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Female Restaurant Owners Persevere

Farmer x Baker
Farmer x Baker

As a strong breeze sweeps the Aspinwall riverfront, a timer dings: the next batch of bagels are up. It’s Sunday morning, and Owner Jen Urich has been here daily since Thursday to oversee baking, preparation, sales and of course, to greet each customer from their line outside a refurbished shipping container. It’s an unlikely sight: the logo “Farmer x Baker” hangs from the first commercial shipping container restaurant in Pittsburgh, yet the produce that Urich and her team pile on top of bagels and pair with goat cheese in sandwiches is 100% homegrown.

“The health department had to write code for me to build the restaurant,” Urich said.

Urich had the vision to create a shipping container restaurant when she was working as a farmer and realized that her produce, and that of other local farmers, was becoming more “garnish” and less “entree.” Paired with the high volume of bagels that she sold out of a tent on the Aspinwall Riverfront, Urich realized she had potential on her hands—and didn’t take no for an answer. She served as lead designer and architect for the fully-functioning commercial kitchen, which was ultimately built in just six weeks.

“We haven’t really looked back since,” said Urich. “It’s important for there to be more accessible eateries and places for people to hang out in Pittsburgh on the water now that the industry is gone.” And with deep ties to seasonal produce at the heart of Farmer x Baker’s mission, the dripping rhubarb jam on a fried egg couldn’t taste better than while watching boats pass lazily below you, or sunbathing on the banks of the Aspinwall Riverfront Park. “How beautiful is that?” Urich asked.

“The whole concept and intention of Farmer x Baker is to connect our guests to nature through food.” True to its word, Farmer x Baker works exclusively with local farmers and vendors to ensure their guests are receiving the best of western Pennsylvania’s seasonal bounty.

But it’s certainly not all sunshine and roses for a business grown from the ground up, especially a female-owned business. The tribulations of the pandemic are a testament to that. Reduced capacity, staff, and business meant that Urich had to get creative to stay afloat, but with the help of a small, committed team, she emerged from the pandemic stronger than before.

With newly-offered catering services and wholesale, Urich expanded her work to a larger production facility in Sharpsburg and laid the plans for a new brick and mortar restaurant slated to open early fall 2023. The restaurant will be called the Pickled Goat and the mission to connect guests to nature through produce will remain the same—but now with more offerings, alcoholic drinks on the menu, and a new name to match. But perhaps most impressive of all is Urich’s unwavering commitment to what she believes, through thick and thin.

“It doesn’t matter what everybody else is doing. I don’t care about competition with other places. It’s all about let’s make connections and let’s cultivate great relationships and let’s do great work.”

Meanwhile, some 30 miles away, in what was once the third Mellon Bank building ever built, another timer dings. This time, a margherita pizza emerges from a woodfire oven—complete with a homemade sourdough crust, fresh mozzarella and locally-grown tomatoes. Della Terra—meaning “from the earth”—has been nourishing Zelienopole for the past decade under the ownership of the Moletz’s. Inspired by his Italian upbringing and love of cooking, Fiore dreamed of opening an Italian restaurant since he was a child learning under his grandmother.

After starting a fresh pasta program, narrowly avoiding getting fired by his future business partner and wife, that dream took a step toward reality when Michelle and Fiore were handed the opportunity to develop a historic, former Mellon Bank into an Italian restaurant. The pair squared off the work between running

and their other establishment, Burgh’ers, amassed a dutiful and talented team of staff, and launched into business with Michelle in the managing ownership position of Della Terra.

Over the past decade, the mission to provide dishes of local produce inspired by family recipes and Italian heritage has remained strong as ever, especially with thanks to the fantastic crew behind it. Moletz described head chef Richard “Richie” Burns as the maestro of the kitchen, and has been since day 1—even going so far as to return to the restaurant every single day during the pandemic to feed and keep the sourdough starter alive.

“In the staff it shines through,” Moletz said. “Even at the back of the house—when they put that food out and somebody is eating it, even if it’s just something as simple as marinara with a pasta, they say, ‘this is the best I’ve ever had.’ Any time somebody eats meatballs in our restaurant? Oh, my goodness. That was my husband’s grandmother’s recipe. You can’t not love it.”

Della Terra continues to come from the earth and soar upward, as Moletz mentions their plans for a new upper level bar and restaurant in the former Mellon Bank building. “As of right now, I have [the upper level] demolished down to their bare bones,” she described. “We’re going to be doing this slowly but surely, because I want it to be done properly.” The vision of large, open windows overlooking Main Street, a gorgeous view of the hills, a drink in hand and golden hour seems almost too good to be true—but rest assured Moletz is creating that reality.

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