Oakland eatery Fuel & Fuddle to reopen under new owners

Matthew Santoni
| Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Less than a year after leaving Fuel & Fuddle in Oakland to turn around a Mt. Lebanon bar, former manager Brandon Smith is returning to reopen the place where he worked for 13 years and met his future wife.

A minor fire closed Fuel & Fuddle in April, and its former owners, 8 and Jerry Dilembo, wanted to focus on expanding their Burgatory chain.

A conversation with Smith about the restaurant's repairs turned into an offer for him to buy the place, and Mike Hanley and Dilembo were happy to hand it over to someone they knew and trusted.

“I'd put in so much time there,” said Smith, who plans to reopen the Oakland Avenue institution in August. “I felt like that was my place, and it missed me.”

His partner in the business and kitchen manager will be Greg Ripper, one of Smith's old friends who joined him in buying and turning Mt. Lebanon's Korner Pub on Bower Hill Road into a destination for craft beer connoisseurs.

The two purchased Fuel & Fuddle this month for an undisclosed sum.

“We've been business partners for six months, and it's gone so well, we're expanding,” Ripper said.

Ripper owns Keystone Cafe at the Tech Center in Oakland but will close that to run the kitchen at Fuel & Fuddle.

“I've always been more of a back-of-the-house kind of guy,” said Ripper. “(Keystone Cafe) was just a three- or four-person operation, and if I'm not going to be there, things aren't going to get done.”

Hanley and Dilembo paid to replace the ventilation system after the fire, and Smith and Ripper have been upgrading the restaurant's paint, exterior, TVs and sound system. Ripper said most of Fuel & Fuddle's menu will stay the same, though he'll remove some less-popular items and make frequent updates. Smith said some connections he made with beer distributors and enthusiasts through the Korner Pub could translate into an expanded beer offering at Fuel.

“Fuel & Fuddle is a great concept, but not one that we can replicate in multiple locations,” said Hanley, one of the former owners. “It's a great little joint, and it has a very loyal following in Pittsburgh and Oakland.

“(Smith and Ripper) have youth on their side. They have a lot of energy and a lot of ideas.”

In addition to three full Burgatory restaurants, a stand in Consol Energy Center and leases for locations in the North Shore, Murrysville and Market Square, Hanley and Dilembo co-own Joe Mama's Italian Deluxe and four Uncle Sam's Subs locations.

Hanley said they are not selling those establishments but might be open to the possibility later.

Getting Fuel & Fuddle up and running will take Smith away from the Korner Pub for about a month, but a manager has been hired for the pub, he said. Later he'll split his time between working in Oakland and his hometown of Mt. Lebanon.

Matthew Santoni is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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