Smallman Street Deli: Keeping bellies at Bravo Pittsburgh full

Smallman Street Deli is a small, locally owned deli right around the corner from Bravo Group’s Pittsburgh office in the city’s Strip District, where Bill, Matt, Kim, and I frequently go to get a take-out lunch.
The deli offers both large-scale catering services and sells individual meals from a menu that features a variety of sandwiches, burgers, salads, and soups. It is especially known for its corned beef, which is made in-house.
photo (9)Prices at Smallman Street Deli range from as little as $2.99 for a single serving of pasta salad to $15.99 for their signature “U-Can’t Eat It” sandwich, which features over a pound of meat. (I ate it.) A reuben sandwich, which reflects the average cost of lunch for one, is $8.99 before tax, and if you want to add chips and a drink, your meal will exceed $10.  It seems like at least one of us buys lunch from the deli each day, so by that standard, the food must be worth the price.
Smallman Street Deli opened at its current location on the corner of Smallman St. and 29th St. in Pittsburgh’s Strip District in 2000, the brainchild of its founders and current owners Bill Wedner and Jeff Cohen.
According to a 2001 story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Wedner and Cohen met in Pittsburgh in the mid-1990s as two aspiring entrepreneurs looking to get into the food business. At that point, Wedner had been working for six years in the produce business and Cohen was a former shoe salesman.
Wedner’s connections within the food industry proved vital to his and Cohen’s ability to jumpstart their deli business. Through his produce job, Wedner met a second-generation butcher who was looking to sell his business, Weiss Provision Company, which was renown around Pittsburgh for its meats. In 1995, Wedner and Cohen bought the business.
photo (7)Then, three years later, the Cheese Terminal, a Pittsburgh seller of cheese varieties, announced it was selling its business and property in Pittsburgh’s Strip District and Wedner and Cohen jumped on the opportunity. They bought the Cheese Terminal’s business, which then left them with a meat company, a cheese company, and a facility at the corner of Smallman St. and 29th St. in Pittsburgh’s Strip District—the perfect foundation for today’s Smallman Street Deli.
In 2001, Wedner and Cohen acquired the James E. Steele Meat Company, a Pittsburgh area business that specialized in home delivery, which allowed them to expand into the catering business.
photo (8)Now 12 years later, it seems as if Wedner’s and Cohen’s business is doing rather well. They’ve since expanded to open a deli-restaurant in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and every time I go in to the Strip District restaurant for lunch, the place is always bustling with customers.
Overall, in my debut column as a food critic, I’d say I give Smallman Street Deli four out of five stars—Two for their quality of food, one for the fact that they’re locally owned, and another for its convenient location. But they miss out on a fifth because their prices are slightly higher than what your average intern wants to pay for lunch.
–Will Dodds
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