Fuel and Fuddle to close after 27 years


Alyssa Carnevali | Staff Photographer

Fuel and Fuddle on Oakland Avenue.

By Jack Troy, Senior Staff Writer

With its lease set to expire and rent on the rise, Fuel and Fuddle announced that May 26 will be its last day of business. 

The gastropub opened 27 years ago and has become popular among students for its signature pizzas and wide selection of beer. 

Owner Brandon Smith said the decision to close was driven not only by the rent hike, but a combination of rising costs, short staffing, maintenance needs and a desire to spend more time with his wife and kids. 

“The timing of my lease ending had me thinking about my life and what I want to commit to over the next few years,” Smith said. “I’m pretty burnt out, and I decided it’s time for a change.”

Fuel and Fuddle sign.
(Alyssa Carnevali | Staff Photographer)

A group of three local restaurateurs owned Fuel and Fuddle when it moved into Oakland in 1996. Four years later, Smith started as a server and host while studying at Pitt. 

Smith eventually worked his way up to general manager and bought the restaurant after two of the owners, Mike Hanley and Jerry Dilembo, decided to focus on running Burgatory, a fast casual chain based in Pittsburgh. 

“It’s a cool story,” Smith said. “I was 19 when I started here and eventually took it over. What’s more American than that?”

Since Fuel and Fuddle announced its closure on May 10, people have come in droves to support the restaurant one last time, “breaking every sales record ever,” according to Smith. Wednesday was the busiest weekday in Fuel and Fuddle history, Smith told The Pitt News the following day. 

“This has been the busiest we have ever been,” Smith said. “It’s been great to see all the old friends that have been stopping in.”

People also have until Friday to preorder from a final run of Fuel and Fuddle t-shirts and claim their name plate from the “Beer Cult” wall, an honor bestowed upon regulars who’ve drank each of the 100-plus beers on the menu. 

With Fuel and Fuddle’s impending closure, Oakland will have lost several popular businesses since the start of the pandemic, including the Original Hot Dog Shop and Mad Mex

“Restaurants are in trouble, not just in Oakland,” Smith said. “There are a hundred restaurants for sale in this city right now. Some people are still doing well, but a lot of us are just tired.”

A sign outside of Fuel and Fuddle on Oakland Avenue noting that May 26 is the restaurant’s last day open. (Alyssa Carnevali | Staff Photographer)

Several Fuel and Fuddle patrons said the neighborhood’s selection of bars and restaurants is changing for the worse, including Anna Tran, a graduate student in the physician assistant studies program.

“It’s been such a drastic change and obviously I’m not a fan of pushing out small, family-owned businesses,” Tran said. “We’re becoming a stereotypical college town.”

Tran said a friend introduced her to Fuel and Fuddle as an undergraduate, and she has since carried on the tradition by bringing first-timers to the restaurant. 

Current students aren’t the only ones with fond memories of Fuel and Fuddle. Brad Blinkhorn, a Pitt alumnus, said he’s “losing a lot of nostalgia” with the restaurant’s closure, adding that the place looks nearly the same as it did when he was a student. 

Longtime Fuel and Fuddle bartender and server Mary Pitz said she’ll miss the camaraderie among the staff. Pitz said she celebrated her 21st birthday there and, even when it wasn’t a special occasion, workers would often hang out and have a beer after hours. 

“Everyone here is like a family,” Pitz said. 

In her final shifts at Fuel and Fuddle, Pitz said she’s seen an outpouring of support from customers. 

“I was bartending the night after they made the announcement, and I can’t even tell you how many people said to me, ‘We had to get here as soon as we heard. This place means so much to us.’”