Faces of 3rd in the Burg – Manqia Qui and Suba

The form of a city is defined by the buildings that shape its skyline. Its soul is lifted by its arts.

The arts are reflected in everything we see, hear, and smell. They are a driving force in many communities, enhancing education, trade and social interaction. The arts have built nations through passion and persistence. They have developed language and expression. They have brought cultures together, settling grievances and forging new paths. The arts have been an economic factor in the prosperity and revitalization of our cities, and, yet, they do not get the consideration they deserve.

Sustainability of the arts comes from formal advocates, as well as, grass roots organizations that are driven to enhance community and cultural awareness.

The Central Penn Arts Guide would like to highlight the faces represented by one such organization. In just over a year, 3rd in the Burg has made a real impact on community and the arts. Located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, this group of local business people passionately and sincerely recognizes the cultural expression of artisans, local galleries, businesses, and restaurateurs on the third Friday of each month.

Photo by Rick Snizik

Manqia Qui and Suba

(Interview with Staci Basore, owner and partner of Manqia Qui and Suba)

CPAG: Please tell us about yourself and give us a little background on how you came to establish your restaurant in Harrisburg.

SB: I moved here about fifteen years ago from Phoenix, Arizona. Unbeknownst to me, Rosemarie “Qui Qui” Musarra, my business partner and the Executive Chef of the restaurant, had also relocated here.

I’d worked with Qui Qui over twenty-four years ago in Washington, D.C. After D.C., she relocated to Central America and I went out west. I thought it was rather unusual that we had not spoken in years and both ended up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Timing was everything and, when this restaurant came up for sale, we both thought it was a great location and bought Mangia Qui.

We’ve been here about nine years now, and, in addition to Qui Qui and me, we have Elide Hower, our other partner and pastry chef, working with us here at Suba and Mangia Qui.

CPAG: Why is your establishment unique in the area and what should diners expect?

SB: The focus on the food here is—although I think it is trite and a bit passé to say this—very much “farm-to-table.” This concept has become very trendy in the past four or five years and we’ve been rooted in the philosophy since its inception. We started the restaurant with the intention to be “sustainable” and “green” and to make sure we buy local. Supporting local farmers and markets has sort of been the underlying philosophy behind the restaurant. We’ve maintained this thinking and held true to it through the years.

In fact, it’s actually more important to us to buy local than to buy organic. If I were able to buy organic blueberries from Maine or strawberries from California, we’d prefer to buy non-organic, but locally grown produce, just to reduce the carbon footprint. Transporting something across the country using that amount of carbon just isn’t always worth it to us. When we can buy organic produce locally, it is a win-win situation for all of us.

We work with so many different purveyors, well over fifty locally. Our produce and our meats are all local to the state of Pennsylvania. All produce, with the exception of certain produce that, quite frankly, just isn’t grown here—like ramps, for instance, which are in season now and only last for five weeks—are imported from Oregon.

The nettles we use in the restaurant, which also have a short season, are imported from Oregon, too. All the gourmet comestible meats and cheeses come from either Spain or Italy, but all the other produce items and meats items are from Pennsylvania.

CPAG: How did you come to be involved with 3rd in the Burg?

SB: I once owned the 10th Muse, which was a shop just down the street on North Second Street. It was a great little shop, and probably was one of the only retail establishments downtown other than the shops in Strawberry Square, at the time. I still think there are no other retail shops downtown to speak of on Second Street even now.

The 10th Muse was based on fair trade, local artists, and all things sustainable. It was a great shop, but unfortunately, it was a losing endeavor financially. It wasn’t well supported by the community, although we did do art exhibits every month and openings tied to the exhibits. I actually think we were one of the first to do that on a monthly basis, but there were so few galleries at the time. This was over 10 years ago. As you can see, I was already sort of deeply entrenched in the art movement in Harrisburg long before 3rd in the Burg ever came to be, back before we had the proliferation of the galleries we have now.

CPAG: Has your involvement with 3rd in the Burg helped to build your business?

SB: We have always placed art in the restaurant.  Art has served two purposes for Mangia Qui: it has provided aesthetics for the restaurant and, at the same time, supported our local artists.

When we opened the restaurant, we hired Deborah Peters to curate the works of art. Deborah currently works as the curator at the Whitaker Center and is a fine artist in her own right. As our curator, she was able to change the art every few months. She was great!  Over the past two years, though, it’s been more difficult to change-out the artwork. It’s difficult to find local artists whose bodies of work encompass the range of large format pieces we’re interested in showing. Our goal, obviously, is to provide local artists with a venue to display their work so that people can see and talk about the work as they dine.

We have also been involved with Gallery Walk for the nine years. When the 3rd in the Burg came to be, we were fully supportive of the initiative and have been ever since. To us, the idea of 3rd in the Burg in the Midtown Harrisburg was exciting, even though we’re just shy of Midtown.  It’s a community-based organization and since the restaurant is also community-based, it’s good for us and a pleasure to be involved.

I believe that our involvement with 3rd in the Burg has benefited the restaurant economically, too. I think those Friday evenings have shown a notable increase in business, due to our affiliation and the advertising. We’re not an art gallery in the strictest sense of the word, so I think it is difficult for people to come in to view the artwork when the restaurant is full. I do believe people will make this their last stop to have a cocktail and view the work that is presented here.

I think in that sense 3rd in the Burg has certainly helped the restaurant. I am not sure the benefits should be measured strictly on a financial level; however, it’s about being in something that supports the community. Most of our clientele are local, although we do get a fair share from across the river, Hershey and other areas. For me, it is really important to have a restaurant that serves this community—the residents of Midtown.

CPAG: How do you see 3rd in the Burg benefiting both the business community and the City of Harrisburg in the future?

SB: For a city to grow culturally, you must have the institutions that support the growth. One thing I have always said since I moved here, and which concerns me, is Harrisburg’s lack of vision.

For instance, I’m disturbed about how we have developed Second Street. I’m happy that those businesses are here, I would have preferred a stronger mix of retail, restaurants, and galleries—along with the bars—like one finds in any major metropolitan city. Granted, we’re a smaller city, but you still need the symbiotic blend of galleries and retailers, along with the other institutions, to draw people in and create a reason to spend time in the Harrisburg. If we do not offer a broad range of activities the city just becomes a place for people to eat and drink.

Those other venues are much needed and I’m excited about what 3rd in the Burg has done, particularly for Third Street and the development that’s taking place. I hope they thrive. I’m also hopeful that the energy will flow this way across Forester Street.

Again, I’m not certain you can gauge the benefits monetarily, but I think having 3rd in the Burg here is certainly a cornerstone to building anything community-based in this city.

CPAG: One final question: Is Mangia Qui a destination or is the city the destination? How do you benefit?

SB: I think we’re a destination of sorts because of our location and because we’re slightly off the beaten track, which I actually prefer. I love this location! I love North Street! I love the trees, that it’s quiet, and that we’re across from the Capital.

What a beautiful view!

I do believe more people come here for us, though. If there were more restaurants and retail, I think people would say, “Let’s go to North Street and see what we’d like to eat.” But, we’re not located on a street like that, so, they’re coming here for us, which is good. It’s great that we have community support and the support of the Whitaker Center, the Forum, and the Harrisburg Symphony, but, by and large, I believe people come to eat the food at Mangia Qui and Suba.

I want people to see the quote that’s posted on our website and at the bottom of each and every menu:

“We embrace fair trade, environmental, and economic sustainability. We do this, with you in mind, as well as the health of our planet.”

This speaks of the importance of food, community, and culture. It speaks of the passion we have for the food we serve and where it comes from. I think, too often, that people go to the supermarket and pay very little attention to the work, labor, hours, and love that has gone into what they’ve purchased. They sort of walk away and that’s the end of their connection to their purchase.

To us, the purchasing process is the connection to the farmer that grew the produce. To the passion they had for their product and the excitement they have about their purpose. It’s the farmer’s enthusiasm that translates to us, and we become excited and enthusiastic about purchasing form them. We become excited about the love they show.

I also want people to understand that this is vital to us. It speaks, not only, to the philosophy of the restaurant, but also to our personal philosophy in being sustainable and being both community and locally based. I hope that translates when people come in here and they feel this energy because that is the reason we do this!

CPAG: Thanks, Staci. It’s been a pleasure!

Visit Mangai Qui and Suba at 272 North Street, Harrisburg. For reservations, call (717) 233-7358.

Photo by Rick Snizik