Campus collaborative restaurant fails less than a year after opening

Wolfie's Pub closes doors, lays off students

Photo by Jordyn Hronec

Written By Jake Berlin, Staff Writer

When students returned last week for the Spring semester, some lost their favorite place to eat, while others lost their jobs.

Wolfie’s Pub and Molinaro Ristorante, both operated locally by MW Hospitality in the Market Square area of Pittsburgh, shut their doors suddenly over the first weekend of January. The permanent closures came without warning to employees and fans of the restaurants— many of whom are Point Park students. Managing partner Bob Wolfinger was not available for comment as Pioneers are left searching for answers as to why they may have closed and where they will get their next paycheck.

Ty’Anthony Scott is a sophomore Musical Theater major at Point Park and a former server’s assistant at Molinaro. He was employed for less than three months before being cut with the rest of the staff.

“When they hired me, they said ‘we need you.’ They were very short-staffed,” Scott says. “I expected to have the job at least throughout the summer.” But the upscale establishment barely made it into the new year, and Scott believes early problems may have signaled its decline.

“When I was hired they had just fired a manager,” he says. “They tried to make things better. We had a meeting where the managers asked how we could make the restaurant thrive.” Nobody from Molinaro’s management contacted Scott to inform him of the closure, he says. He was told by a colleague two days before he was scheduled to return to work. The shuttering caught him by surprise.

“They were determined,” Scott says of the staff. Point Park itself was also determined to see another local establishment succeed. Wolfie’s Pub, which closed on the same weekend as Molinaro, was built in collaboration with the University. But Dean of Students Keith Paylo only found out about the closure “within the last few days,” he says.

“I have not talked to Bob Wolfinger yet,” Paylo says. Asked about a reason for the Wolfie’s closure, he says “I have heard that a big impact was the construction of the street and the sidewalk.” The expanded outdoor seating on Forbes Avenue outside of Wolfie’s was completed in the past year and eliminated a lane of parking as well as a delivery truck loading zone. Wolfinger was among local business leaders who advocated for the project. “I know Bob was looking forward to that,” Paylo says. The untimely work, which was hoped to be a selling point of the property, may have contributed to its downfall. For now, a lack of clarity clouds any estimation of why it may have closed.

“I thought the restaurant was doing well,” Paylo says. Designed with alumni in mind, the pub sought input from students for decor, menu choices and theming. COPA posters and WPPJ memorabilia hung on the walls. Students were given a 15% discount. For the countless hours of planning and work contributed by students and staff, Wolfie’s may as well have been campus dining.

“We spent a lot of time and effort trying to brand that place. It was such a great collaboration between Point Park and Bob Wolfinger,” says Steve Tanzilli, Dean of the Rowland School of Business. “I’ll miss walking in and seeing our students working there. Students from the School of Comm designed the logo. Pioneer Records did weekly bands there. We had students who interned there.” Like Paylo, Tanzilli was only told about the closure when it happened. He adds that he spent “many mornings awake at 6am” when it was being developed.

Before Wolfie’s, Wolfinger operated Pirata in the same space. Like Wolfie’s, “the closure of Pirata came as a surprise to many,” writes Jordyn Hronec in a February 19 edition of The Globe. In that same article, Wolfinger discusses adding outdoor seating and working with students from SAEM and graphic design departments.

“I’ve known Bob Wolfinger for a long time. When Pirata went out of business, he asked if I had any ideas for something that would resonate,” Tanzilli says. He came up with a Point Park concept as a place for people to hang out, and worked on securing school relics from the library archives which later appeared in the restaurant.

“I grabbed all of that stuff on Saturday,” Tanzilli says. “It’s back in the library.”

Asked if Point Park should have been notified of the closure after all of the work that went into opening Wolfie’s, Tanzilli says “I don’t know. I don’t know what the breaking point was… things happen. It’s business. Let’s look at the next opportunity for us.”

“This didn’t cost us anything but time,” Paylo says. “We were there from the beginning to the end.” However, interviews with both Deans indicate that Point Park wasn’t there for the decision to close, or even a decision to notify anyone in advance.

“Not knowing the dynamics of all that, I can’t answer that,” Paylo says of whether or not people should have been told. “Maybe Bob Wolfinger didn’t know… He probably had a lot more to worry about than whether or not Point Park knew this was going to happen.”

“The beauty of this relationship was there was such a nice trust level,” Paylo says. “We trusted them; they trusted us.” The school’s strong relationship with Wolfie’s, including the conception of its theme and content curation, raises questions as to why nobody on campus was involved in the decision to close.

A few years ago Point Park saw the closure of Hundred Wood, another restaurant that was a favorite for students on campus.

“We collaborated on a lot of different things. We made recommendations to Hundred Wood,” Paylo says. As far as Wolfie’s, he says “I really thought Bob Wolfinger had a solid business model.”

For now there may be no solid answers as to why Point Park restaurants are closing even as students spend time and money at the establishments. Point Perk, the coffee shop which is operated by on-campus food service provider Culinart, is the only remaining destination that is University-centered and open to the public.

Point Park’s Procurement Department was not immediately available for comment on any written agreements between the University and Wolfie’s Pub.