to us. Customers get a great sense of nostalgia for a classic ‘diner’ when they walk through our doors— from the decor, to the handwritten order slips, to the booths and more,” they said.
Many of these restaurants are still standing today thanks to the family’s commitment to both their restaurant and their community. The Franklin Inn is no different.
Susan and Henry Cibula bought the Franklin Inn from its previous owners in 1978. The restaurant mainly served typical, American bar food until 1982 when it made the transition to a full Mexican menu. They were only one of the few Mexican restaurants in Pittsburgh at the time. In 2000, John and Wendy Cibula, Susan and Henry’s son and daughter-in-law, bought the restaurant. John had been working there alongside his mom for a few years before this. “Sue had been spending much less time at the restaurant, and John was already managing it, so it made sense for us to buy it,” said Wendy Cibula. “Sue never stepped on our toes or criticized any of the changes or decisions we made. She was always super supportive of all the things we did.” Sue and Henry Cibula both sadly passed away last year, but their legacy continues on.
The entire restaurant looks completely different than when it was originally purchased by the Cibulas in 1978. “As soon as we purchased the restaurant, we hired a designer and remodeled it. John said not one thing is the same except for the floor plan. None of of the furniture, not even the roof. However, we did keep many of the art pieces that Sue and Henry lovingly selected on their various travels through the Southwest and Mexico,” said Cibula.
The current menu is a combination of both old and new items. A few beloved items that haven’t changed are: the black bean dip (possibly one of Sue’s oldest recipes), the Frisco enchiladas and the Colorado green-chile chicken enchiladas. There are many other dishes that are similar to ones that Sue created, but the Franklin Inn has made changes and tweaks over the years to evolve with customer tastes, said Cibula. The Franklin Inn’s menu is always evolving with seasonal menu and drink specials as well. According to Cibula, sometimes a weekly special is so popular that it earns a spot on the regular menu. Two examples of this are the beef birria tacos and the chipotle mushroom enchiladas. They have a talented kitchen staff that comes from diverse backgrounds, which helps shape the menu. In recent years, they’ve even added more plant-based dishes for their vegetarian and vegan customers.
Cibula believes the relationships they’ve built with customers and vendors, the commitment to high quality ingredients and the growth of the Franklin Park community, are the keys to their success.
“One thing I do know for sure is that we continue to carry forward Henry and Sue’s commitment to quality ingredients, a warm hospitable atmosphere and the attitude that those who come through our doors are friends and family,” said Cibula.