Owners Nicki Cardilli and Justin Fitzgerald say they are encouraged by the community’s support through the COVID-19 pandemic, and still have more plans in the works.

By Matthew Benusa

Photo: The Coop Chicken and Waffles, which began as a food truck, now has a brick-and-mortar storefront at 401 E. Ohio St. in Pittsburgh’s Northside. Courtesy of The Coop Chicken and Waffles

There’s some fresh fowl at 401 E. Ohio St. Nicki Cardilli and her partner, Justin Fitzgerald, have established a permanent roost for their down-home Southern staple, The Coop Chicken and Waffles.

Fitzgerald, a Texas native, made the first move on their original venture, a food truck, six years ago on a whim. Cardilli said while she had discussed opening a business with him, “Justin texted me and said he just bought a school bus at an auction.” She responded, “Sweetie, what am I going to do with a school bus?”

A yellow minibus soon turned into the red, white, and blue-branded “The Coop,” which has captured Pittsburghers for the last four years. The food truck is still operating despite the eatery’s brand new location on the Northside. You’re still able to catch it around the city or in the suburbs, and updates are posted via their Twitter page.

The Coop all began with a renovated minibus that owners Nicki Cardilli and Justin Fitzgerald turned into a food truck.

It’s been over a month since their storefront opened, but Cardilli and Fitzgerald had worked on renovating the space for over a year. The opening was originally planned for May of this year, but it was delayed a few months by COVID-19, Cardilli said. “We couldn’t even take the food truck out.” 

Starting in June, they began to take it for spins to serve customers, and Cardilli said they have gone through more gloves in the last few months than they did in their first years on the truck. In the storefront, they serve a blend of savory options such as fried chicken, cheddar cornbread waffles, jalapeno hushpuppies, and the “Chick-n-Waffle,” or fried chicken that is shredded and baked inside of a Belgian waffle, and sweet options, including cinnamon roll waffles and strawberries and cream waffles. Serving food in the storefront has been a bit more complicated, but for now, The Coop Chicken and Waffles is takeout only.

In spite of that, they still run into a few problems with the size of their shop and customers who don’t wear masks. They have a plan to head those problems off, however, by asking groups of people to wait outside for their orders to stay under the limited capacity allowed in the restaurant. For those who don’t wear masks, a reserve of face coverings is kept in the restaurant. 

For the most part, people abide by the rules, and according to Cardilli, members of the community continue to give them strong support. She said, “We’re very thankful for the community who has supported us.”

“I want my art to speak to the wild, creative open minds who dare to express themselves,” Perry writes in his artist statement.

Posted by Cue Perry on Monday, September 28, 2020
Manchester artist C.B. Perry was commissioned by The Coop Chicken & Waffles to create a mural on one of the eatery’s indoor walls. Courtesy of C.B. Perry

Once they battle through the pandemic, Cardilli and Fitzgerald hope to expand their business again. There are open storefronts on East Ohio Street that offer room for expansion, and they hope, some day, to help turn an empty building on East Ohio Street into a little more seating for their restaurant.  

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