New Restaurant, Pilez, to open in former Mad Mex space


Alyssa Carnevali | Staff Photographer

The outside of the former Mad Mex, located at 370 Atwood St.

By Adrienne Cahillane, Staff Writer

Zechariah Vanzo, owner of the new Oakland restaurant “Pilez,” is ready to bring New York cuisine to South Oakland through Rochester-style “Garbage Plates.” 

“We don’t want to just be your standard Garbage Plate place,” Vanzo said. “We want to be something that’s unique and innovative, that, you know, people come to try something new, something new and different.”

Vanzo, a former member of the Mero Group, which owns Chik’n, Stack’d and the newly opened Melt’d, is bringing the cuisine of his home in upstate New York to Atwood Street, where Mad Mex was formerly located. Pilez is a personal venture separate from the Mero group. 

Vanzo draws culinary inspiration for Pilez from the Rochester Garbage Plate, a pile of food that usually contains two kinds of meat, such as hamburgers and hot dogs. The plate also includes a combination of home fries, baked beans or other toppings

“It was something that was created during the Depression to kind of conserve certain foods that cost too much at the time,” Vanzo said. “So they put a pile of food and then they made this meat sauce. It was actually a way to use the meat and cook it down slowly so that they could reuse meat before it expired. It has a lot of history, but in our town, they made many varieties of it.” 

Vanzo plans to build upon the traditional Rochester Garbage Plate for Pilez.

“At the end of the day, it’s a pile of food, right?” Vanzo said. “That’s my biggest thing. What I’m doing with the menu is cross-using these ingredients. So if there’s ever a pile, there’s going to be a handheld version of it. That’s why I like the pile, because it’s creating a disassembled version of these common menu items that we all love.” 

Sam Reynolds, who is in charge of vendor relations for Pilez and has known Vanzo since they met while studying at Point Park University, hopes to make food from Pilez accessible to all people. 

“I want it to be something that you know, you can order online and have it delivered,” Reynolds said. That takeout aspect is just one aspect of it. Eventually, we may explore other options, or partnership opportunities with other businesses to provide, you know, food at different hours, for different organizations.” 

Reynolds believes that Pittsburgh and upstate New York have some similarities, such as being “sports passionate” and “enjoying hearty meals.” 

Ava DiRubbo, a rising sophomore statistics major, is “excited” about the fact that Vanzo is bringing food from upstate New York to Pittsburgh. 

“Whenever I tell people I’m from New York, they instantly assume New York City, so it’s nice that people will start thinking of New York as a state more than just New York City,” DiRubbo said.

The restaurant will have a takeout-focused business model to prevent long wait times, according to Vanzo. 

“What I’m seeing here is that there is a large turn towards go-style food,” Vanzo said. “I’m looking at a system that eliminates any of that waiting time. You tap in your order and we just put it on the shelf. You never have to see anybody. Your order appears and you get a text message that your order is ready. It’s like a restaurant vending machine.” 

Vanzo plans to cross-use ingredients as a sustainable method to make them last longer.

“I’ll never have more than four main items on at a time, and those items will essentially cross-use ingredients so you can have a handheld or a plate version,” Vanzo said.

Reynolds believes that there are many advantages to running a business in the Oakland neighborhood, including being part of a community with many other local businesses. 

“I really want to see us potentially take things from some restaurants or ideas and infuse it into the traditional Garbage Plate,” Reynolds said. “We want to put different culinary influences into our food. We don’t want to just be like your standard Garbage Plate place. We want to be something that’s unique and innovative, that, you know, people come to try something new, something new and different.”

Vanzo hopes that Pilez will become a staple of the Oakland region and to serve quick and good quality food. 

“I’m all about just having something that’s different and delicious and different from what’s offered by other places within Pittsburgh,” Reynolds said. “I’m really excited to see what our concept grows into.”