Since he opened Freedom Square Diner almost four years ago, Tom Cross, of Cranberry, said he has tried to participate in fundraisers and events that benefit local nonprofits, including donations to the Cranberry CUP, Gleaners Food Bank and The Miracle League of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
“That’s just what being part of the community is about,” he said.
His efforts have not gone unnoticed.
The Chamber of Commerce Inc., which serves Cranberry and the North Hills, and Cranberry Township Community Chest, an organization that partners with local nonprofit organizations, have named Freedom Square Diner the 2012 Business of the Year.
The groups also honored Frank Petrone, a longtime resident and a founding member of the Cranberry Township Rotary Club, as their 2012 Citizen of the Year.
Cross, who runs the restaurant on Freedom Road with his wife and his son, Shawn Cross, said he was shocked by the honor.
“We just try to do little things to help the organizations that do all the heavy lifting,” he said.
Petrone, now a part-time worker at the Cranberry Home Depot after retiring from the building materials business, was just as modest.
“I feel there are so many others in the township who deserve that recognition rather than I, but I’ll accept with pride,” he said. “I’m humbled and grateful.”
Petrone, who moved to the area in 1960, was instrumental in bringing a post office to Cranberry Township. After a 15-year process that involved lobbying local legislators and traveling to Washington, D.C. with members of a township post office commission, Cranberry gained its own post office by the 1990s.
Prior to that, the growing community was covered by a mishmash of zip codes from Zelienople, Evans City, Mars and Warrendale.
“It was confusing,” Petrone said. “To mail a package, you had to travel to one of those other places.”
Petrone also served on the Cranberry Township Board of Supervisors from 1976 to 1982, helped to form Cranberry's original Community Chest and guided the township's growth as a former member of its Planning Advisory Commission. He remains an active Rotary Club member and an advocate of local firefighting and ambulance organizations.
“He is Mr. Cranberry to me,” said township Manager Jerry Andree.
Freedom Square Diner also is ingrained in the township. When he opened the restaurant in 2008, Cross said he wanted to attract neighbors who live in the community and not just customers passing through it. That was one of the main reasons he opened his restaurant on Freedom Road instead of at a location on Route 19, the township’s biggest thoroughfare, he said.
“I knew from the get-go that's what we had to do,” he said.
Every December, the restaurant holds an annual Christmas Giving Dinner, a two-day affair with all proceeds set aside for Gleaners Food Bank. Cross also donates an unclaimed prize from his diner’s “no peek” envelope promotion in December to the Miracle League and gives cash to the Cranberry CUP.
The diner also supports Cranberry’s Volunteer Fire Company members and their families by donating Christmas meals and children’s gifts to volunteers.
“During its four years in Cranberry, Freedom Square Diner has earned its reputation as a pillar of the township’s business community and as its 2012 Business of the Year,” the CTCC said in a statement.