For a guy who grew up and still lives in the North Hills, Kirk Vogel maintains a strong connection with his counterparts to the south.
His mom originally was from Castle Shannon and his dad, Brookline. And they imparted plenty of South Hills-type information to their son.
“I was one of those weird kids,” he joked, “who actually knew what 51 and 88 were, living in the North Hills.”
Both state routes are fairly close to where he and his business partners are opening the latest Walnut Grill American Eatery & Bar, off Baptist Road in Bethel Park near the Cool Springs sports complex.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding restaurants caused by COVID-19, plans call for the opening to take place in July.
“We were still wrapping up negotiations right around the time everything got shut down, which was in mid-March,” Vogel, president of Walnut Grill Holdings, said. “After considering the location and considering all the information we had loaded before COVID took place, we still liked the deal. We like the community. We like the surrounding neighborhoods.”
The Bethel Park site, in fact, is just around the corner from his mother’s hometown, and the Whitehall and Baldwin boroughs’ municipal lines aren’t far away, either.
“We didn’t want to stop what we believe is important for the growth of our company,” Vogel said, “and it allows us to bring on not only our team members who have been laid off more quickly, it also allows us to hire another probably 30 or 40 people for this location.”
The opening will mark a return to the South Hills for Walnut Grill, which once had a restaurant on Washington Road in the heart of Mt. Lebanon’s Uptown business district. That closed after locations opened in Collier and Robinson townships, but Vogel kept the local area in mind.
“I get a lot of good feedback, a lot of good insight to the market, what could be successful here,” he said, and word has been that would-be patrons always are on the lookout for a bit more variety near home.
Founded in 1999, Walnut Grill has eight locations in operation, four in the Pittsburgh area and four in the vicinity of St. Louis. One of those, in suburban Chesterfield, Mo., opened as scheduled this spring.
“We were well under construction when COVID happened, so that was an all-or-nothing proposition at that point in time,” Vogel said.
As for Bethel Park, it turned out to be a case of all systems go, as well.
“It just made sense,” Vogel said. “We figure, restaurants aren’t going anywhere. They may be slowed down for a little bit, and they may be limited once we open up for a period of time. But things are going to change, for sure.”