Moonlit Burgers smashes onto Forbes Avenue

Courtesy of Moonlit Burgers | Moonlit Burgers will be serving up their specialty smashburgers at the Forbes Avenue location. Founder Mike McCoy wanted to mimic the burgers he ate growing up in southern California.

by Zoe Stratos | opinions editor

April 28, 2022

Juicy aromas wafted in the air as many students passed by a pop-up on Academic Walk on Tuesday. On campus, many pop-ups come and go, but Moonlit Burgers is soon to become a mainstay at Duquesne.

Previously occupied by the Red Ring, Moonlit Burgers will be serving up smashburgers this summer at the location on Forbes Avenue.

Mike McCoy and Derek Stevens know everyone loves burgers. The co-founders met one another working in the restaurant industry. As long-time friends, they knew they wanted to open a restaurant together in the future, and the pandemic brought on the opportunity through various pop-ups around the city.

Growing up in southern California, McCoy was no stranger to the concept of the smashburger style, eating plenty of them during his time there. As a nod to In-N-Out Burger, the two decided to try out their own kind of smashburger.

“We ended up doing our first pop-up at Millie’s in Shadyside, and we didn’t know what to expect, so we brought 100 burgers. We sold those out in less than two hours,” McCoy said. “The following week, we decided to do it again. We brought 300 burgers and sold out in a little over two hours, so we thought ‘hey, maybe we have something here.’”

With that, Moonlit Burgers smashed onto the scene. The duo continued pop-ups throughout the pandemic, taking call-ahead orders since many were not vaccinated at the time. One of their main spots was Io.Deli in Mt. Lebanon. Smashburgers replaced the black forest ham once the deli closed for the day.

As their popularity continued to grow, McCoy and Stevens opened their own storefront on Potomac Avenue in Dormont neighborhood.

In February, Parkhurst approached the pair with an opportunity to open a new storefront where The Red Ring used to run operations. According to Scott Richards, assistant vice president of auxiliary services, Parkhurst evaluated a concept for the new restaurant for a long time before settling on Moonlit Burgers.

“Tim Fetter and I have known Moonlit Burgers’ owners for years, going back to their time working in some of the best restaurants around the city,” said Mark Broadhurst, chief operating officer of Parkhurst dining. “The Parkhurst team has always admired their talent and followed closely as they launched Moonlit Burgers as a pop-up back in 2020.”

Originally, Parkhurst planned to host pop-up events featuring the smashburger joint at many of their locations, including Duquesne, but soon realized they would be a great permanent fit for the former Red Ring location.

After the pop-up event on Tuesday, students are excited for the new restaurant, too, including pharmacy major Michaela Hedge, who ordered their classic Moonlit double.

“I’ve heard of them before, but never got to try them until now,” Hedge said. “I’m super excited that this will be a spot for Duquesne students next semester. It’s definitely a must try and will be a great place to unwind with friends after classes.”

On the menu will be the signature smashburgers, veggie burgers, fried chicken, milkshakes, local craft beer and Millie’s soft serve ice cream — one of the only places that sell their soft serve, at least for now.

Two of the most popular items are Hedge’s order, the classic Moonlit double, as well as the bacon cheeseburger.

“Our classic double is two beef patties, smashed, topped with American cheese, all served on a large potato roll, with griddled onions, our moon sauce and kosher dill pickles,” McCoy said. “We also do a bacon cheeseburger: it’s got two patties, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, raw onion and bacon. The sauce is garlic Dijon.”

But before they can start serving up sandwiches, the building needs an overhaul. According to McCoy, they are hoping to begin demolition of the location within the next few weeks, and Duquesne hopes to have the restaurant opened by freshman orientation in August.

“We plan on making it look like our Dormont location, which is a lot brighter than the current space in terms of color,” McCoy said. “A lot of bright, almost rainbow, colors going through on a white background.”

While the renovation is squared away, McCoy, Stevens and Parkhurst all hope for Duquesne students to apply for jobs within the restaurant, while also getting to know the community. Students interested can contact McCoy directly, or wait for an announcement from the Duquesne Dining Instagram page.

“I’m excited about being in Uptown, and building relationships with the students at Duquesne and then coming back from the summer and looking forward to coming to Moonlit,” McCoy said. “It’s also building that customer base that, if they stay in the Pittsburgh area or come back to the Pittsburgh area, they’ll visit.”