RJ Favro, of Rania’s Catering and the newly reopened café at 100 Central Square, was hoping he’d land a job in Pittsburgh when he answered the ad for an executive chef.
Rania Harris, Washington Road, sold the business, an Uptown staple for 40 years, to Aaron Hoover when she retired in January, 2022. “I feel like I sold my business to my son,” Harris told Mt. Lebanon Magazine at the time.
A little over a year later, Aaron died suddenly, at age 44, leaving behind his wife, Melanie, and their two children, Grayson and Ainsley.
Melanie owns the business now, and she is determined to fulfill Aaron’s dream.
“My husband passed on February 25. I walked in here February 26 as we were making decisions on what to do. It became so apparent within the first day how much of a family this really is,” she said. “I always knew this, but to see it and be a part of it and see how much everyone loves their work and takes pride in it, it’s impressive,” she added.
Melanie interviewed 40 chefs before hiring Favro. Originally from West Virginia, Favro has lived in 11 states and opened more restaurants than he can name. With 20-plus years’ experience, 15 of them in super fine dining, including at Nemacolin, he was ready to become part of the Rania’s family.
“Rania’s is known for quality, high-end catering, very high quality food, everything from scratch so I felt like it was a marriage made in heaven. She really needed a chef. I really needed somewhere where I can be creative and somewhere where I was going to do more than just producing food,” Favro said.
In addition to the grab-and-go offerings of the past, Favro envisions a café where customers can sit down, have a sandwich and chat over a cup of coffee. He wants to hold wine tastings and pairings, and possibly paint and sip events, as well as chef classes. He plans to keep all the classics on the catering side, like butternut squash ravioli and pot pies, while also growing the business and offering customers more than their money’s worth.
Favro feels an unbreakable bond with Aaron Hoover, whom he never met. “I think all chefs are connected in a way, so I want to jump in there and take over where he let go,” he said.
Walk into Melanie’s office and you’ll see Aaron’s guitar hanging above her desk. “His apron hangs in the kitchen where it will always stay. His legacy, what he did for this company will always live on,” promised Favro.
Melanie is glad she found someone to further Aaron’s dream.
“I think he would be excited to know that the business is growing, that the food is still going to be excellent, that it is growing his vision for this to be here for our children. This is what he would have wanted.”