WHEELING - The Wheeling community will have another local restaurant option, as Cilantro Latin Grill has taken over the space once home to Salsa Cafe, located on Carmel Road. With the majority of renovations complete, Cilantro expects to formally open in the near future.
According to Charlie Schlegel, chef and owner of Ye Olde Alpha, he "kicked around the idea" to open a place such as Cilantro for years. In April, he began work at the location. Describing the Latin grill as a quick serve restaurant modeled after a chain Latin restaurant, Schlegel believes it will be "a great option" for Wheeling.
"The atmosphere is young, energetic and really cool," Schlegel said.
He added Cilantro's proximity to the Alpha, "a well-established restaurant," and general location in "a great neighborhood" near local colleges and high schools also provides an advantage to the business.
However, Schlegel also recognized the importance of defining the new place's niche.
"The challenge is that we don't want to cut into the Alpha's business," Schlegel said.
With the new Latin grill offering menu options including guasacaca, a Venezuelan type of salsa, the owner said even the salsas at Cilantro and the Alpha will be distinct to each restaurant.
"People are not going to make an 'either, or' choice," Schlegel said. Rather, he envisions customers appreciating the food at both establishments.
Carlos Parra, one of Cilantro's general managers, added that while Cilantro "obviously has a young look, the food is for everybody."
"The food is something most people have never tried before," Parra said.
According to Parra, items will be priced similarly to those at a typical Latin quick service restaurant. In addition to burritos, burrito bowls and salads, Venezuelan-inspired arepas, which Parra described as corn cakes "the size of sliders" on which proteins and toppings are added, are another unique meal option for customers.
"The best thing I ate on Thanksgiving was an arepa for lunch," Schlegel said of the food's appeal.
Parra explained how he and fellow general manager, David Torrance, have helped the process. However, he emphasized Schlegel's leadership.
"The vision was all Charlie," Parra said. "He knew the concept."
One aspect of the restaurant that Schlegel finalized fairly quickly was the name.
"My wife and I individually came up with the same name," Schlegel said.
For Parra, Cilantro is a way for the community to connect.
"We knew Wheeling needed something like this - something fresh," Parra said. "It's definitely been exciting, the whole idea."
The drinks are included in that fresh take. A Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, from which 126 drink flavors dispense, provides a modern, space-saving option. Parra said Cilantro is the only local restaurant in the Pittsburgh area to have the touch-screen beverage dispenser.
Also, the open, relocated kitchen provides a way to maximize space and customers' connection to their food.
"People can see what they are eating and have an appreciation for how the food is prepared," Parra said.