On October 25, 2004, two kids just out of college who knew nothing about the food service industry opened a restaurant in the back of an historic cathedral in downtown Pittsburgh. The space, which is off the beaten path, has no direct access door and is poorly equipped to be a restaurant from just about any perspective; it seemed to set its aspiring restaurateurs up for near-immediate failure. Yet 10 years have gone by and those two kids still have their lunch counter in the back of Trinity Cathedral as well as a food truck and a full scale bar and restaurant on Butler Street in Lawrenceville. As Franktuary prepares to say goodbye to its original location on July 23, 2014, its founders–Tim Tobitsch and Megan Lindsey–offer a huge thank you to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, and all of the Trinity Cathedral staff members who have worked alongside the restaurant over the past decade.
Of course, no restaurant has a ten year run without creating lots of memories for the people who were a part of it. Here’s a look back at some significant moments that took place during the downtown era:
The Beginning (2003)
Franktuary began as a not entirely serious business plan in the Grove City College cafeteria in 2003. Post college, Megan worked at the Carson Street Deli and Tim had a data entry temp-job at Ohio Valley General Hospital. In their spare time they converted a church bookstore space into what would become Franktuary. Knowing less about construction than they did about food service, the two found themselves knee deep in wet cement and attempting to use large power tools that could be rented from Home Depot.
After navigating through some building inspection delays Franktuary officially opened for business on October 25, 2004, which marked the beginning of…
The One Employee Era (2004 to 2006)
In the early years Franktuary had one employee on a very part-time basis. During that time period, important life skills such as how to make ends meet on less than $10,000 per year after taxes, how to strip and re-wax a tile floor without incurring serious injury, and how to navigate a potential Federal lawsuit without a paid attorney were learned. Living with six to nine housemates, some of whom were highly incompatible, was the norm for the owners. Perhaps the most embarrassing tale to be told during this era has to do with the Cathedral’s broken water heater, fear of the Allegheny County Health Department, and a questionable use of the return policy at a major home improvement retailer. Certainly, the most formative moment came from getting to know a homeless gentleman–that word is used intentionally–and helping him recover both housing and his stolen identity. Having said that, the one employee era was not sustainable and if not for a Food Network half hour feature on the restaurant in November of 2005 we may never have made it to…
The Health Scare Era (2007-2009)
In 2007 Franktuary reached a crossroads. Oliver Avenue was closed to vehicular traffic for an extended period of time, Trinity Cathedral was made even more inaccessible by scaffolding and drapery that covered the entire face of the building while it was restored to its original sandstone color, and the Food Network effect had fully worn off. In spite of circumventing the aforementioned legal threat and blowing off steam by holding a dramatic “funeral” for the business’ original name complete with wailing mourners, live priests, and a deflated hot dog suit in a full sized coffin, challenges continued. Tim was clearly unwell, and several months later he received a Crohn’s disease diagnosis after losing a substantial amount of weight quickly and unintentionally. Sense of purpose was lost until Tim had an epiphany centered around grass-fed beef as he worked to restore his health naturally in his New Jersey hometown while Megan ran the restaurant back in Pittsburgh. Soon thereafter Tim returned to the city with renewed energy after spending 18 months at home, which led to…
The Food Truck Era (2010-2012)
In the spring of 2010 Franktuary obtained a food truck and became a mobile vending pioneer in Pittsburgh. Around that time a shift in awareness pertaining to the Franktuary name occurred. Suddenly, instead of being met with blank stares when the name “Franktuary” was mentioned among strangers, there were nods of recognition: “Oh, that place in the back of the church! I’ve heard about it.” It didn’t matter that about half the time the speaker then referenced a publication in which Franktuary was never featured. Yet despite the gains Franktuary was making in terms of credibility and an ever increasing social media fan base, it remained a business that struggled to sustain itself. After lengthy negotiation Franktuary was finally approved for a commercial bank loan and it became time for…
The Lawrenceville Era (2013 – Present)
In January 2013, with the Lawrenceville bar and restaurant up and running, Franktuary finally had a space that was properly equipped to be a restaurant for the very first time. As an added bonus, it was on a street where people regularly looked for dining options! As the restaurant evolved on Butler Street, it became more and more apparent that the time and attention it took to keep the original location running smoothly no longer was a sensible commitment, and Megan and Tim decided to close the original Oliver Avenue doors on July 23, 2014–National Hot Dog Day.
While the business may have outgrown the place where it all began, the people involved will always look back fondly on their time at 325 Oliver Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh. From every day interactions with great customers, to providing live play-by-play coverage of an abandoned Downtown during the G-20 Summit, to seeing our space converted to an orphanage for The Dark Knight Rises, the memories will last a lifetime.
– Tim Tobitsch
(Food truck photo courtesy of Quelcy Kogel/WithTheGrains)