Oakland restaurants ‘delivering’ on expectations despite COVID-19 restrictions


Carolyn Pallof | Senior Staff Photographer

Primanti Bros. is a sandwich shop chain that finds its roots in Pittsburgh.

By Bobbo Craig, For The Pitt News

Walking through Oakland, students can be seen carrying takeout bags down the street or sitting at tables outside.

Although many restaurants have been able to open their doors to the public, many are still feeling the detrimental effects of COVID-19. To be in accordance with Allegheny County COVID-19 restrictions, restaurants must close their doors by 11 p.m., keep the number of people in the building below 25% of full capacity, maintain social distancing and enforce mask-wearing.

Brandon Smith, owner of Fuel and Fuddle, said business has improved since the summer, but it isn’t close to where it was before the pandemic.

Better than summer, but still not what you would expect for September. We only have five tables inside, so rainy days are a bust,” Smith said. “Also, we are required to close at 11 p.m. so we aren’t able to do our ‘late-night cheap eats menu.’ This also hurts alcohol sales.

Smith said besides an earlier closing time and fewer customers allowed inside, food costs have skyrocketed for Fuel and Fuddle. They no longer have access to ribs, and multiple other ingredients have gone up in price, such as wings and cheeses. Smith also said produce was difficult to get a hold of during the earlier months of the pandemic, but it is less difficult to buy now.

Although Fuel and Fuddle has faced obstacles due to the pandemic, it has found some ways to adapt. According to Smith, the restaurant has always delivered, but as a result of COVID-19, they introduced an online pickup service that he said has really helped sales.

Adam Golomb, the chief marketing officer at Primanti Bros., said the return of students has brought a newfound optimism for the restaurant.

“Our location in Oakland thrives when school is in session. Students, staff, parents and visitors all play in a role in our success,” Golomb said. “The great community of Oakland keeps us busy all year long — but we’re happy to have an active campus again.”

Golomb said Primanti Bros. has also introduced delivery in response to COVID-19, and it has been a great benefit for them.

“Oakland is a community that does well with delivery. We’ve developed our own delivery program on our website and mobile app,” Golomb said. “It’s the fastest, easiest and, most importantly, least expensive way to have Primanti Bros. delivered. As time has passed — we’ve done more delivery than ever before.”

Like Primanti Bros., Roots Natural Kitchen added delivery as a way to boost revenue and accommodate COVID-19 restrictions. Alberto Namnum, CEO of Roots, said introducing delivery has been really great for them, especially because of third-party delivery services such as DoorDash and Postmates.

“It has certainly helped. Third-party delivery also fits very well into our business mission, which is to empower people through radical accessibility to natural food,” Namnum said. “Anything that makes getting natural food easier is 100 in our book.”

Jonathan Smolensky — a first-year forensic science major who lives in Sutherland Hall, located at the top of Oakland’s Cardiac Hill — said delivery, especially through third-party delivery services, is convenient, but expensive.

“[Deliveries] would be convenient because of the hill we’re on,” Smolensky said. “It’s just a pain to walk down, but I would do it more if [DoorDash] didn’t cost so much money.”

Like other restaurants across Pennsylvania, Oakland establishments have adjusted their in-person dining experience to follow state regulations. Namnum said Roots has removed all indoor seating even where it is allowed. For Fuel and Fuddle, although the transition to follow state mandates is required, Smith said employees are frustrated with the requirements.

“It sucks,” Smith said. “We hate it.”

Namnum said Roots’ employees are fairly optimistic about the restrictions.

“We as a company across the board believe very strongly in the value natural food has in people’s lives,” Namnum said, “so everyone is very engaged and committed to providing it in any way we can, especially during such trying times as these.”

Golomb said Primanti Bros. has powered through the difficult situation brought about by the restrictions and has had a great response from their customers.

“Our customers have been great. Rules are rules and we’re always working hard to enforce them to ensure the safety of our staff and the students who are here to have a good time,” Golomb said. “So — in that way, nothing has changed. We’re abiding by all of the regulations and our customers have been respectful.”