Lunch hour in Penn Hills has taken on an entirely new meaning for people waiting in lines to get a Rally’s meal.
“The traffic is terrible,” said Rob Schneider, summing it up while standing outside his vacuum distribution office on Frankstown Road.
His office happens to be across the road from the brand new Rally’s fast-food chain.
Tampa-based Checkers & Rally’s Restaurants Inc. officially opened Oct. 7 in a vacant building at 11749 Frankstown Road that formerly housed a Taco Bell.
Between the honks, yells and revving engines speeding by as they escaped the standstill trap, Schneider said: “And it’s not even that bad today.”
He said the traffic piled up all the way to Mt. Hope Cemetery, nearly a mile up the road, on the restaurant’s debut. But now, patrons have adapted by parking in nearby parking lots, including the one he and his employees use.
“I had four people coming in for job interviews yesterday. When I called them to find out why they didn’t make it, they told me it was because they couldn’t find a parking spot. There’s no parking here — terrible,” he said.
On Oct 8, 13 vehicles waited in the restaurant’s drive-thru line that extended to the Lime Hollow Road intersection with Frankstown Road. One man was trapped for nearly 20 minutes as he waited to turn right out of the restaurant’s parking lot.
Rob Schneider, a business owner across the street, says the traffic seems to be getting worse and worse. pic.twitter.com/4ibOWGCTSs
— Dillon Garrett Carr (@dillonswriting) October 10, 2019
“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Nick Russo, who works in a mechanic shop across from the restaurant. He said the only good thing from the amount of traffic is the boosted interest in a truck he is trying to sell that sits in the parking lot now mostly used for Rally’s patrons.
Brent Rambo, a Penn Hills planning commissioner, welcomed the traffic as it meant great business for the Penn Hills establishment.
“It’s common for traffic to build up when something new like that comes to town,” he said. “And Frankstown Road isn’t really designed for a large amount of traffic. It’s only two lanes.”
Jennifer Hoch, a restaurant spokeswoman, said the first month of a restaurant’s opening is typically the busiest. The excitement surrounding Rally’s could last up to three months, she said.
Hoch said restaurant sales exceeded expectations on Rally’s opening day but did not offer additional details.
“Drivers can expect traffic congestion to ease up soon, within the upcoming weeks, as the initial grand opening attention subsides,” said Bruce Kim, Director of Franchise Development for the chain.
EMS Supervisor Diane Fitzhenry said it’s been tight for ambulances getting through the congestion, but they haven’t been stopped because of the traffic.
“We expected some growing pains,” she said. “You know, everybody wants to be the first to try it out. But people have generally tried to move out of the way … we’ve not experienced any real issues.”
Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton said there have been no crashes as a result of the heavy traffic at the restaurant. He said the police department never gets involved with directing traffic in situations where a restaurant or other business is causing a buildup.
“If you think about it, our job would be to keep people moving. You’d have to tell people not to go to Rally’s,” Burton said. “It’s just not acceptable to tell a business they can’t have customers.”
Although he’s not surprised by the traffic there following Rally’s opening, he said it’s never been backed up like that.
“We’ve never had a problem in the opening of a restaurant,” he said. “Even at (Vocelli Pizza) next door, they have a promotion or something once a year – never had traffic problems. Maybe it’s just because Rally’s has a following.”
He urged drivers on Frankstown Road to be patient.
The restaurant is the first of many expected to open in the Pittsburgh region.
The company rolled out an expansion plan in 2018 that included a scheme to open up to two dozen Checkers restaurants by 2025.
The chain’s menu features burgers, hotdogs, wings, fries and shakes. The restaurant typically only features a drive-thru window, but the Penn Hills site has some indoor and outdoor seating.