Monday, February 7, 2011

One-on-One with the Owners of Pamela's P&G Diner and Winners of 'Best Chain on Main'

Gail Klingensmith and Pam Cohen tell me why investing in commercial revitalization is good for business, and what to do if you are interested in bringing a Pamela’s P&G Diner to your community.

For more on the winners, click here. For the on-line gallery hosted by the industry trade magazine Retail Traffic, click here.

How would you describe your dining concept?

Gail: We specialize in full-service breakfast and lunch 7 days a week. Everything is made to order. It’s not fine dining but it’s fast and furious.

Why is contributing to community revitalization important to you?

Gail: One of the reasons is that both Pam and I both grew up near thriving commercial districts. Pam grew up in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh where we have our first restaurant. We always loved the concept of walking to shops, the ability to get up and get out and walk for your coffee, walk for your breakfast and it used to be walk to the bookstore. We both love living in the city. Investing in these neighborhoods is the only way to keep them alive.

Pam: We like to deal with neighborhoods and we like to become involved with the community. This is not a get rich quick scheme. It’s good for everyone.

How do your efforts help improve the district?

Pam: Now that we have been around we have become an institution and a destination in the neighborhoods where we are located. We bring a substantial amount of people into the neighborhood. If Other independents benefit from our customers shopping before or after they eat.
Gail: In the beginning, when we first had one store, we were the one's who benefited from being near a destination store. In the very beginning, our Squirrel Hill location was near Little’s Shoe Store. People would drive from everywhere in the area to go to Little's. Once at Little’s they would come to us. Now we play that role for other independents.

Pam: In the Strip District, when we first went down there, it was primarily a 6 day a week business district. Nothing was happening on Sunday. Very few locations were open. At first we had the entire area to ourselves. But eventually there was enough foot traffic to our store on Sunday that gradually other businesses in the area started opening up and now there are places where diners can shop on Sundays as well.

What can other businesses learned from your success?

Gail: Take a chance.

Pam: Investing in a neighborhood helps build loyal customers.

In your Strip District location, are there additional improvements you’d like to see?

Pam: Frankly, Neighbors in the Strip has been making a lot of those improvements already. They are trying to bring in a new market and they recently attracted a grocery store. They are also starting to bring back people to live in the area. That success speaks to the impact that Neighbors in the Strip has had on the community.

Gail: Neighbors in the Strip is by far the most supportive community group we have come across. Maybe that’s what’s important to revitalization - having a group like Neighbors in the Strip to welcome new businesses and supports new businesses. They welcomed us. We didn’t know anyone. This group supported us the whole way through.

Pam: It’s been exciting to see the improvements happen, in particular in the Strip District.

Gail: One of the things that would be beneficial for all of us is more parking, although it’s a double edged sword.

Are you interested in expanding and opening up new locations?

Pam: We are always interested in growing.

What do you look for in a neighborhood?

Pam: Usually we find a neighborhood we like and start to research it first before we decide to open a new location. We look for sidewalks and people walking around. We pretty much cut across all demographics and income in terms of where we locate. We are in some of the higher end neighborhoods and also in blue collar neighborhoods that are trying to revitalize.

Gail: The building and neighborhood have to speak to us. Our most recent location is in an old car dealership with an old marble floor. We did a full rehab at that location. Pam is an artist and she sees things that I don’t.

Pam: We have stores that range from 800 sf to 4,000 sf. I think what works best is about 2,500 – 3,500 sf.

Where would you consider expansion?

Gail: We have two young women we are mentoring that are interested in growth and so we are open to more than just the Pittsburgh region. We have thought about D.C. around and are open to other cities through the region.

Pam: We are always open to hearing from communities in and out of Pittsburgh. We are looking for neighborhoods, not shopping centers.

If someone thought their neighborhood was a good fit for Pamela’s P&G Diner, what should they do?

Gail: If someone wants a P&G diner, they can email us personally.

Leasing Information:
Contact Gail or Pam via email: or

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