If your image of a steakhouse conjures up uncomfortable wooden chairs, dim lighting and men conducting business deals in a dark and smoky atmosphere, you have not yet been to Eddie Merlot’s.
Located in Gateway Center in the space that once housed the former Palomino and Elements restaurants, Eddie Merlot’s is a literal bright spot in Pittsburgh’s steakhouse scene. The décor is cheery and colorful, the floor plan is open and bright, the chairs are cushy and comfortable, and the wall artwork is unique and original. And while many men do frequent the restaurant, you will likely find the majority of patrons to be of the female variety.
“We really designed the tables, what’s on the tables, the lighting, the design, the colors of the restaurant, all around women,” said Bill Humphries, president of the Platinum Group, which owns the Eddie Merlot group of restaurants. This is because, he said, women control the dining choices almost 2/3 of the time, both at home and in business.
The other two demographics Eddie Merlot’s aims to please are the Baby Boomers with a $100,000 plus income, and the occasional diner—most likely a 30-something out for a night with friends or a date.
Although the building recently had housed two other restaurants, it was not move in ready.
Humphries and his team made structural changes to the restaurant by expanding the footprint by adding 2400 square feet. “We gutted and added space to really make an imprint of saying, ‘We’re new; it’s completely different than before.’”
They also put in a sliding door leading to an outdoor porch. Al fresco diners have a view of a park-like setting right in the heart of Downtown Pittsburgh. “We’re adding planters, lighting, and music out on that patio over the summer months to really kick off the patio,” he said. This will include offering lighter fare and putting in an outdoor bar.
Eddie Merlot’s is the only restaurant in the U.S. that offers Greg Norman Wagyu 20 oz. Bonein New York Strip, a superior cut of Australian cattle with a high marble score of 7-9.
“A normal prime age beef is rated at about a score of 4-5, and so you’re almost doubling the quality of a prime aged steak. It is also very hard to get those marbling scores in the beef. The taste is phenomenal,” explained Humphries.
Although the menu is a veritable carnival for carnivores, such as the succulent Braised Short Rib Strogranoff or the Bison Filet Mignon, there are many other options, such as the Cedar-Roasted Salmon, the Vegetarian Gnocchi, and the Niman Ranch Frenched Pork Chops. The chefs are always willing to accommodate special dietary needs. There is also a full lunch menu, a children’s menu, and a scrumptious dessert menu.
And with a name like Eddie Merlot’s, it is indisputable that an extensive wine menu is an important hallmark of the restaurant’s concept, accounting for about 30% of their business, with 50 wines by the glass and 250 varieties of bottles.
“We have different promotions throughout the year that really highlight what we are doing in our wine program,” said Humphries. For example, a summer promotion called ‘Let it Flow at Eddie Merlot’s’ offers wine flights of either three reds, three whites, or three of each (wines with rating scores of 90 plus), for a special price. Other seasonal promotions are offered six times per year.
While a comfortable but chic ambience permeates the dining room, and private rooms cater to business meetings, the lounge, offering weekend entertainment, is more relaxed and casual. A separate menu, though as equally delectable as the main dining room menu, offers such fare as Prime Cheeseburgers, made from ground Filet Mignon, Strip, and Ribeye Steaks, and small plates like Tempura Shrimp Tacos and Tuna Nicoise.
“Eddie Merlot’s caters to people who want to be casual, and it caters to people that want to be very intimate, but it also means ‘I want to be seen’ in the marketplace, too,” said Humphries.
Before he became the face of Eddie Merlot’s, Humphries was an executive at Subway, having opened the first Subway in Indiana, becoming the very first franchise operator in the state. Eventually, he became a development agent for Subway; he is still involved with all 850 franchised Subway shops in Northern Indiana and Ohio.
So how did a Subway executive from Fort Wayne, Indiana come to open a steakhouse in Pittsburgh?
While on the board of directors at Subway, his travels in the mid-90s took him around the country, exploring long range planning in fast food and noting where the trends would be heading in the 2000s and 2010s.
“I saw how the fast food business was going to have to change, and so was the steakhouse business,” he said. He started playing with a model of steakhouses, how they would have to re-image themselves in the 2000s. While traveling around the country, he started to develop the concept of Eddie Merlots, initially as a hobby.
The hobby transitioned to a reality when Humphries opened the first Eddie Merlot’s in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana in 2001, and within several years, branched out into other locations.
As for launching into the Downtown Pittsburgh market two years ago, it made economic sense.
“We saw what was happening in redevelopment, what was happening in future growth from the technical side of companies coming but also the resurgence of growth of opportunities happening here in Pittsburgh. We just liked all the economic factors of growth in Pittsburgh in the many years ahead,” said Humphries.
Plus, Humphries has a soft spot for the Steel City, having been a major Steelers fan since the 1970s.
“Our business still is growing every month in Pittsburgh; we don’t feel like we have even begin to hit our peak of what we can do in the Pittsburgh market-it has been a great unit since we opened”, he said. “We’re very happy to have so many repeat guests and new people are still discovering us on a regular basis as well.”
Four Gateway Center,
444 Liberty Ave,
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
412.235.7676 | EddieMerlots.com