It all started with a text message.
“He’s very spontaneous,” says Nicki Cardilli of Justin Fitzgerald. Together, the pair own and operate The Coop Chicken & Waffles food truck.
For the past three years, the truck has cruised the streets of Pittsburgh, serving Chicken and Waffle creations at breweries, events, and festivals. Known for their fluffy Belgian waffles and hand-breaded chicken, the truck is extremely popular within the Pittsburgh food truck scene. So much so, in fact, that the business is currently in the process of expanding with their first brick-and-mortar shop, located on East Ohio Street in the Northside.
But before all that – the festivals, events, private parties, and now, a permanent storefront – The Coop was just a retired school bus in Philadelphia.
“He texts me one day at work and says, ‘By the way, I bought a small school bus from auction, and we are driving to Philly this weekend to get it,” recalls Cardilli with a laugh.
So, the duo drove to Philadelphia and picked up their bus from a lot.
“We didn’t even know if it would run,” continues Cardilli. “It took us about 9 hours to get home.”
But it was when the bus was safely on the other side of the state that the adventure really began.
“So, we wake up the next morning with this huge bus in our driveway, and are like, ‘What… do we do now?”
Fitzgerald, a native of Houston, Texas, had the idea of serving Chicken and Waffles, using some of his family’s recipes. Cardilli comes from a big Italian family and has “always cooked.” Together, the duo renovated the bus and developed a menu, hitting the streets of Pittsburgh at the end of 2016. It became clear pretty quickly that Fitzgerald’s hunch about making Chicken and Waffles was a success.
“We are so fortunate that it has grown into what it is,” says Cardilli. There are people who come back month after month, year after year.”
For the next phase of their business, The Coop is renovating the former Rita’s Italian Ice space on the corner of East Ohio Street and Cedar Avenue into their first storefront. This renovation has been a group effort amongst multiple organizations and businesses in the neighborhood.
“There have been a lot of people involved in making this happen,” says Cardilli.
The Coop currently aims to open in January 2020. The food truck will remain operational, and is still available for bookings and private events.
Once the shop is open, the menu will be very similar to the food truck. This includes various types of Chicken and Waffle dishes with chicken tenders, chicken wings, and even chicken tenders baked inside of a Belgian waffle. Their famous “Dessert Waffles” will also be available, including the Apple Pie Waffle, Cinnamon Roll Waffle, and Blueberry Compote Waffle. And with the expanded kitchen, The Coop plans to introduce a few new menu items.
“We’re not going to go crazy with the menu, but we are going to add a few things people have asked us for over the years,” says Cardilli.
This includes dark meat and chicken thighs, as well as hot sides like Mac and Cheese, hash browns, and hot apples. The restaurant also plans to have a “Family Meal” where guests can purchase a few sides and several pieces of chicken for an affordable price. Just like everything served on the truck, ingredients are always fresh, and every dish is made to order.
The design of the restaurant will be similar to the truck. Picture a “barn feel” with white-washed wood and concrete floors. Guests will order at a large, L-shaped counter. The interior will have limited seating, but in the warmer months, there will be outside dining via a small patio at the rear of the store.
Customers can stop in the shop to order takeout, and there are already plans in the works to set up an delivery service to accommodate nearby spots like Downtown and Allegheny General Hospital.
But we recommend stopping in the shop, because that’s when you’ll have the chance to see (and smell) your chicken and waffles being made.
Keep an eye on The Coop social media for updates on the shop.
The Coop (401 East Ohio Street)
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