O'Hara man steers organic ship at Pittsburgh co-op

Justin Pizzella Residence: O'Hara Family:Wife, Kathy; children, Kristopher, 11, and Lia, 7 Occupation:General manager of East End Food Co-op Interests: Pittsburgh PenguinsSign up for one of our email newsletters.Updated 8 hours ago The East End Food Co-op...

O'Hara man steers organic ship at Pittsburgh co-op

Justin Pizzella

Residence: O'Hara Family:Wife, Kathy; children, Kristopher, 11, and Lia, 7

Occupation:General manager of East End Food Co-op

Interests: Pittsburgh Penguins

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Updated 8 hours ago

The East End Food Co-op is a store planted firmly in the community.

Founded in 1980, the member-owned cooperative's mission is to offer local and organic food to Pittsburgh area shoppers.

“Our values are different. At the end of the day, we never compromise our values,” said General Manager Justin Pizzella.

Pizzella, 47, has been the co-op's GM for six years. He oversees the store, marketing, “a bit of everything,” and maintains standards for its 12,500 members and visiting shoppers. The co-op serves up everything organic. Just one block from Penn and Braddock avenues, there are bins of fresh produce raised under strict rules. The first go-to is local farms, defined as those within 250 miles of Pittsburgh or in Pennsylvania. In winter, there are strawberries and other food from farther afield, but all meet the co-op's standards.

With smells of peppers and coconut and vivid colors of red kale and burnt-orange turmeric root, the store is a feast in many ways. There are bins of dry goods, grab-and-go food, meat, and dairy. The manager credits his employees for setting up a wide collection of vitamins and other health additives, beauty aids and soap.

It's a bustling business ... something Pizzella knows his share about. Raised in Springdale, he worked for a Fortune 500 business, but spent much time traveling and stressing. With a degree in industrial management and policy from Carnegie-Mellon University, he decided to take on new challenges and signed on to the co-op.

Since arriving, he has worked to carry through its mission to serve the community. The co-op recycles and partners with food banks and Food Rescue 412, which retrieves fresh, perishable food and distributes it directly community feeding organizations.

“We're in a unique location. There are dramatic challenges. We help where we can. We're open to everyone, but we are not compromising on our food values,” Pizzella said.

“We're a little unique. That's one of our challenges. How do we stay unique and handle organic growth.”

Pizzella brings those values home to his family in O'Hara every night. He does most of the cooking for wife, Kathy, and children, Kristopher and Lia. The family plays board games and sports, does art projects, and reads. He follows the same recipe for success each day — whether its with family or the growing organic store he manages.

“I like to keep things pretty simple,” he said.

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