The Friendship Circle, the local non-profit that fosters social relationships between teen volunteers and children and young adults with special needs, has purchased the building currently housing Gullifty’s restaurant at 1922 Murray Ave.
The sale of the Gullifty’s building, a Squirrel Hill landmark for 31 years, is scheduled to close on Friday, Aug. 30. The building sold for about $800,000, according to Rabbi Mordy Rudolph, executive director of The Friendship Circle.
The Friendship Circle launched in Pittsburgh in 2006 and has been growing exponentially each year since. It now boasts more than 200 teen volunteers and about 125 special needs friends.
The group has been renting space at 5872 Northumberland St. since 2008, and it has been holding its popular Sunday Circle events at the Winchester Thurston School in Shadyside.
“Our numbers were growing so quickly, we couldn’t accommodate the needs of the community,” said Danny Rosen, board chair of the organization.
Events such as the cooking club had become so heavily attended they were
losing “the intimacy of what had made the events so special,” Rosen said.
The Friendship Circle had been looking for a permanent home for the past couple of years, according to Rosen. The Gullifty’s building met all its essential criteria, including a Squirrel Hill location, and a space where participants could be dropped off and picked up safely.
“The building is within walking distance of [several of] the high schools we draw from,” said Rosen, and the space behind it provides a safe area for drop off and pick up under staff supervision.
The Gullifty’s building, which housed a theater prior to the restaurant’s opening, contains about 6,500 square feet, Rudolph said. It will require significant renovations prior to occupancy, he noted, although “its bones are good.”
The building is large enough to provide ample room for programming, according to Rosen.
“In our own space, we can have more frequent, small events,” he said. “We can have events every night. This will allow us to grow and to have the events we want to have.”
While the building will most likely be gutted, “this will give us a footprint in Squirrel Hill,” Rosen added. “This gives us a home.”
No architect has been hired and no blueprints have been drawn, but The Friendship Circle intends to make the building ADA compliant, Rosen said.
The organization will soon launch a capital campaign to raise the funds necessary for renovations.
“This is a big step for us,” Rosen said. “We’re a young organization, and we had to ask ourselves, ‘where do we want to be in 10 years, and what do we have to do to get there?”
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When Gullifty’s serves its last meals on Thursday, Aug. 29, it will be a bittersweet moment for Mark Hasties, whose has owned the eatery since 1989 and, prior to that, was its operating manager.
The restaurateur, and his brother Matt, who co-owns Gullifty’s, were not looking for buyers, but they began to consider the possibility when real estate broker Sandy Pollock, approached them with some interested parties, including The Friendship Circle.
In addition to operating Gullifty’s, Hasties also provides food service to four locations on the Carnegie Mellon University Campus.
“It gets to be a lot,” Hasties said. Running a food service in so many locations, combined with “an economic climate that affects business,” contributed to his ultimate decision to sell Gullifty’s.
Still, he has mixed emotions about the closing.
“How many people do you know who you’ve had relationships with for 31 years?” he asked.
Some of his staff has been with the restaurant all those years, and it was not easy to tell them that Gullifty’s would be closing, he said.
“It was a tearful announcement,” he said.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)