Finally, someone other than your parents will make you peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Located on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield, Peanut Butter Jelly Time has become Pittsburgh’s latest haven for childhood recipes turned functioning restaurant. Chris, 29, and Lauren Firman, 23, a brother and sister team and Pittsburgh natives, opened the gourmet PB&J restaurant on Nov. 24, inspired by a childhood spent eating and creating variations of the classic sandwich. After graduating from Duquesne University with a business degree, Chris Firman worked in hospitality mangement before opening Peanut Butter Jelly Time. Lauren joined the venture after graduating with a communications degree from Allegheny Community College.
“Growing up in a fairly large family, PB&J was usually the go-to for lunchtime meals and anytime snacks,” Chris Firman said. “As we got older, we would always make jokes of opening a PB&J shop of our own to pay homage to our favorite childhood food.”
The restaurant features an extensive menu with more than 40 PB&J options, including footlong sandwiches, calzones and PB&J sushi rolls, which are rolled with bread instead of rice and stuffed with PB&J filling, in addtion to other non-PB&J childhood favorites like grilled cheese and cereal. The Firmans also customize sandwiches to your specific tastes. Sick of peanut butter and wheat bread? Try sriracha on a hot dog.
Creating a menu filled with alternate versions of classic PB&J was the easiest part of opening the shop, Chris Firman said.
“We took a lot of creations we used to make as kids and created some adult favorites to add now,” Firman said. “You will find us messing with ingredients on a daily basis, always looking to find what goes best together for another signature creation we want to put on the menu.”
The restaurant, which holds just a few tables seated by a large window, is small but busy. The walls are painted vibrant blue and orange, and the kitchen area is open, giving customers a glimpse at the family team at work, which includes the Firman siblings and Chris’ fiance.
“We are local folks supporting local folks,” Firman said. “Our spreads are homemade and come weekly from Avella, Pennsylvania. [Local dairy farm] Turner’s Dairy takes care of milk, juices [and] cream cheeses. Schwebel’s Bread, a local bakery, handles all of our breads, bagels and rolls.”
Chris Firman said he and his sister selected Bloomfield for several reasons, including its welcoming residents.
“[Bloomfield] includes the perfect mix of residential and commercial use in the area, walking traffic, wide range demographics and we’re centrally located for those traveling from outside the city,” Firman said. “It has proved to be the right decision, as the neighborhood is amazing and has welcomed us with open arms.”
Firman said it was important for the shop to become part of the community and not “just another shop in it.” The store offers 10 percent discounts to other local businesses and hospitals in Bloomfield.
The restaurant also fills custom event orders, and the duo recently made “the largest PB&J” they could create for a wedding — providing what looked like a double extra large pizza box filled with PB&J sandwiches with “You’re the Peanut Butter to my Jelly” scripted in jelly on top.
The restaurant has started to gain some returning customers as a result, including Coleen and Bill Drischler from Glenshaw, Pennsylvania, who heard about the restaurant from their daughter.
“Everyone likes peanut butter and jelly to a certain degree, but I didn’t think it would be anything worthwhile,” Bill Drischler said. He and Coleen Drischler both got the PB&J calzone, a flat bread sandwich folded over and stuffed with PB&J, apples, strawberries and bananas. “But we were quite surprised, it was very good, and they have a lot of unique ideas.”
Though restaurants need more than local intrigue to sustain a business, restaurants that serve single items, like Peanut Butter Jelly Time, have a few advantages.
“In this case, it’s nostalgia and it’s cheap,” said Melissa McCart, a Post-Gazette food critic. “Increasingly, one-note restaurants have staying power because they’re inexpensive or less expensive than a full menu place.”
The prices for PB&J at Peanut Butter Jelly Time range from 99 cents for a classic PB&J to $5.75 for a PB&J calzone, one of the restaurant’s most expensive items.
Not all avant-garde restaurants have staying power though. Pizza Cono, a restaurant in Squirrel Hill that opened in 2014 and specialized in making cone-shaped pizzas, is now closed.
“A lot of it depends on the execution,” McCart said. “Cereal bars have opened in a couple cities. One abroad [in London] made people mad enough to vandalize the place, while another that opened in [Washington,] D.C., closed because the neighborhood thought it was inane. It’s all about knowing your market.”
For now, Peanut Butter Jelly Time seems to have found just that.
“On any given day, you would find a wide range of people coming through the doors,” Firman said. “We have Bloomfield’s senior generation, your area businessmen and women, the young professional crowd, college students and of course families with children.”
While bologna sandwiches usually fade from our diets by adulthood, peanut butter and jelly doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon for Pittsburghers — after their first visit to Peanut Butter Jelly Time, Coleen Drischler said she and her husband would return.
“The prices are great and the people are nice,” she said.