Charleroi native Casey Clark saw a void in her hometown after opening Off the Wall Arts on McKean Avenue in 2013 – she didn’t have a place to go and get a cup of coffee, or a quick lunch that wasn’t greasy fast food. “As a coffee addict myself, we were lacking options here in town. There are a lot of people that come into this area to work every single day – and where are they going?” she asks. “Where are they stopping, what options do we have? So I was sitting next door working every single day and found myself having to leave Charleroi to go grab coffee or a quick sandwich, more light fare.”
And then the building next to Off the Wall Arts came up for sale. Clark was no stranger to purchasing and renovating old buildings to house myriad businesses (it’s what she did with the building that her art studio is in), so she, along with her husband, Eric, went for it.
“It took us a year to execute and remodel and get it open for business,” Clark says.
Perked Up Cafe opened in June, and the reception has been amazing. “We had such a warm welcoming from the community. We have an entire book full of thank you notes just for being here. A lot of great feedback, a lot of repeat customers, a lot of smiling faces. I’m humbled by all of the reception,” Clark says.
The coffee shop not only serves delicious coffee – Clark’s drink of choice is a caramel macchiato – but an assortment of breakfast pastries, quick lunch fare and sweet treats, with an emphasis on local.
The coffee is from La Prima Espresso of Pittsburgh’s Strip District and Scratch Living of Belle Vernon. Clark uses Emerald Valley Artisan Cheeses from Scenery Hill and Breadworks Bread from the North Side. On Thursdays, the creamsticks are from Mon Valley’s own Keystone Bakery, and the fresh-baked cinnamon rolls that show up on Fridays are from chef Christine Somales, owner of Sweet and Spicy Culinary in Charleroi.
In addition to breakfast pastries and an array of specialty coffee drinks – cafe au lait, cappuccino, white mocha, Chai latte – early visitors can fuel up on baked oatmeal topped with blueberries, strawberries, coconut or brown sugar; croissant sandwiches filled with bacon, egg and cheese; ham and Swiss cheese or egg and cheese; as well as candied bacon.
For lunch, there’s The Jenny, named after and inspired by Jennifer DiPietrantonio, who owns The Dance Loft upstairs in the adjacent building – shaved honey-smoked turkey breast topped with lettuce, Swiss cheese and assorted veggies, pressed and heated perfectly. Another grilled sandwich option is The Casey, named after, you guessed it, Clark herself. It’s a spicy Italian (credit Eric for naming this one!), with deli-sliced ham, salami, capocollo, provolone, banana pepper rings and garlic mayo. Guests can also nosh on grilled cheese, the Ultimate BLT, a chicken salad croissant, and a variety of salads and soups. For those not watching their carb intake, broccoli cheddar or the soup of the day can be served in a bread bowl.
Cathy Leavor, a retired postal worker from Belle Vernon, is a repeat customer. “I like the freshness of the coffee, the freshness of the sandwiches – everything is made to order,” she says. “The decor is great and the people are wonderful.”
Speaking of the decor, Clark’s artistic touches add a comforting vibe to the space. Large Scrabble letters spell out COFFEE, a honey pot that was thrown at Off the Wall Arts sits high atop a corner, crystals cascading out of it, and old magazines that Clark found while cleaning out her grandparents’ estate adorn the shelves. Eventually, they’ll be table decor – “The end result is going to be Mod Podge, quirky little articles from 1940 or earlier. How not to become shark food, because that’s totally relevant,” Clark says with a grin.
Earlier in September, Clark hosted Perked Up After Dark – an evening event with live music, BYOB, and candelabras adorning the tables. She teamed up with the Washington Winery next door, put seating outside (complete with heat lamps), so that people could migrate from one building to another. Look for the event to happen on a regular basis: “I want to do this at least once a month, and I’d like to do them on Thursdays, because Thursday is the new Friday,” she says.
So how does one handle running two businesses and raising two children (son Hayden, 12, and daughter Hailey, almost 10)? “Coffee! A lot of coffee!” Clark says. “And I have the best staff here. They keep me in check, tell me what we need, and they’re running the show, which is fantastic.”
And though the coffee shop officially opens at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday, Clark has a message for those who perhaps work at nearby Mon Valley Hospital, or anywhere else where the shift starts prior to 7: “If you drive past and you see the chandeliers on, please come in because we’re here.”
Indeed they are. And by the looks of things, they will be for a long time to come.
“It’s even better now that the whole thing has been brought to life ... now that the doors are open and people come in and say, ‘This is amazing’ – that’s what hits home and what gets your heart.”
Perked Up Cafe is located at 530 McKean Ave. in Charleroi. For more information, visit www.perkedupcafe.com.