Choolaah in East Liberty. Photo by TH Carlisle.

On any given Thursday, Fuel & Fuddle – a Pittsburgh gastropub and Oakland staple since 1996 — does somewhere around $1,000 in takeout orders, says owner Brandon Smith, who bought the business from its original owners in 2014. On NFL Sundays, the numbers climb even higher.

Roughly one-third of those proceeds, though — the money Smith uses to pay a staff of about 40 — go to third-party delivery services like Grubhub and Postmates. Smith says Fuel & Fuddle was one of the first restaurants to use Grubhub when it launched in Pittsburgh.

PittsCurb prototype.

But what if there was an app that connected takeout and B2B patrons directly to their favorite restaurant, allowing them to easily book and pay for a parking spot right out front to grab their grub?

“I think it would be great for Oakland because the toughest thing about Oakland is the traffic,” Smith says. “If we had some sort of system, I think it would benefit the city restaurants.”

The idea has picked up steam, with a concept dubbed PittsCurb winning the recent 48-hour Pittsburgh Civic Hackathon organized by the Pittsburgh Technology Council and Rustbuilt.

Backed by a team of thinkers from the Pittsburgh company Headstorm, the PittsCurb concept would use MeterFeeder to allow diners to purchase time in a city-owned parking spot, essentially cutting out the middleman — Grubhub, say, or Uber Eats — from the takeout/delivery transaction.

Down the line, restaurants might even be able to pay a portion of the parking fees to reserve choice spots, says Adam Paulisick, Headstorm’s chief product officer and the person driving the PittsCurb concept.

To boost access and revenue, the city could also borrow parking lot space from businesses that are dormant in the evening, like banks.

“The idea is, ‘How can the city support small businesses?’” asks Paulisick. “We want to help the city rapidly prototype with its curbs and connect that with business. Hence, PittsCurb.”

The city also has an incentive to take part in the project, he adds. This April, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pittsburgh parking revenues plummeted. Something like PittsCurb could be a creative way to generate revenue for the city — one small app purchase at a time. The fact that businesses will get to connect directly with consumers makes it a win-win.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of Pittsburgh — and they will be the things we will be referencing generation after generation,” Paulisick says. “I feel there’s a better opportunity here, to find a way that Silicon Valley overlords don’t rule the Mid-Atlantic.”

The concept needs about $250,000 in funding — plus possible integration from point-of-sale (POS) systems like Upserve, TouchBistro or Aloha — to get off the ground, Paulisick notes. In a talk with the Pittsburgh Tech Council, Paulisick said his company would invest “a couple hundred thousand of engineering time.”

For Paulisick it’s about investing in the city neighborhoods he loves. “If we’re not willing to fight for the very literal fabric of our neighborhoods, what are we willing to invest in?” he asks.

Kit Mueller, Rustbuilt’s chief evangelist, touts the PittsCurb concept as one of the brightest things to come out of this month’s hackathon. There’s a reason it took home first-place honors, he says.

“The judges’ deliberations were pretty quick and I’ll tell you why — it’s about the awareness of the degree that parking demand is down in the near term and brick-and-mortar stores need to expand their footprint,” Mueller says. “PittsCurb understood what a restaurant would need and what a consumer would need. It was well-designed.”

Paulisick is passionate about the concept, rolling out litanies of testimonials and citing an actual Grubhub invoice, which showed the company paying a local business $6,857.97 on orders exceeding $16,000 in April.

The hackathon’s organizers estimate PittsCurb developed its ideas after consulting with more than 50 area restaurateurs.

At Fuel & Fuddle, Smith says he has a mountain of other concerns he’s tackling in the era of COVID-19. He’s brought back 10 of his 40 staff members and is hoping Gov. Tom Wolf’s move to drum up restaurant business by greenlighting the sale of to-go cocktails will spur interest in places like his.

“We’re hoping for the best,” Smith says with a laugh. “Oakland may be like New Orleans tomorrow.”

Watch the video with Adam Paulisick here.

Justin Vellucci

A former news reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, Justin Vellucci currently freelances for a number of Pittsburgh publications and works as a staff writer for the music...