The end of the year also became the end of an era as two beloved Oakmont restaurants were sold.
Hoffstot’s Cafe Monaco and The Chelsea Grille, both located along Allegheny Avenue, were purchased by Oakmont resident and entrepreneur John Keefe.
Keefe has three other restaurants in Oakmont – The Lot at Edgewater, Pub at 333 and Carnivores.
He pledges to keep the same Hoffstot, while The Chelsea Grille will be transformed into a Mexican restaurant.
Chelsea’s last day was Friday. The renovations are due to start on Monday.
Both were founded by the late Danny Monaco, a legendary entrepreneur. Monaco and his brother Tom started the business in 1971, taking over Oakmont Hoffstot’s restaurant and showcasing their grandmother’s Italian recipes.
They then opened Café Monaco, a smaller restaurant with a different menu, right next door. In 1990, the brothers renovated the spaces, creating Hoffstot’s Cafe Monaco, which continues to offer Italian specialties, as well as a bar and catering menu.
Danny Monaco bought what would become The Cheslea Grille in 1992 from John & Lillian Vescio. The building, a short walk from Hoffstot’s, had been a hotel-restaurant with several owners for many years.
Monaco died of complications from covid on January 17. He was 75 years old.
“Change was inevitable after Dan Monaco passed away,” said Jennie Wilson, floor manager for Hoffstot, former bartender and Chelsea manager. “I think it’s sad. The restaurant had been there for 29-30 years, and a lot of people loved it. Many employees had worked there for many years.
“It’s a traditional Monegasque family restaurant.”
That meant meticulous attention to detail and customer service, according to the new owner.
No one from the Monegasque family could be located on Friday afternoon.
New owner praises tradition
Keefe said he had the utmost respect for the Monegasque family and that both restaurants were functioning well even during the pandemic.
Their acquisition began months ago with sales closing on December 27 and 28.
“These are two great places with a great tradition,” Keefe said. “Hoffstot will stay Hoffstot. … I was very lucky to have so many professional employees. These people have been here for years. They really know how to handle it and they’re good at it, especially (Hoffstot Executive Chef) Brian Leri.
“These places have been strong. Oakmont is a big city. These places stay busy all the time.
“The biggest problem is finding enough employees.”
Most Chelsea Grille staff will go to Hoffstot as its opening hours will increase from Sunday.
Employees also have opportunities at Keefe’s other restaurants during the renovation.
It is not known when the new restaurant will open or what it will be called.
“It’s taking so long to get things in now because of covid,” Keefe said. “The items we order, (like) flooring, chairs, tables, refrigeration, kitchen equipment, take longer to get in. They are going to be considerably renovated.
“We want to give them another food option that is really not in this city, which will be the Mexican route. We can’t wait to build it. I look forward to the challenge of building this new place and carrying on the Hoffstot tradition.
More employee perspective
Wilson’s husband Donnie served as a sous chef at the Chelsea Grille for about 23 years. One of the iconic dishes was Chicken Chelsea – a chicken breast dipped in batter, sautéed and topped with crabmeat and jumbo shrimp.
Chelsea was led by Chief Executive John Fraser from opening day until several months ago, when he left to continue other work; Max Maloney of Penn Hills has taken over the reins.
Maloney worked at Hoffstot for just over two years before moving to Chelsea and studying with Fraser.
“If you had a question, he had an answer,” Maloney said. “So knowledgeable. He had his own style of food and was not afraid to take charge. I am happy with the time I have spent here and with all that I have learned. I feel like I’ve only been here for a short time, a nod to Chelsea Grille existence. I am just honored.
“I learned with Danny (Monaco). I learned with the chefs here, the culinary team. The dynamism they show is incredible. The team that I have around me today, the very last day and everything, helps me take the load off. Together we’ve created something special, even for a quick glimpse of what it might be, and here’s to get going.
Maloney was assisted on Friday night by chef Reynold Fernandes, who worked at Chelsea for more than three years.
“I made some great friends,” Fernandes said. “The people I’ve learned from, everyone has a different experience. I learn from it. A little sad for the restaurant, but something new is coming up so I’m happy with it.
Fernandes said he would be involved with the new restaurant “here and there” while working at his own catering business in Arnold.
Patrons’ point of view
Oakmont resident Bill Keller lives about a block from Chelsea Grille. He has been coming to eat and drink for years and was one of the first Friday night customers.
“I hope we don’t lose some of the privacy of the place,” Keller said. “It’s a comfortable place. It seems that everyone who comes here is very comfortable. Obviously, the bartenders are one of the main reasons we come.
Angela and Mike Gallagher from Pittsburgh’s Morningside neighborhood have been celebrating New Years Eve in Chelsea for at least 18 years. It has become a tradition for them and their son, Mikey. The family also had confirmations and other celebrations at the restaurant.
“We come here to support Danny and his family,” said Angela Gallaher. “It’s sad to see that this is going away.”
Mike Gallagher said they always had great food and great service at The Grille.
They were served on her last night by Shannon Scott of Penn Hills. She is the longest-serving active waitress in the place with over 11 years of customer support.
“It was an adventure,” Scott said. “Chelsea and Hoffstot’s are like one big family. It’s the first job I have ever loved and it’s a great place to work.
Scott said Monaco’s passing was a huge loss for everyone, and she is grateful to continue working with her friends into the New Year.
“It’s not the same as it was before covid,” she said. “It’s the end of an era, but we can’t wait and have a new owner. A great guy who has been honest with us and I think he will make a difference, looking forward to a new chapter.