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Restaurant to open after two years of renovations on historic building

November 18, 2018

James Bosco couldn’t believe his eyes in 2016 when he walked into a three-story brick building with boarded-up windows in downtown Greensburg.

The assistant professor of hospitality and tourism at Seton Hill University had dreamed for years of opening his own restaurant. He just knew this was it.

“The building had been abandoned for six years. There had been a fire, and water damage. I’d never been in a more damaged building that someone was actually trying to sell,” Bosco said inside what is now christened Major Stokes -- Westmoreland County’s first designated sustainable restaurant, located at 108 West Pittsburgh St.

Bosco, a member of the advisory board of Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurants, coveted the designation that identifies restaurants and cafeterias that have met a series of 100-plus standards, including reducing food waste and enhancing energy efficiency, as well as adopting socially responsible policies for employees.

His staff hustled about the small restaurant -- maximum capacity 88 -- preparing for the first official dinner on Wednesday. A group of nuns from Seton Hill who have been Bosco’s cheering squad throughout the two-year project were the honored guests.

“I just love them,” Bosco said. “My mom once told me every time you hug a nun, it adds a year to your life.”

The restaurant is named for Maj. William Stokes, an attorney and Union officer in the Civil War who lived in a mansion that later became part of Seton Hill’s campus.

Andrew Carnegie, who once visited Stokes in Greensburg, later said he was inspired by a quotation he saw while in the mansion. The restaurant staff wears T-shirts with that quote on the back: “He that cannot reason is a fool. He that will not reason is a bigot. He that dare not reason is a slave.”

Bosco said he reached outside common hospitality practices to come up with a distinctive business model. Plans call for all employees to be paid the same salary and 50 percent of all tips to go back to the community in the form of contributions to various local charities.

A rotating daily menu -- with nothing priced at more than $7 -- will include three carbohydrates, three soup and salad selections and three proteins. Likewise, there will be three beers, three wines and three liquors -- all served neat or on the rocks -- available daily.

The restaurant itself, like the business model, is unique.

Nearly everything in the small, artsy eatery has a story behind it.

There is the arched wooden front door from Construction Junction that rumor has it once graced a Pittsburgh speakeasy. The door knocker was made from a pitchfork found in a farmer’s field and railroad spikes.

The glass-topped tables in the main dining room were crafted from metal burn plates supplied by Bosco’s partners at Allegheny Paper Shredders, while church pews that provide seating came from the folks at Bigham Tavern in Pittsburgh. The beer trough in the back room, with spikes for patrons to hang their beer buckets, was fashioned from a fire escape. The colorful metal stools around the beer trough were old lab stools from Seton Hill that art students painted, each with its own story.

“It was almost all in the trash, going into the trash or being recycled,” Bosco said.

Bosco’s 100-year-old upright piano and a working free jukebox complete the sound system in the back room.

The enclosed patio out back -- where red brick industrial walls three stories high frame two sides -- completes the restaurant.

Rebecca Bykoski, program manager for Sustainable Pittsburgh Restaurants, was impressed with what she saw on a recent visit to Major Stokes.

“I love what he’s done. He’s done a lot of really great work with food and the materials he used in his remodeling and using local students to do the artwork. Sustainability is in front of everything he’s done,” Bykoski said.

Bosco said he went through a lot of blood, sweat, tears, plaster dust and a good portion of his 401k to bring his dream to life.

Architect Scott Maritzer, of Piper O’Brien Herr Architects, worked beside Bosco for 15 months as he struggled to bring the circa-1881 building that had been Greensburg’s first hospital up to current code standards.

Maritzer said they cleared their last hurdle a week and half ago when they drove to Harrisburg and got a variance on requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act that allowed Major Stokes to open for business. The restaurant needed approval to provide a mobile wheelchair ramp for patrons who need one because it wasn’t technically feasible to construct a permanent handicapped entrance without disrupting the sidewalk in front of the building.

Eventually, they hope to settle on a permanent solution that will meet government standards.

The restaurant will have its official opening on Tuesday. It will be open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.

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