The corner of Forbes and South Braddock avenues has a lot of hard work going on. Six days a week the owner and staff at Calli’s Restaurant are committed to the labor it takes to provide good food and customer service in a friendly atmosphere. “I come from a family that believes in hard work,” said 34-year-old Damien Hodges, proprietor of the 75-seat bistro.
For the past year Hodges has been putting his all into the restaurant that was to be a project he and his mother, the late Amril Crichlow, who passed away in the middle of the construction, which started over 18 months ago. Not letting her dream die with her, Hodges and former Allderdice High School classmates Leslie Jenkins, an electrician and Matt Hoffman, the owner of a construction company, continued on and the restaurant opened July 20, 2009.
|OPEN FOR BUSINESS—Damien Hodges, owner of Calli’s Restaurant, is celebrating his first year anniversary.
Considered a family-oriented restaurant that serves American contemporary cuisine, Hodges said the menu consists of a variety of “what we all like to eat.” Pointing out that natural ingredients are used to give a home- cooked meal taste, he claims the meat loaf is his favorite even though the Shrimp Creole is Calli’s signature meal.
Open for breakfast on the weekends, dishes include meat, veggie and seafood omelettes, French toast, pancakes and breakfast smoothies. Lunch and dinner—Tuesdays through Sundays—is inclusive of a variety of appetizers; what they consider starters, soups, salads and sandwiches. Entrees include seafood, chicken, steaks, stuffed grilled pork chops and meat loaf. Grilled peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese, mac and cheese, chicken tenders and burgers are served as kids meals. A Sunday brunch takes place from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. and the bar is open Tuesdays through Sundays until 2 a.m.
Located across from Frick Park at 7606 Forbes Ave., bordering Regent Square and Point Breeze, near Wilkinsburg and Squirrel Hill, Hodges views the location as a key reason why Calli’s customer-base consists of all ethnic groups and varies from families, college students and a mix of professionals. “Since the beginning we have received great support from the community, family and friends from doctors and judges to sanitation and maintenance workers,” said Hodges. His goal is to expand activities at the restaurant to continue to draw a variety of customers. Available for rentals for special events such as parties and receptions, he said his plan is to expand to more social activities. Already tapping into the sports action, he said people come in wearing their favorite NFL team clothing to watch any game of their choosing because he carries the NFL channel. Soon his goal is to have live music and art shows. In the future he looks to go public on the stock market to franchise Calli’s abroad in Tobago, the West Indies and Toronto.
Born in Washington, D.C., but raised in Squirrel Hill, Hodges graduated from Allderdice High School. Even though he attended Southern Connecticut State University, he said he received most of his business education from working within establishments owned by his mother. Considering her a true entrepreneur, he said she owned a dry cleaners in Banksville where he worked and a bar in Homewood. “Knowing that a bar and restaurant go well together, my mother always wanted to serve food and own such a venue,” he said looking around the bar area of Calli’s.
Calli’s, named after his grandfather, a native of Tobago, West Indies, Hodges is working hard to fulfill his mother’s dream. Celebrating a year of operation he said it hasn’t been easy. “We have our ups and downs as a new business.” Other than keeping the food consistent, he said one of his biggest challenges is hiring and keeping good employees. “It is not easy finding good help,” he said, pointing out that he strives to hire friendly, hard working people.
He suggests to anyone preparing to start a business not to hire people with big egos, to believe that the unexpected will happen and to know the business from the ground up. “Operating a business is like raising a child; you have to nurture it along the way and know that it is a learning process.”
The father of a two-year-old daughter, Hodges said being a good father is important to him. “I came from a strong family base and know the significance of love and support.” He said the same morals of hard work and education that was instilled in him will be passed on to her.
(Calli’s is open Tuesdays through Thursdays 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Fridays from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Reservations are not required.)