PITTSBURGH — Rabih Helou’s company is called Beauty Shoppe, but it’s actually an operator of coworking spaces, and it has become an institution in this city through a string of high-profile real estate projects.
“What we do is align ourselves with the model of hospitality that has existed for many years,” said Helou, the company’s chief operating officer and co-founder. “We work to provide greater value to our membership base but also provide more value to real estate.”
After getting its start in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood in 2010, the company now operates four co-working spaces, with several others in the works.
GeekWire is essentially beta testing Beauty Shoppe’s next project, its coworking space under development at the former Boys & Girls Club building in the Lawrenceville neighborhood, which is hosting our month-long GeekWire HQ2 project in Pittsburgh.
We caught up with Helou for this Pittsburgh Profile, a series of Q&As with some of the most influential people and interesting characters we meet during our stay in the city. Watch video highlights below, and continue reading for edited excerpts from our interview.
What do you love about Pittsburgh? And what would you change?
Helou: I love that Pittsburgh’s cheap, because it allows you to experiment and do other things, because you’re not really tied to your rent or your mortgage. What I’m doing today is very much a function of the economics around Pittsburgh. What I would love to see happen in Pittsburgh is for it to grow into what it has the potential to be. …. I think there’s a coming out party that needs to happen. Enough of the aspiration. Be confident. We’re there, right? Let’s start producing. Let’s start having our voice. And let’s start investing back into the city. Let’s start seeing things build up and develop. Invest in your neighborhoods. Invest in your people. I think we’re almost there.
How did you come up with the name Beauty Shoppe?
Helou: In East Liberty, where we started, on the second floor of an abandoned building, there was gold lettering on the window that said Beauty Shoppe. It was a former beauty shoppe. Who knows how long ago it was a beauty shoppe. We took over that space and we just kept the name.
Favorite Pittsburgh spot?
Helou: There is a big park in the East End, not too far from my house, called Frick Park. And Frick Park was donated by the Henry Clay Frick estate. Right at the entrance of the park, there is the home they used to live in and a museum that I think his daughter built up, right at the entrance of the park. Right there, I really enjoy that. I’m there when I’m about to run into the park and hit the trails, and it’s my happy place.
Favorite Pittsburgh celebrity?
Helou: Larkin Page-Jacobs. … She’s the voice of NPR, the local NPR station. She’s the best in the country.
Best food in Pittsburgh?
Helou: Apteka, vegan Polish food. Apteka is what you get when a bunch of artists and creative people build a restaurant.
Best insider tip for newcomers?
Helou: Couple things. People talk. Watch your reputation. Everybody knows everybody. Number two. It’s not all happening in Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, and wherever. Go to Troy Hill, right? Go to Wilkinsburg. Go hang out in neighborhoods that people don’t tell you about before you come here. They’re O. They’re not that dangerous. They’re great.
Favorite Pittsburgh word or phrase?
Helou: It’s crude, but jagoff. Awesome. How it that a thing? It’s so crude.
Pittsburgh’s most important innovation or invention?
Helou: The self-driving car. … They’re all around the city right now. Fast-forward five or 10 years, will they be everywhere in the country? Sourced from here? And if we fast-forward 50 years, will we be telling the story of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh as the first and only place in the world where there was a proliferation of these automobiles all around the city? … I think maybe.
Can you tell us about any memorable experiences you’ve had in Pittsburgh that illustrate the character and nature of the city?
Helou: I’ve always been an East Coast guy, a big city guy. And there’s a pace in which I lived. When I moved from D.C., and I first started inviting people into my home to fix a plumbing issue, or paint a wall, the pace at which these people were operating was very different, and it was driving me crazy. But, if you slow it down a little bit, there’s a lots of beautiful moments in that.
What are the chances of Amazon HQ2 ending up in Pittsburgh?
Helou: Five percent.
If you were parachuting into Pittsburgh as a tech/business reporter, what’s the first story you’d want to cover?
Helou: Yeah, there’s a tech thing happening. But Pittsburgh represents the rest of us. Don’t ignore us. There are smart people here. And there are good ideas here. The burgeoning of the tech scene is almost a byproduct of that.
LinkedIn: Rabih Helou