In Bloomfield, it’s always Peanut Butter Jelly Time
April 6, 2016
Editor’s note, summer 2017: Peanut Butter Jelly Time has closed permanently.
Siblings Chris Firman and Lauren Firman haven’t only discovered the elusive Fountain of Youth — they’ve created it.
The Pittsburgh natives are the founding owners of Peanut Butter Jelly Time: Bloomfield’s newest snack joint and the city’s only outlet for gourmet PB&Js. As kids, the brother-sister team joked about one day launching a business to commemorate their favorite pastime. Decades later, they did.
“When this space [on Liberty Avenue] became available, the timing was right,” says Chris. “We’d always talked about doing something like this, and we were finally able to make it happen.”
The idea is brilliant; the product far exceeds expectations. Currently on PBJT’s roster are more winning combinations than we’d have ever thought possible. Among them: 20 kinds of traditional and gourmet sandwiches; 13 different peanut butter and jelly “sushi” rolls, four grilled cheese options, a few nostalgic snack items (most notably, ants on a log), assorted ice cream treats, and of course, a build-your-own cereal station.
Since their November 2015 launch, the menu’s had a few heavy hitters. “The Elvis,” a classic PB&J, is named for the king himself. A tribute to his so-called favorite sandwich, it’s grilled with bananas, honey, and — if you dare — bacon.
Another top-seller (even at the time of our meeting, in the dead of winter): milkshakes. Crafted with scoops from an Oakmont wholesaler, they’re an ideal post-dinner treat for Bloomfield’s restaurant-goers. Chris says the concoctions are totally customizable, made with “pretty much anything we have behind the counter — fresh fruit, peanut butter, bananas, Oreos…even cereal.”
For us, the menu’s most charming feature is a byproduct of Lauren’s imagination. Served alongside chopsticks and a fortune cookie, each of PBJT’s “sushi” rolls are made to order (and completely fish-free, to be clear). They take some extra time to prepare, but just a bite of the popular “Strawnana” is worth the wait. Behind the counter, Lauren carefully de-crusts and flattens a slice of famed Cinnabon bread, spreads it with crunchy peanut butter and strawberry jam, and rolls the whole thing up. Be it a snack or a work of art, an idea this good is award-worthy.
“Classic” PB&Js range from 99 cents to $3.50 — a fair price-point for Bloomfield, a neighborhood surrounded by mostly gentrified Lawrenceville and affluent Shadyside. “At the end of the day, we’re serving peanut butter and jelly,” says Chris. “Growing up, it was something we ate almost every day. We wanted to be really reasonable so people would come in regularly.”
It’s a noble motivator, considering that PBJT sources local ingredients when possible. Jellies and jams are handcrafted in Avella, Pa.; Bloomfield’s Linea Verde supplies produce; Merante Gifts handles the home-baked cookies from just one block over. “We’re trying to be vested in the neighborhood; not just another business on the block,” Chris explains. “Everyone welcomed us with open arms, so we try to buy local and support local.”
Sporting a vast array of mom-and-pop restaurants, taverns, and markets, Pittsburgh’s “Little Italy” is known for its hospitality. Of course, that’s part of the reason the Firman siblings based their business here in the first place. “Bloomfield is the perfect mix of young professionals, seniors, families, and younger kids,” Chris adds. “It’s super cool. We get a lot of businessmen who come in on their lunch breaks to grab a quick PB&J.”
Catering has also been popular on the business front. When it comes to the nation’s most beloved pastime, it seems that even corporate VIPs are open to revisiting childhood for a day. Of course, you needn’t be an office professional to appreciate the shop’s apparently limitless catering options.
When a groomsmen asked for “the largest peanut butter and jelly sandwich possible” for his soon-to-be-married best friend, Chris and Lauren — just one month after launching PBJT — scoured their vendor connections for two massive slices of bread. With no such luck, they got creative. Sixty-four delicately assembled PB&Js later, a very happy (and very hungry) wedding party dug in to the super-sandwich. It fit inside “two extra large pizza boxes completely folded open,” according to Chris. “We cut off all of the crust on the inside. We couldn’t even get it through the door without gently folding it up. It was a huge hit.”
That level of dedication is the kind of thing that’ll get you noticed as a small business. And that’s just what the Firman family intended. Notes Chris: “We want to grow organically. Word of mouth, articles, things like that. The biggest thing is repeat customers. But we’re very happy with how things have been going so far.”
Come summertime, PBJT plans to incorporate a pop-up milkshake stand outside, where patio seating is expected to be in demand. For now, its founders are enjoying the sweet life, one new customer at a time.
And yes — you will hear that radio hit when you stop in. You’ll probably even sing it. You know the one.