If you go
Where: Sweetlane Chocolate Shop, 113 Grant Ave., Vandergrift
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays; 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays; closed Sundays and Mondays
Details: Breakfast and lunch, milkshakes, cheesecake and chocolates served. Phone number is 724-568-2961.
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Updated 20 minutes ago
Every corner of the Sweetlane Chocolate Shop in Vandergrift tells a story — from the well-worn counter to the walls covered with chocolate molds collected from around the world to the jukebox in the back that still plays records.
The family-run restaurant and candy store is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.
“It's a local tradition,” said Dennis “Deke” Klaric, 65, of Allegheny Township, who has been a Sweetlane customer for most of his life and now goes there every day with a few friends for coffee and breakfast.
Greek immigrants Emanuel and Zombouli Sgourakis opened Sweetlane in 1947, and their daughter and her husband, Poppy and Pete Basile, ran it from 1974 until 2009.
The store closed for a year, from 2010 and 2011, until the Basiles' son, Pete, and his wife, Nicole, could take over. The couple lives in Vandergrift.
“Business is good,” Pete Basile said. “Everything we touch seems to turn golden for us.”
Sweetlane started as a restaurant, but grew into something more when Zombouli Sgourakis started making sweets.
“My grandmother went up in the back and she started making candy, because that's what she did when she was in Greece,” Pete said.
His grandfather followed her lead and started making cinnamon rolls grilled with butter. “They were pretty famous — everybody still talks about them,” Nicole Basile said.
The restaurant has its original counter, booths and flat-top grill, and had its original milkshake machine until last year.
Nicole said crew members for Cinemax's “Banshee” TV show stopped in often for shakes when the show's fourth season was filmed in Vandergrift in 2015, and the restaurant had to buy a new machine.
All in the family
Pete said he's spent most of his life at Sweetlane, in one way or another.
“The same booth we're sitting in, I used to do my homework every night,” he said during a recent interview.
He didn't always want to take over the family business. He said he and his parents often were at odds when he wanted to try new ideas, and family members worked long hours to keep the shop stocked and open.
When Pete's mother died in 2009, he still was working as a Westmoreland County police officer and didn't have time to take over full time. A year later, he retired and decided to reopen the family business.
“It means the world to me,” he said.
Chocolates are hand-dipped daily, which the owners believe is what makes them unique. Some of their most popular sellers are chocolate covered strawberries, peanut butter and chocolate eggs and regular milk chocolates.
“I think the key to it all is the freshness,” Pete said.
Nicole's family pitches in to keep the business going. Her sister, Daniela Rhody, 53, drives from Trafford to work a few days a week.
“This is my escape,” Rhody said. “I've kind of adopted Vandergrift as my hometown.”
Rhody started working at Sweetlane when Pete's mother still ran it.
“I know everybody,” she said. “It's just such a place to be.”
Regulars find comfort
Vandergrift resident Diane Larrieu, 66, frequented Sweetlane when she was a child, and started to go again when she returned to the area around 15 years ago.
“This was the place to go,” Larrieu recalled.
She remembers receiving Sweetlane chocolate in her Easter basket every year. Now, she ships it to her daughter in Lancaster every Easter.
“There is a taste difference,” she said.
Klaric said he remembers when he could get a burger and a coke at the store for 30 cents. And while many businesses have come and gone, the shop's atmosphere keeps people coming back.
“They make you feel like you're welcome here,” Klaric said.
No time to stop
Pete and Nicole said they plan a commemorative candy bar to celebrate 70 years, and continue to look for new items for the menu to keep things fresh.
They are talking about expanding the business into a bakery one day.
“It gets better every year,” Pete said. “We're tired, but we're having fun.”
Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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