Restaurateurs Reel In Pittsburgh Small Business Persons of the Year Award

The Hawley's receiving their award

Restaurateurs Reel In Pittsburgh

Small Business Persons of the Year Award

Restauranteurs Lisa and Glenn Hawley like collecting titles. First known for bringing char-grilled fish to the city, they then became Pittsburgh’s fresh-fish experts. Now, the owners of Off the Hook can add another crown; U.S. Small Business Administration’s Western Pennsylvania 2017 Small Business Persons of the Year to their collection.

“It’s quite an honor,” said 57-year-old Glenn Hawley. “I’m both honored and surprised as there are many, many small businesses that are working with SBA and have never won.”

The Hawley’s, who have been serving fresh-fish dishes to Pittsburghers for decades as co-owners of two previous, successful fish restaurants, decided to embark on a new endeavor highlighting all aspects of the cold and warm-water seafood. Their award-winning culinary concept coupled with a rich, social entrepreneurship plan was lauded in a nomination package from Key Bank.

 “This is such an honor for the Hawley’s and the small business community that helped them create yet another successful eatery,” said SBA Pittsburgh District Director Dr. Kelly Hunt. “While they were known throughout the city for perfecting the art of selecting and cooking fish, they started Off The Hook, literally, like fish out of water – receiving business planning assistance from the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center (SBDC), hoping lenders would take the bait and offer financing.”

“Ray Vargo, Pitt’s SBDC’s director looked at my financial projections and said they were the best he’s ever seen,” explained Hawley. “But, because of our lack of collateral, we had trouble getting financing; thankfully Key Bank helped us with an SBA-backed loan, citing our incredible experience and abilities.”

The Hawley’s then began creating their dream bistro: selecting silver and gray-tone palettes, and an open oyster bar and cooking station grace the premises complimented by a four-season outdoor patio and private rooms. “I’ve always wanted to do an oyster bar and kitchen, and having them on display is a unique element to Off the Hook,” Glenn Hawley added. “The bar is stocked daily with up to eight different oysters from both coasts.”

And, even though he employs an executive chef, guests can watch Glenn Hawley work as a line cook five nights a week.

Searing fish is a far cry for Hawley who admits dreading eating frozen fish sticks while growing up in Arizona. “It was awful and I had them once a week,” he said. “But, when I started working as a dishwasher at a national fish restaurant, I started sampling and began understanding the art of cooking fish.”

Hawley soon climbed the ranks moving from the sink to cooking and into management. “I learned to both cook and open restaurants on-the-job,” he explained. “I then moved to Monterey Bay, CA to help open a private restaurant.”

It was here Hawley began discovering the various cuts of fish, their specs and the time out of water aspect. He started perfecting cutting, filleting and grilling, as well as making purchasing connections from small fisheries across the country. Ending back in his boyhood home of Arizona, he met his future wife and relocated to Pittsburgh.

Hawley admits cooking fish can be intimidating. “People tend to overcook when actually it tastes better done medium, but it’s an art,” he explained. “You’ll know when it’s done and you better be doing it well from the get-go or you won’t be in business very long.”

After winning twenty-one years of accolades for his restaurants, The Rodi Grille and its successor The Monterey Bay Fish Grottos, Hawley is indeed the area’s foremost fish cook truly mastering the art of cooking seafood. But, it’s the family’s deep commitment to charitable giving that continues to keep community leaders, including SBA’s Hunt, hooked on this husband-wife team.

Hunt, an avid supporter of social entrepreneurship, was duly impressed with the Hawley’s long list of charities they assist. “We all are asked to provide assistance at times, and the Hawley’s are very proactive in making giving a part of their business plan.”

From donating their restaurant for charitable events to a holiday shoe project, the Hawley’s continue to give back to the community; even creating a special, five-dollar truffle. “During the holidays, we make and sell homemade truffles,” Glenn Hawley said. “Over the years, the truffle drive, in conjunction with Life Outreach International, has helped provide 20,000 pairs of shoes to children in need.”

For Glenn Hawley, giving back always has been his goal. “I always knew, even when I started as a dishwasher, it never was about me; and if I ever was in a position to help others I would.”

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Company Name: 
Off the Hook
Location: 
Pittsburgh