Q&A w/ Our Featured Manager & Venue Of Month | Will Walker of Sienna Mercato | Pittsburgh, PA

Story by: Juan C. / iRockParties.Com

Not that long ago I walked in to a venue in Pittsburgh like no other I’ve been to before, in all honestly I was completely shoked and immediately impressed with it’s theme and concept. So picture 3 venues under the same roof… Sounds like it’s been done before right? Well that’s the same thing I thought about it then I walked in and was dumbfounded by the staff, food and 3 story layout yeah you heard that right 3 floors! Lol nuts and impressive to say the least, Not even inside for 2 mins and I get greeted by Will we got to the talking and the rest is history. With over 15 years experience under his belt Will is 1 impressive dude, equipped with tons of knowledge and experience he make’s Pittsburgh nightlife shine a bit brighter. His down to earth demeanor and laidback attitude would make any person feel right at home. 

Hope you enjoy this Q&A 😉

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How did you get in the biz?

WW: I started in this business pretty young, I was about 16 when I got my first job in a pizza shop. A friend got me the job, and we had a blast there for a year and a half. One of those teenage jobs that you just sorta screw around at.  I then got a job at a TGI Fridays as my first foray into full service. Since then, I’ve worked every position in a restaurant, and have really fallen in love with the industry. Food and drink as a means of being with friends and experiencing life, I’m all about that.

iRP: What’s your background, how many years have you been in the Industry?

WW: I’ve been in this industry almost 15 years. I’ve worked every position over the years, and am constantly gaining more knowledge every step of the way. I’ve served and bartended at a couple of really cool places for years before I made the move to management. After years of cutting my teeth with learning craft beer and liquor, creating cocktails, etc., I decided I wanted to be more involved with the operations.

iRP: How did you end up working at this venue?

WW: I was bartending and managing at my old job for about 4 years, and I got bored with the stagnation and turmoil within the company. I came across the river to this place that I’ve had many great times at. I had come here before to apply, with a friend. She was comfortable taking a demotion, I was not. So, I stayed at my old job for a while. Eventually, this friend was able to convince me that the company was so much better, that the demotion would be worth it. So, I took the plunge and came over, and it didn’t take me long before I was where I am now.

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iRP: What’s the deal with the concept(s)? The more details the better. 

WW: Sienna Mercato was born out of a love for al fresco dining, having both restaurants focus on a certain emphasis of Italian food, and including a beautiful, breezy rooftop beer garden. The first floor is Emporio, which focuses on gourmet meatballs that serve as the vehicle for customizable dishes. People come in thinking “Olive Garden, Spaghetti, Marinara, Meatballs” same ol’ same old, and end up getting something more akin to an insane deconstructed Big Mac on mac and cheese bowl and loving it. My favorite thing about that place is that from the simple to the absurd, you can really play around with flavor. Creating something new that you didn’t know you’d love is the name of the game. Mezzo (2nd floor) focuses more on rustic Italian fare, centered around charcuterie and wine. We have our own hanging room where we cure and age our own meats. It’s so controlled, even I have yet to go in there. It’s a little more upscale, while keeping up the laidback fun we like to have around here. Il Tetto is the beer garden on the third floor, with a retractable glass roof. It’s gorgeous up there. It’s the perfect space for an open air day party during the summer, or a warm and cozy beer hall with the roof closed. We have infrared heaters, heated floors, and sealed windows, so it’s plenty comfy during the winter as well.

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iRP: Funniest thing that has ever happened here?

WW: Lots of funny things have happened here. We’ve calmed down a lot in terms of the more nuisance-like shenanigans. A lot of funny stuff honestly comes from the hotel across the street. From Il Tetto, you get the best view of almost all the hotel rooms, and they see a whole audience below. People love to show off in front of the crowd. They love to flash and moon us from their rooms, or put on a show of some kind. Just this past week, we’ve had people break out instruments and play and act out songs, and an entire roller derby team flashed us from their room. You never know what’s in store over there.

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iRP: Biggest celebrity that’s walked through your doors?

WW: Celebrities come in all the time, athletes from all of the Pittsburgh sports teams, actors of plays in town, or a movie filming in the area. When they’re here though, we want them to feel just as welcomed as anyone else and have a good time.

iRP: Other locations?

WW: We also have another location of our first floor restaurant, Emporio, out in Wexford, which is north of the city. Expansion is definitely in the works for us. I can personally think of a couple of places where I think we could really thrive, but that’s not my call. Our company also runs a more traditional Italian place that’s a bit more upscale in the Market Square area of Downtown Pittsburgh, called Sienna on the Square.

iRP: Future plan for this location?

WW: I want Sienna Mercato to be the premier destination in Pittsburgh. I want every single person that comes to our town to spend a night or two in our building. I want this to be the place you HAVE TO try when you come here, because I definitely believe that. I just want more people to know that. I want to be just as synonymous with Pittsburgh when it comes to food as Primanti Brothers.

iRP: Have you traveled much?

WW: I travel a lot. About 5-10 cities a year. I’ve only been to a few other countries, but I’m working on that, too. I’m actually responding to this interview while in Toronto. I’m always visiting different bars and restaurants around the country, checking out the interesting things people are doing out there. I always love to see how a city’s different factors influence their culture, and vice versa. I’m from Pittsburgh, and have been there most of of my life, but I grew up in Chicago. I will always be a big city boy at heart. I feel like my goal is to bring as much of that big city feeling to Pittsburgh without losing its charm and natural beauty. On an unrelated note, I’m also a huge baseball fan. I love to visit MLB stadiums, and I’m in Toronto visiting my 18th.

iRP: If you can compare Pittsburgh nightlife to anyone of those cities which one would it be?

WW: Cleveland, honestly. Milwaukee, too. I’ve watched Pittsburgh come a long way in the last 17 years, but we’re still very much a really big small town in many ways. We’re missing a lot of the diversity that really helps a city pop, but we’ve got a lot of life here, a lot to do. Much more than people think.

iRP: Thank you so much for taking the time out to chat with us Will, Keep up the good work!

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