For students, autumn heralds pumpkin spice, sweaters and the mass migration back to school. For Oakland restaurants, that migration means business.
“Summer is very slow,” Jashim Uddin, a cashier at beer store It’s Dogg’n It, said. “All of Oakland is like this. It’s a seasonal business.”
And It’s Dogg’n It isn’t the only business that sees major seasonal changes.
There were 28,642 combined undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh Oakland campus in fall 2017, according to the University fact book. While the number of students that stay through the summer is undetermined, the influx of more than 4,000 first-years into the fall semester alone is enough to turn Oakland from a desert into a zoo.
Wada Abraham, co-owner of Antoon’s Pizza, estimates that her business increases approximately 200 percent during the school year. During the summer, her family can take Sundays off, close early and play Fortnite between orders. But when the school year rolls around, they get more customers — many of whom are drunk.
According to Abraham, one man in a cowboy outfit was so drunk that he urinated on himself while waiting for pizza.
“Cowboy boots on, shorts like Daisy Dukes,” Abraham said. “And he started peeing his pants and it went down to his boots.”
Sushi eating also slows down dramatically in the summer. According to Gimin Hu, a cashier at Oishii Bento, the sushi restaurant gets about 350 customers on a fall weekday, as opposed to 220 on a summer one — a nearly 40 percent decrease in business.
Not all businesses lose money in the summer, though. Dave and Andy’s ice-cream parlor makes roughly $500 more on a summer night than a night during the school year, according to ice-cream scooper Alex Williams. The business has to hire four extra summer staffers to meet the demand. There are more children, elderly people and families — and they tip better than fall customers.
“Students come in [during the fall], and they bring 20 people, and they want to try everything, and they don’t tip,” Williams said.
If a business has a customer base other than students, that can also pad summer fluctuations in sales. Las Palmas, which serves migrant workers from Mexico, Central America and South America, retains a solid customer base even after students leave.
“Workers come in from Mexico during the fall and migrate during the winter,” Juan-Carlos Estrada, a cashier at Las Palmas, said. “They leave during the winter, either for other work or to go home.”
Estrada estimates Las Palmas has roughly 300 customers a week during the summer, 800 a week during the fall and 500 to 600 a week during the winter.
Customers also buy more meat from Las Palmas’ vendor when migrant workers arrive in the fall, according to Estrada. The most popular cuts are untrimmed beef tenderloin cuts known as “lomo” which are common in Mexico and parts of Central and South America.
Local bars, along with late-night food joints, see some of the greatest fluctuations in their customer base as students move with the seasons.
Katie Krater, a floor manager at Hemingway’s Cafe and former copy editor and staff photographer for The Pitt News, said the number of customers on a Thursday night doubled after students returned to school. She also said that customers behave more boisterously as their numbers grow.
“It’s more babysitting in the school year on the weekends,” Krater said. “When there’s, like, no one in here, then people don’t really think they can get away with things. When it gets busier, they don’t think we can see them, so they try to do more.”
Since the school year started, a Hemingway’s bouncer stopped two customers from measuring their bare feet with the bar’s clipboards. Students also sometimes fall asleep in the bar.
Customer numbers in bars deeper in South Oakland are even more mercurial. According to Ben Cataldi, a bartender at Bootleggers, the bar fills up with 75 to 90 people on a weekend night after students return from summer vacation. He said Bootleggers’ traffic is between 30 and 50 percent of that on a weekend night in the summer.
Bootleggers also has the latest hours of any bar in South Oakland. On Tuesdays, they get overflow from Garage Door’s karaoke night.
In comparison, The Thirsty Scholar — sitting on Fifth Avenue, a few blocks down from UPMC Montefiore — keeps a steady flow of customers from nearby hospitals and UPMC facilities all year.
“The hospital people like the summertime, ‘cause they like to go out and enjoy their lunch,” Thirsty Scholar manager Joanne Chizmar said.
The Thirsty Scholar does get less traffic in the summer, though. Chizmar said she couldn’t give firm numbers as to how much. They pick up again once students from surrounding colleges return. She also said that the high number of restaurants in Oakland makes it a competitive market.
“You have to give good deals to get people in,” Chizmar said.
Late-night food businesses see a universal boom after students return. According to Danny Dwyer, a cook at Larry and Carol’s pizza parlor, his tickets numbers jump from between 40 and 50 on a Friday night in the summer to 160 on a Friday after college students return. Larry and Carol’s busiest hours are between 1:30 a.m. and 3:00 a.m, according to Dwyer.
“The clock hits 1:30, and it’s just nonstop cooking,” Dwyer said.
The nearby Campus Deli works the same hours. According to head chef Luke Zeman, its clientele doubles when students return. But that clientele becomes distinctly tipsier.
“Everyone is a lot drunker, and there’s a lot more late night crowds from the bar,” Zeman said.
Contributed reporting by Madeline Gavatorta.
Katie Krater is a former staff photographer and copy editor for The Pitt News.
Interviews with Juan-Carlos Estrada were translated from Spanish to English.