Downtown Pittsburgh restaurants remain closed, continue to struggle

PITTSBURGH — While some downtown restaurants remain shuttered due to the pandemic, those that have opened are reportedly struggling to bring customers back.

“Downtown Pittsburgh is a ghost town, still, to this day, there is nobody down here,” said Alex Fruzynski, partner at Harris Grill. “The narrative that things are back to normal in our industry is just not true.”

Fruzynski told Channel 11 that they occasionally serve only two or three parties per day, and overall sales are down 70 percent now compared to 2018 or 2019.

Data from the National Restaurant Association indicates that many other restaurants across Pennsylvania are seeing a similar drop. The agency reports “80 percent of Pennsylvania operators say their sales volume in August 2021 was lower than it was in August 2019.”

Fruzynski said with many people still working from home, the lunch hour and happy hours are nowhere near as busy as they once were. To avoid losing more money, the restaurant has drastically reduced its menu. They’ve also opted to close on Sundays and Mondays.

But Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, paints a different picture.

“Restaurants are extremely busy on nights and weekends and while lunches are not as busy during the week because many companies continue to encourage work from home, we continue to see an increase in the number of people coming in to Downtown,” he said.

Waldrup said to his knowledge, the biggest challenge facing restaurants downtown is “staffing.”

Fruzynski said they are operating with drastically fewer staff members than before the pandemic, but that the matter is almost moot considering they see so few customers for staff to serve.

Fruzynski says government assistance has dried up, and he hopes lawmakers will offer additional relief to help restaurants get by. He is hopeful that things will return to normal by next spring.

“We’re pretty good at weathering storms,” he said. “This is the hardest, longest storm we’ve ever been through and I’m looking forward to a brighter horizon someday, but it’s not there yet.”