Chef David Bulman’s The Finer Diner Is Helping Him Fund His Fine Dining Dream
Seasons, a reservation-only restaurant, will open directly above his casual eatery on Brownsville Road.
Earlier this spring, Chef David Bulman opened The Finer Diner, a no-frills eatery on the first floor of 225 Brownsville Road in Mt. Oliver. This summer, he plans to open a fine dining restaurant upstairs.
Seasons will be a reservation-only, modern American spot where local foodies can enjoy Bulman’s ever-changing tasting menus made with farm-fresh ingredients. The Western New York native attended Pittsburgh’s Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts and worked in kitchens from Chicago to Napa Valley.
Bulman is well aware that the space briefly housed Mount Oliver Bodega, Chef Kevin Sousa’s wine bar and eatery. The business, which operated from October to December 2021, was criticized for selling boutique bottles of vino and $40 pizzas in a working-class area.
“I want to be a part of the community, not a yuppie place people can’t afford,” Bulman says. “We’ve been open for two months and we’re already seeing regular customers and growth in sales.”
The Finer Diner’s menu has already been retooled once to meet customer demand for breakfast and lunch classics that fit every taste and budget, including pancakes and eggs, Belgian waffles, sandwiches and salads. I wolfed down a tasty breakfast sandwich, stellar home fries seasoned with fresh herbs and a constant stream of good, strong coffee. The joint is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day except Tuesdays.
For decades, the building housed Kullman’s Bakery and was later occupied by The Bakery Society Pittsburgh. It’s owned by real estate investment firm RE360, which is based in and focused on Pittsburgh’s hilltop communities. The company reached out to Bulman, who briefly operated Seasons out of a space on Butler Street in Etna, and agreed his dual-concept business plan was a good fit for the structure.
He believes The Finer Diner’s bright, airy decor and approachable, affordable menu items — that are available on GrubHub and UberEats — will create a steady cash flow. Those funds will help sustain the operation of Seasons, an upscale destination restaurant with a full bar where Bulman will focus the majority of his culinary attention. A floor manager will eventually run the diner concept.
He had thought about opening The Finer Diner in Etna where Seasons debuted in 2018, but personal loss and the pandemic sent him back to New York to mourn and regroup.
He was interviewing for executive chef positions in Pittsburgh when RE360 founder and CEO Joe Calloway reached out via Instagram and asked him if he would like to tour the Brownsville Road space.
It was a bit out of Bulman’s price range, so the company offered to help fund his vision.
“They have been integral,” Bulman says. “They are not my business partners, but they’ve offered me lots of coaching and spend time helping me.”
He plans to open Seasons in June. It’s his labor of love.
“Seasons is really unique to me and requires me to be there cooking and be an integral part of the team,” he says.
A tasting menu Bulman created for Pittsburgh Restaurant Week several years ago included roasted chicken with squash consomme, honey poached cranberry, roasted squash, squash seed, charred kale and wild ginger oil. Guests could sub in a duck breast for a few extra bucks or go with the vegetarian option of walnut-crusted squash.
The first incarnation of Seasons only had a dozen seats, and customers clamored to get reservations. After vacating the Etna space, Bulman planned to reopen in Bloomfield, but those plans fell through. He can now utilize both floors of the building to accommodate diners and Seasons’ guests.
It will operate Wednesday through Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. and will offer a $45 5-course dining menu on Tuesday evenings. For folks unable to get reservations for a special occasion, the bar welcomes walk-ins and will serve cocktails, beer, wine and a la carte food options that won’t break the bank.
He’s excited to share his recipes with loyal customers as well as new faces.
“There were a lot of people who bought gift cards during the pandemic and helped support me when I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he says. “That’s one of the main reasons we are reopening as Seasons. There’s unfinished business with Seasons. We were just finding our footing when the pandemic happened.”
Bulman’s goal is to perfect The Finer Diner concept and expand it to other neighborhoods while he works to make Seasons an affordable, James Beard Award-quality restaurant. (Fellow chefs Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski of Apteka in Bloomfield are current finalists for this year’s James Beard Award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic.)
“Run the diners as an owner, cook at Seasons at night, garden on a little farm where I could produce food for the restaurants and offer farm dinners — that’s my dream life,” he says. “That’s a huge part of my decisions up to this point. That’s what I’m going to get to one way or another.”