Mike Swisher has been involved with Canonsburg’s neighboring Southpointe from the get-go. Since before the get-go, actually. He was hired in the late 1980s to craft a master plan for the mixed-use park.
After years of planning and development, Southpointe opened for business in March 1993, when Accutrex became the first tenant on the 589-acre property. The company, a precision metal fabricator that endures to this day, moved in during a blizzard that deposited 27 inches of snow.
The park has snowballed over the past 26 years, adding 217 adjacent acres to accommodate the buildout of Southpointe II. An estimated 300 companies have located in the Cecil Township expanse, some with their national headquarters. A number of oil natural gas firms are there, conveniently situated in the midst of the Marcellus and Utica shales. Thousands work and/or live in the park.
Southpointe has a little of everything, it seems, to appeal to these masses, including houses, apartments, an 18-hole golf course and a sports arena. But for its first 20 years or so, there were precious few dining options in the park off Interstate 79.
“People simply had to leave Southpointe to eat. They had to leave and hurry back,” said Swisher, principal at Horizon Properties Group, which – with Millcraft and Burns & Scalo Real Estate – has primarily developed the park.
He said Southpointe Golf Club, which opened in 1995, may have been the first dining destination, followed at some point by a Subway restaurant and Jackson’s at the Hilton Garden Inn.
That has changed dramatically. Restaurants opened here and there until 2014, when Town Center – one of the shiniest jewels in the Southpointe II project – brought dining to the forefront. Eight restaurants have opened there over the past five years, with a ninth percolating.
And the eight are the epitome of diversity: All-Star Sports Bar & Grill (varied), Toscana Brick Oven (Italian), Cannon’s ChopHouse (steaks, chops), Steel Cactus (Mexican), Zoup! (soups, salads, sandwiches), Crazy Mocha (coffee), Jimmy John’s (sandwiches) and Salud Express (salads).
The ninth, Boom Noodles, is targeted to open in the next couple of months and share space with Steel Cactus, which launched in late November.
“They feed off themselves – now there’s a pun,” Swisher said, laughing. “Having a group like this makes all of them stronger.”
This culinary emphasis, he said, was part of the master plan developed about 15 years ago for Southpointe II. “It was decided to offer different services, like hair and nails and places to eat. We have as many as 15,000 people in the park on a workday and people live here.”
Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, is well aware of the dining transition that has occurred. He was among the masses who frequently had to leave the park to satisfy his appetite, and is gratified that supply eventually responded to demand.
“The development of amenities has been a direct result of (Southpointe’s) growth,” he said. “As the park’s corporate (and residential populations) increased, the demand for services did as well, resulting in great places to dine, shop and even live.”
Cassie Butya is well aware of the dearth of dining opportunities that once existed. Since 2014, she has been the owner/manager of All-Star Sports, the first restaurant to open in Town Center.
“People really loved it when we opened,” she said. “There are so many businesses here and there weren’t many places to go (for a meal).”
Butya, who lives in Nevillewood, also owns the All-Star Sports location in Robinson Township. She runs the Southpointe restaurant with her sons Ryan and Troy, and says the place “is crazy busy” and is a favorite among oil and gas company employees. Each dining spot in Town Center, Butya added, “does well.”
Toscana and Cannon’s, she said, were the second and third restaurants to open along this long, fashionable block. Brian Merwin has not been at the ChopHouse from the start, relocating here a year ago from Montana, where Cannon’s is based. But the general manager of the Southpointe site has been here long enough to be impressed.
“Everything has been wonderful here,” he said of the Town Center culinary climate. “We have a little bit of everything for everybody. Each specializes in their thing and each is fabulous at what they do. You kind of have destinations here. We have a great sports bar, a great steakhouse ... The options are almost endless.”
That, of course, is a 180-degree turn.