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Michael Solomonov: I didn’t know it then, but growing up in Squirrel Hill shaped my whole life | My hometown

Everybody was invested in each other, but I didn't appreciate it until after I left.

Michael Solomonov (right) and his younger brother, the late David Solomonov (left), in their house in Squirrel Hill.
Michael Solomonov (right) and his younger brother, the late David Solomonov (left), in their house in Squirrel Hill.Read moreHandout

I feel the most at home in Israel, but I grew up in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh. I moved to Pittsburgh when I was 3, so my formative years were in Squirrel Hill. I think back on that time after everything that happened there a few weeks ago. The village that it takes to raise a child is very evident there. Everybody was invested in one another, but I didn't appreciate it growing up. It was so small, and everybody knew who you were. Now, I see it as idyllic.

We lived in a pretty small house on top of a big hill. We all learned how to skateboard and ride bikes down that hill. The public elementary school was just down the street from where I lived, and when we weren't in school, we were on our bikes running around the woods all day long. Sometimes we would skip school and go to Pamela's, a diner in the neighborhood that has the best pancakes in the universe.

My business partner and I met because of Squirrel Hill. Steve Cook, my partner and cofounder of CookNSolo, grew up in Miami and Detroit, but I grew up with his wife, Shira, in Squirrel Hill. That's how we met.

Michael Solomonov (right) and Steve Cooke.

It is no coincidence that my business partner is somebody whom I met through Squirrel Hill. That was the criterion for the partnership to work. It was the only thing we based our decision on to work together.  I have relied on Steve for almost everything in my life and he has been there for me through every kind of personal infliction one could imagine — including him driving me to drug rehab.

I believe that you are as successful as the people you choose to have in your life and the people who have chosen to have you in theirs. Success is about the feeling that you have with the people whom you care about. I have those things with my partner, and Squirrel Hill is certainly a big reason for it.

Michael Solomonov is the James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur behind several restaurants in Philadelphia, including Zahav, Abe Fisher, and the Rooster.

As told to Abraham Gutman.

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