From biscuits to social media: This restaurant brings East Liberty to the future



After a long day of computing vector numbers at TechShop Pittsburgh or working in the Google offices, there’s nothing better than grabbing a drink at Social in Bakery Square. Wedged in a corner between a coffee shop and Google, the restaurant embodies everything the millennial generation stands for.

Collages of posters plaster the entrance, inviting customers to the next concert or to take their first Lyft ride for free. The rectangular bar inside takes center stage with four television screens – all displaying different channels, all showcasing sports. Taylor Swift blares through the speakers overhead, sure to be followed by another upbeat pop ballad. USB plugs line the underside of the bar’s rusted-red granite counter, and the tops of the menus are lined with “Conversation Starters,” many of which revolve around social media.

Gregg Caliguiri, one of the partners who own the restaurant, says the social media theme was partially influenced by the Google offices.

SocialRestaurant2-Nath“Being 45, I don’t totally understand it to be totally honest – I don’t really get that involved with it … I hate to love it to a certain point,” Caliguiri admits. “But we knew that would be such a great name to take advantage of – there’s a double entendre there – it definitely speaks to social media.”

Because of this, it’s reasonable to assume that the restaurant aims to attract the generation obsessed with “selfies” and Instagramming their food before eating it. But as the dinner rush pours in, it’s clear that the significance of the name “Social” also lies in the gathering of people of all ages. A family with a little boy no older than five fills a booth near the entrance, and seated in front of the Ping-Pong table outside, a group of co-workers chitchat over drinks. They work at Management Science Associates just down Penn Avenue.

“This is where we go pretty much when there is any work events – anytime there is a happy hour,” Katrina Van Meer says, a bourbon in hand.

“Someone got promoted, someone’s leaving, someone started,” Michelle Schivins adds with her drink of choice, a Miller Lite, sitting in front of her. “Because we all work down there, it’s convenient for everybody.”

Today they are celebrating Van Meer’s promotion, but Schivins says other days she is lured to Social by the food.

“The pizzas are really good, they have different gourmet pizzas, kind of off the wall but they’re really good,” she says.

Dishes such as “pierogi pizza” and “mushroom bianca pizza” fill up the restaurant’s menu, not leaving much space for the typical “pepperoni” or “extra cheese” pies.

“We put a lot of care into the dough, sitting for three days, it allows the gluten to relax, so it stretches very nice, and it has a very nice chew to it,” executive chef Jared Lordon says.

Lordon works behind the scenes in the kitchen, a place he says is hot and loud.

“You hear all the dishes clattering, meat sizzling, mushrooms are sautéing,” he says. “So there’s a lot of noise, and there’s a lot of confusion.”

Lordon’s job requires him to organize that confusion. He says it entails meticulous tasks such as making sure the peppers are always chopped exactly the same for each dish as well as making sure the workers don’t get too heated.

“The kitchen is one of the few places I think where you have male, female, black, white, brown, yellow, everything, gay, straight,” Lordon says. “Everybody is sort of just thrown in there, and it is very interesting and difficult sometimes to get everybody to work together.”

It appears as if the servers outside the kitchen’s black swinging doors have mastered this. Wearing grey or black shirts declaring them “Social Workers” and “Social Drinkers,” they buzz around the restaurant, filling each customer’s empty glass or carrying out the dishes.

Caliguiri says that’s exactly what he wants for his customers.

“I want them to get really great, attentive service, but not from an assuming or snobby attitude, but someone who’s comfortable and makes them at ease, too,” he says. “And yet at the same time, the level of service is far and away exceeding their expectations.”

He says that goes for the food, too, which he admits can be deceiving.

“You walk into an atmosphere like this, and you immediately think bar food, but once you see the type of plate we’re using and silverware we’re using, and even the look of the restaurant in terms of its atmosphere, you think ‘oh it’s not just bar food’ and you get to taste things and you think ‘definitely not.’”

Social opened in July 2013, but it’s far from Caliguiri’s first venture into the restaurant business. The Pittsburgh native opened his first restaurant, the Pittsburgh Deli Company, in Shadyside in 1993. He and his business partners have since then opened Walnut Grill, Walnut Grove and Shady Grove.

Though his hair and beard are flecked with white and dark grey, his striped Puma hoodie, faded blue jeans and tinted glasses give him the appearance of someone just starting in the restaurant business instead of already being in it for more than 20 years.

“He’s a very unique individual to work for … he’s exciting to work with,” Lordon says. “We sort of feed off of each other.”

Lordon says Caliguiri’s energy is one of his favorite parts about working at Social. As for his other favorite part?

“At the end of the day I know that what we’re doing is right so to say,” he says. “The way we’re doing it and how we’re doing it and what we’re doing I think is very right, and it feels right to me.”