Paula McWilliams of the Nonprofit Heritage Community Initiatives, and Ken Zeff, owner of the Crazy Mocha chain, stands in the old CUDA Building in Braddock. (Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette)
By Joyce Gannon / Pittsburgh Post Gazette
The blighted town of Braddock is poised for a jolt of caffeine from a brand-name coffeehouse that could open this fall if financing comes through.
Crazy Mocha plans to develop a cafe and other food operations in the long-vacant Cuda Building along the borough’s main drag, Braddock Avenue.
The Friendship-based chain of 32 stores is partnering on the project with Heritage Community Initiatives, a nonprofit that owns the building and that provides transportation and other services to low-income residents of Braddock and surrounding areas.
Besides a storefront cafe serving coffee, espresso, tea and light food, Crazy Mocha wants to use part of the first floor to set up an expanded kitchen where employees would prepare sandwiches and items for its other stores. The company also may launch a popcorn venture that would deliver to other locations and cater events, said Ken Zeff, Crazy Mocha’s owner.
Eventually, the business could provide jobs for about 20 people, he said.
The Cuda Building was last occupied about 20 years ago by an Italian market.
In the decades when Braddock bustled with shopping activity generated by steelworkers and their families, the site housed a Neisner’s five-and-dime store and a tea room.
But like other places in the Mon Valley, the borough hasn’t prospered since a dramatic downsizing of the steel industry began in the 1970s. Its population has shrunk to about 2,000, and lots of vacant properties line its business corridor.
The town suffered another major blow when UPMC closed its Braddock hospital in 2010.
Since 1988, Braddock has been a state-designated financially distressed community.
With an estimated cost of $474,000 to rehabilitate the Cuda Building, Mr. Zeff and Paula McWilliams, president and chief executive of Heritage, acknowledged the project is risky and ambitious.
But both said their organizations have a strong mission to invest in community revitalization.
Heritage, based a few doors from the Cuda Building, provides low-cost transportation, preschool and after-school programs, and volunteer initiatives for Braddock and 40 other communities.