Black Forge Coffee under contract for former Chartiers Trust Bank

Ashley Corts creates another masterpiece at the Allentown location of the Black Forge Coffee House.

Kickstarter in play to help with final financing for second location in McKees Rocks ends on July 15th

By Sonja Reis | MRCDC

As the morning rush dies down, Black Forge Coffee House co-owner Ashley Corts finally settles in at her laptop to respond to emails and to check the status of the Kickstarter campaign she and business partner Nick Miller launched to help them in their quest to open a second much larger location in McKees Rocks.

She’s barely settled in long enough to see that since last peek pledges have ticked upward by several hundred dollars before another customer enters through the java shop door.

Black Forge is a black metal-themed coffee house and art gallery during the day and a music and performing arts venue by night. The shop, in conjunction with the community inclusive mindset shared by Corts and Miller, is widely regarded as one of the reasons the Allentown neighborhood business district is on the upswing.

Shop regular Greg Panza walks to the counter where Corts is already preparing his favorite order. Like so many other customers, he strikes up a conversation while waiting for his order to be prepared. There’s the usual coffee shop fare available throughout the day including lattes, cappuccinos, tea, pastries, sandwiches and more. Additionally, Black Forge was chosen “Best Coffeehouse in Pittsburgh” last year by readers of the City Paper.

Most of these conversations start out with excitement over plans for a larger McKees Rocks location that regularly turn to the customer seeking reassurance that the original Allentown space that many consider a community gathering spot will remain. Each time, Corts assures them that it will.

Panza, a realtor who lives in neighboring Mt. Washington, is no different. He indicates his trust in Corts’ word and goes on to discuss how Black Forge has been a complement to the area and has been pivotal in the Allentown neighborhood’s rebirth.

“They were the tipping point of Allentown coming back to life. They helped to announce Allentown is open for business,” said Panza.

With business growing – especially the event side of things – Black Forge has added two part-time baristas, a graphic designer and an event scheduler to their team. They’ve also recently begun dabbling with roasting their own coffee beans, something they plan to do full time once they open in McKees Rocks.

Space constraints at the Allentown location (max capacity is 49) where so many local and nationally touring metal, punk rock and indie rock bands found a place to showcase their art and, in many cases, begin their music careers caused the owners to begin looking for a larger location. In addition to concerts, Black Forge also hosts a number of drag shows, comedy performances, art exhibits, pop-up brunches and community forums live on stage in its Allentown café. Since its inception, Black Forge has hosted more than 900 events and currently receives between 20 and 100 requests to perform in the venue per day.

Why McKees Rocks?

“[We were looking for] a community that needed what we could provide – community space that can also bring people in from outside to help drive the business district,” said Cort, who is a lighting technician by trade.

In addition, the partners were looking to buy and not rent and toured spaces in Sharpsburg, Bloomfield, Wilkinsburg, Etna, Swissvale and Mt. Oliver before deciding on the former Chartiers Trust Bank site near the railroad trestle on Chartiers Avenue. The building has been a fixture of the Focus On Renewal system since the 1960s and only recently went on the market.

Nick Miller and Ashley Corts of Black Forge Coffee discuss Kickstarter campaigns for their second location planned for McKees Rocks.

Ultimately, Miller, who has been working as a musician since the age of 16, said he sees the McKees Rocks location becoming a place “for creatives and [foodies] where art is celebrated, where food is celebrated and the community is celebrated.”

The resurgence of any neighborhood is based on community, he said.

Josh Lucas, a former high school chemistry teacher at the Sto-Rox School District, is a regular at the Allentown coffee house located near the Work Hard Pittsburgh co-op space where he is a partner. He’s been getting his caffeine fix at Black Forge since its soft opening in 2015.

“The inner ring suburban communities need to participate with culture makers, influencers and people who create community, and that’s what Black Forge is good at,” said Lucas.

Do it right!

To help this dynamic duo do it and do it right, check out their Kickstarter. (By the way, duo is quite appropriate as the two are the heroes of Coffee Crisis, their own retro video game created by Pittsburgh-based game developer Mad Cat Studios that will be available to play at both locations.)

The Kickstarter goal of $30,000 is needed to leverage additional financing. The owners are moving forward with the needed loans to cover the cost of purchasing the building, construction, new equipment, roasters and other costs associated with opening a second location.

Nick and Ashley are the heroes of Coffee Crisis, their very own retro video game.

They are calling on their friends and customers to help them finalize the deal and create a true music venue under the Black Forge banner. Within the first week of launching the month-long campaign, they surpassed the halfway mark to the goal.

The main tenets held dearly by both Corts and Miller are to create a community-based, inclusive hangout and a one-of-a-kind experience through atmosphere, art, music and coffee culture.

They’ll be bringing all that and more here to McKees Rocks.

If you’d like to check out the Allentown location, they can be found at 1206 Arlington Ave., Pittsburgh.

The McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation has worked to help Ashley and Nick find their new prospective home in McKees Rocks while also working to connect them with small business loan agencies that focus on community development initiatives. MRCDC is hopeful that Black Forge’s coffee house, artist gallery and performance space will be joining the neighborhood soon. To help, please check out their Kickstarter!


MRCDC works to facilitate commercial development while growing community pride and fostering neighborhood stabilization. Since January, the non-profit has worked with many businesses both small and large to help them to make their dreams a reality. In March, through a direct result of the group’s efforts, Phantom Robotix purchased a headquarters on Island Avenue. Several groups, including Dragonfly Industries, Aliya Wray’s Beauty Shop and  PMA Tattoo (all female minority-owned businesses) were able to acquire 0.0% small business loans through our sponsorship. Another of the group’s projects, The Roxian Theatre restoration is currently undergoing a massive overhaul and is scheduled to open as a mid-sized live music venue in 2019.