Free Pancake Friday, Oakland Avenue, Pittsburgh
“Pancakes! Get your free pancakes!”
The voice is loud and authoritative, and it cuts through the crisp morning like a fishmonger’s. Danny Santoro, a junior computer engineering major at Carnegie Mellon University, bends over two hot griddles on his front lawn, pouring scoopfuls of batter from industrial-sized mixing bins and waiting until the pancakes bubble and sizzle. Roommates Chad Miller and Adam Britton along with a handful of neighbors gather around, exhaling steam into the morning air. It’s week 11 of Free Pancake Friday on Oakland Ave.
“They’re free, like, for real? I just can’t wrap my mind around it,” says a passerby, leaning over the griddle and accepting a hotcake and a cup of hot chocolate. “I figured you were a bunch of boys doing a science experiment. Thank you so much!”
“Yeah, they’re free,” says Santoro. “No ulterior motive. Well, we have a tip jar.” He flips a few pancakes and then adds, almost as an extra thought, “For charity.”
Past charities have included the Pittsburgh Food Bank, breast cancer research, and Hurricane Sandy relief, but raising money was not the original point. Free Pancake Friday began first as a mistake.
“The first week happened because we were trying to have a house breakfast, and Chad made way too many pancakes,” Santoro explains. “So we just kind of stood out on the street and gave them out, no plates or anything. Hot and free, like America in the summertime.”
Today, they not only have plates; they have syrup, hot chocolate, a lawn table to lounge at, and pancakes whose flavors vary per week, ranging from pumpkin to buckwheat to red velvet. The group plans to keep making pancakes through the winter and through the snow. “Who doesn’t like pancakes?” Santoro says.