Lorenz Café co-owners and sisters Monica Nickles and Marie Patchen fell into business ownership two years ago and haven’t looked back. These two Elliott business owners have had plenty of Lucy and Ethel-like adventures over the past 24+ months. Monica sat down with us to share the story of how their ownership of the café came about.
Sisters Monica and Marie celebrating their second anniversary of the Lorenz Café.
PITTSBURGH BEAUTIFUL: Can you describe your journey to opening the Lorenz Café?
MONICA NICKLES: I used to work in a field for people with special needs and then I had some personal issues come up. A newborn nephew of mine ended up being placed with me and I stayed home to take care of my family and him for awhile. Things weren’t working out financially for that situation, so I looked for a part-time job and ended up at Lorenz tending bar and cooking. The previous owner was looking to sell and he started working on me saying I should try and get the place. I told him I didn’t have a lot of money and my credit wasn’t great. I ended up pursuing a business loan along with my sister who was living in Arizona at the time, co-owning a small-town restaurant there. That restaurant wasn’t performing well enough to support her and her co-owner so I said, “hey let’s do this together.” It was six months of hard work but Marie moved back from Arizona to help me run the place and we celebrated two years in business June 26th.
PB: Did you always want to be a business owner growing up?
MN: I didn’t consider myself college material right out of high school. I wasn’t interested even though I was in the gifted program. My older sister Marie (who’s running the business now with me) was quite the overachiever. We grew up in a small town in Erie County and I always heard “wow you’re Marie’s sister, you’ll do great things.” Me being the rebellious person I am, I said I’ll show them. I’ve since gone back to college and got an associate’s degree in psychology.
PB: Can you tell us more about the Lorenz Café? How did it get its name?
MN: It was already named Lorenz Café for several years when the owner passed away and willed it to the person we bought the business from. A lot of people call it the Lorenz for short. After briefly considering Overlook Saloon, we decided to keep the name as we wanted to retain existing customers.
PB: What’s your most popular menu item?
MN: There’s a story that goes along with this question. When we were working for the previous owner, an inspector came in and told us things weren’t up to code in the kitchen. We had to close the kitchen down and had very little food for awhile. After we took it over we had to jump through quite a bit of hoops to get everything back up to code, including replacing the ventilation system in the kitchen. In the meantime, we expanded our counter-top menu and now have a fully functioning kitchen. We serve mainly comfort food and bar type food. People enjoy our home-cooked meals surprisingly well despite our bar atmosphere. I make all of our soups and chili from scratch. The item we hope really puts us on the map is our fish sandwich. We just started making it this past Lent from a recipe Marie used in her Arizona restaurant.
PB: What’s the craziest day you’ve had at work?
MN: Last Ash Wednesday Marie and I decided to fire up our big fryer that came with the building for our fish sandwiches. We started getting orders around 11 a.m. and we uncovered the fryer and discovered the previous owner had never cleaned it out. We had to deal with over two years of uncleaned fryer. We ended up having to boil the fryer out since Marie remembered how to do it from her old restaurant. We put cleanser and water in the fryer but we ended up using too much and it started to boil over. There was over six inches of foam coming out of the deep fryer all over the place! We thought quickly and cleaned up the mess. We put oil in the fryer and went to go dry the fish and realized we forgot to shut the empty valve at the bottom. There was oil everywhere! One of us fell down, I can’t remember who but I want to say Marie. We were like Lucy and Ethel in the kitchen that day!
PB: What inspires you to continue being a business owner day to day?
MN: I feel like we’re doing this for our family’s future, that’s my inspiration. I need to be successful for my children, who will more than likely be working here someday. I enjoy taking care of people. A lot of our customers don’t have people at home to talk to, so we’re like their family. They come to us.
PB:What is the most popular time for the Lorenz Café? We saw you have a lot of great Steeler Sunday-related deals.
MN: We’re working on building up a crowd for that. The previous owner (not the one we bought the place off of) who had passed away always had a holiday spread and Steeler game spread. We recently brought it back and we’re working on building a crowd. As far as the most popular time, happy hour and after work. We get a lot of retired folks coming in and everybody knows everyone. It’s a diverse neighborhood and many grew up together. We have a nice time with lots of good music.
PB: What’s the best advice you’d give to a young Pittsburgher eager to open their own business?
MN: Do tons and tons of research. I didn’t set out to do this and if someone falls into similar circumstances, do a lot of research and talk to other businesses. Think hard about it and the time commitment involved. I worked a full-time job with benefits for less hours and better pay than this. It takes a lot of determination and heart to get into a business like this.
PB:What do you think makes Pittsburgh so beautiful?
MN: One thing about it is its small-town atmosphere. I was raised as a country girl and when I first came down here I was homesick. I got to know people within the city and wasn’t homesick anymore. On that note, we overlook the city skyline just down the hill from the West End Overlook. I think it’s the best view in Pittsburgh out there. Before my family moved out west, I used to go home to visit them and one day when I was heading back home the Pittsburgh skyline popped up coming out of the parkway. It was the first day I realized Pittsburgh was truly home now.
Lorenz Cafe is located at 718 Lorenz Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15220, 412-921-5959