Squirrel Hill neighbors say goodbye to crepe pancakes and smiley cookies
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Empty platesLocal eateries welcome new year with closed doors

Squirrel Hill neighbors say goodbye to crepe pancakes and smiley cookies

Pamela's Diner and Eat'n Park closures leave a hole in customer's diets.

Squirrel Hill mainstay, Pamela's Diner closed at the end of last year. Photo by Jim Busis.
Squirrel Hill mainstay, Pamela's Diner closed at the end of last year. Photo by Jim Busis.

Longtime Murray Avenue mainstays Eat’n Park and Pamela’s Diner will turn off their grills and hang up their aprons for good.

Late last month, Gail Klingensmith and Pam Cohen announced that they were closing Pamela Diner’s Squirrel Hill restaurant after 42 years. The pair blamed the pandemic and the loss of several employees to both death and retirement as reasons for their decision.

In the announcement, Pamela’s owners said they intended to close the restaurant by the end of 2021 and host a customer appreciation day on Jan. 8-9.

Several prospective customers waited in line outside Pamela’s on Friday morning, Dec. 31, but the restaurant didn’t open.
Still, those expecting a final plate of crepe pancakes at the establishment didn’t let the locked doors dampen their memories.

John Thompson said the restaurant was the reason he and his wife moved to Squirrel Hill seven years ago.

“Our daughter moved here 12 years ago,” he said. “We came to visit her and fell in love with Pittsburgh. We fell in love with Squirrel Hill. We fell in love with Pamela’s.”

While Thompson is sad to see the diner close, he said his spirits were buoyed knowing the chain’s other locations—in Oakland, Shadyside, the South Hills and the Strip District—would remain open.

The Pamela’s chain gained national attention in 2008 when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama visited the Strip District location. In 2009, Klingensmith and Cohen were invited to cook a Memorial Day breakfast for the Obama family and 80 veterans at the White House.

Edgewood resident Cindy Leone had frequented the diner since it opened in its original location on Forbes Avenue in 1980 before it moved to Murray Avenue.

“I’m very surprised,” she said. “I’ve been to the one in Oakland and I’ve been to the one in the Strip, but this is my favorite.”

On the other side of the street, Eat’n Park announced it would close its popular Squirrel Hill location on Jan. 24.

Eat’n Park has announced plans to close its Squirrel Hill location. Photo by Jim Busis.

While no official reason was given, spokesperson Courtney Caprara expressed gratitude to Eat’n Park’s customers in a statement to the Chronicle.

“Whether you started your day with us, ended your evening with us or visited anytime in between, we are grateful you chose Eat’n Park,” she wrote.

All employees will be offered continuous employment within the Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, she added.

For Haliel Selig, Eat’n Park’s Murray Avenue location is tied to memories of a youth spent traveling from Ligonier to Squirrel Hill for BBYO meetings.

“For me, it’s like a piece of history,” Selig said. “Growing up, I lived in Ligonier and was part of BBYO, who had an office right across the street from Eat’n Park. We would go to board meetings and then afterward we would head over to the restaurant. You know, all these high school kids that were on the BBYO board. It’s very nostalgic.”

Selig said the eatery was like a second home to her, recalling studying for a psychology exam there at 3 a.m. after she and her family had moved from an eastern suburb to Squirrel Hill.

Her children, she said, don’t have the same sense of nostalgia for the restaurant but enjoy the smiley face cookies.

Families will now have to travel outside of the neighborhood for Smiley Cookies and other sweet treats from Eat’n Park. Photo by Jim Busis.

Yafa Negrete also said the restaurant held a special place in the memories of her family.

“When we moved to Pittsburgh from Mexico in 2016, we were looking for a place that wouldn’t be too expensive. The place we found was Eat’n Park,” she said. “It was quiet and people were friendly to our kids.”

Negrete said that in addition to being a place where her kids could be kids, sometimes running up and down the restaurant’s aisles, it offered healthy food like soups and a salad bar.

The restaurant’s closing has left Negrete and her husband Eduardo searching for another restaurant to frequent. The pair said they are considering the chain’s Homestead location but that it was much busier.

While many are sad to see the two locations close, some look forward to what’s to come.

Dana Platt Blitstein hopes Murray Avenue will next attract an upscale brunch/dinner spot. She’d like to see acai bowls, avocado toasts and salads, coffee houses with amazing décor and good pastries.

“Interesting, elevated food, destination spots,” she said.

While she hopes her neighborhood attracts more trendy restaurants that bring in the foodies, she can’t escape the same wish held by many Jews throughout Squirrel Hill — the elusive Jewish deli, or as Blitstein calls it, “Pastrami dreams and corned beef nights.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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