The day I visited Pineapple Eddie Southern Bistro, the weather in Erie felt far from Southern.
But inside, the warmth of the restaurant made it easy to forget the snowstorm brewing outside.
The welcoming space and friendly staff are as important to the restaurant’s success as its delectable menu – and maintaining that warm atmosphere is a priority for everyone on staff, from the owners on down, says Karen Thomas.
Karen co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Matt (an Erie radiologist), and her sister and brother-in-law, Adrienne and Jean Paul. Karen and Adrienne have hospitality backgrounds, and Jean is a chef.
The sisters named the restaurant after their father, whose nickname was Eddie and who ran a catering company in Brooklyn. The women had always wanted to have their own business, and the death of their father in 2008 was the catalyst to them acting on that dream, Karen says.
That dream came to fruition with Pineapple Eddie, which opened in spring 2012.
By that time, both women, who were raised in New York City, had made their homes in Erie – Karen and her husband were here first, and then Karen persuaded her sister’s family to move to the city. They had been active in the Erie community and gained a sense for what would work here and what wouldn’t, and that knowledge informed their strategy for their restaurant.
Today, Pineapple Eddie is a thriving spot for lunch and dinner, known for its flavorful fusion of Haitian and Southern cuisines – a tribute to Jean’s Haitian heritage and the Southern roots of the sisters’ parents.
It’s a winning combination that complements the cozy atmosphere – much like Southern culture itself, Karen says.
“That combination of the hospitality and the food, that’s what has been drawing people in here,” Karen says.
About Pineapple Eddie Southern Bistro: Pineapple Eddie, which has 12 to 15 employees, is truly a family business – Adrienne and Karen greet guests out front, and Jean is the creative force in the kitchen. Karen also creates the array of heavenly desserts at the restaurant, though she is training her nephew to take over those responsibilities. The restaurant’s location on West 10th Street means it is not part of the downtown footprint that is getting attention for revitalization plans – but, as Karen points out, the restaurant is close enough to still be a draw. In fact, she says, the restaurant always knows what events are happening by the weekend crowd. For example, they see a surge in customers who are attending a show at the Erie Playhouse. The restaurant also sees customers from other cities, like Pittsburgh or Cleveland, who have heard about the restaurant. “I try to make it my business to walk the dining room, and I find out who’s here and what brought them in,” Karen says.
Why Erie County: To the restaurant’s owners, Erie County is just the right size. It has a small-town feel but still offers amenities like the arts, shopping and convenience. Karen says that she her husband, a Pittsburgh native, are both from larger cities, and they didn’t want to live in one. That small-city feel of Erie also has proved helpful in launching Pineapple Eddie, Karen says. “The wonderful thing about Erie is the power of word of mouth,” she says. “No matter what, if something is good or bad, people are going to talk about it.”
Challenges of Erie County: Some of the challenges that Pineapple Eddie faces come down to one thing – balance. Much like the menu offers a thoughtful balance of Haitian and Southern cuisines, the restaurant overall has had to find a balance in its identity. For instance, Karen says, the restaurant has had to find middle ground in providing an interesting and attractive dining experience for higher-income customers while also remaining affordable enough for those for who only dine out occasionally. A similar challenge comes in terms of the restaurant’s theme – which is unique without being unapproachable. “We can’t go too far off the map,” Karen says. “This is different but still relatable.”
Fun fact: The pineapple is the international symbol of hospitality.