Pittsburgh’s Heinz History Center has asked for the Blue Flame’s marquee and sign for its archives. That’s at the very least a small consolation to patrons of the 68-year-old Jefferson Hills restaurant as it prepares to close its doors for the final time this weekend.

The George family placed their Route 51 restaurant up for sale last year, and customers have been packing the Jefferson Hills business this week since word of the closing spread through social media and Pittsburgh TV news broadcasts. The faithful can enjoy their final Blue Flame breakfasts and lunches this Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m.  

A warning: The owners say the restaurant has been jammed this week. So be prepared for a longer than usual wait.

Greg George, 56, who has run the family business with his brother, Albert, 61, in recent years, said the owners of the West E. Diner, Rob and Perity Timm, have purchased it. The closing is set for next Friday. The new owners, who started a catering business — Moveable Feast Pittsburgh Catering — in 2016 before opening their West Elizabeth diner, according to their website, plan to remodel and rebrand the restaurant. They hope to open by June, George said.

Why sell? It’s just time, George said. He, his brother and sister, Karen, and their children have been working and running the business since childhood. “We followed in Mom and Dad’s footsteps,” he said. The next generation has other career plans and jobs, he told TV news reporters. 

A post from the George family on the restaurant’s website thanked customers for their support and patronage, and it paid homage to the vision and dreams of Les George Sr., who opened the Blue Flame with his brother, Albert, in 1956.

The George family lived in Clairton, and their roots in the restaurant business began with a small mill gate store outside the U.S. Steel Clairton Works. The store sold gloves, tools, utensils, cigarettes and tobacco, gum, candy and a few sandwiches to employees who walked past it to work. When the mill expanded and a bridge was added, U.S. Steel moved the store to a larger location that could seat 25 people. All 11 of the George children worked there, Greg George’s father, Albert, recalled on Thursday. “We all took turns,” he said.

Albert George and his brother’s restaurant became known for its sizable menu and reasonable prices. Jefferson Hills and Pleasant Hills police, as well as fire and rescue workers, were regular diners. Social media posts all this week recalled late-night meals when restaurants were sparse on the Route 51 corridor. Because the Blue Flame has a large back room, organizations, including the Junior Mechanics and the former Jefferson Hills Lions Club and currently the Pleasant Hills Rotary Club, held meetings there. Women’s card and bunco clubs gathered there, too, and many families sought out the restaurant for bridal and baby showers and funeral lunches among other events. Murder Mystery dinners attracted crowds.

Les George Jr. also established the Yorkshire Inn, which was located on the hill behind the Blue Flame. After a fire destroyed that restaurant, he opened the Georgetown Centre on East Bruceton Road in Pleasant Hills in 1990. He sold the banquet and event venue in 2022.

The pandemic hurt the Blue Flame much like other restaurants, but Greg George said it picked up once restrictions lifted and people began to venture out again. When word emerged that the Georges had placed the restaurant for sale last year, he said business increased again.  And right now? “This week has been madness,” he said.

George said they will spend the next two weeks cleaning and clearing out “68 years’ worth of stuff.” The History Center also wants menus and other restaurant logo items, such as the the Blue Flame matches his father found this week. Once that is over, George will reach out and talk to officials there, but it is his understanding there will be a future display of Blue Flame memorabilia.

Other memories are more personal for the Georges. The extended family gathered at the restaurant for holiday meals, for example. George said it was not unusual to have 70 to 80 there for a Christmas dinner. The George family is now far-flung — George said the largest group lives in and around Louisville, Kentucky, the next in the Clairton, Jefferson and Pittsburgh area, and then another family contingent lives in California.

As far as what’s ahead, that remains open. George says he and his brother and other family members will “take a breath, sit down and give ourselves a rest. We need to see what’s it like on a Sunday morning to go out ourselves somewhere to eat.

“Probably in two weeks it will really hit us.”

Albert George, center, opened the Blue Flame with his brother, Les George Sr., in 1956. He passed it on to his sons, Albert, left, and Greg.(Helen Fallon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

For the rest of us, including me, it will be a more immediate reaction and a huge loss.

My late mother had started a tradition of having Sunday coffee with her brothers and her favorite niece years back at her home. As with any family, we lost spouses and partners, and that group expanded to include cousins. So we moved those Sunday gatherings to restaurants nearby. The most frequent choice? The Blue Flame for more than 15 years.

The reason? Good, tasty food at reasonable prices, cooked and served quickly by familiar and friendly waitresses. You never had to ask for coffee and drink refills. They knew our special favorite meals and requests, such as apple-stuffed pancakes, crispy bacon and two-egg omelets.

My Blue Flame patronage reaches further back, though. As a young person, it was the place for my friends and dates to frequent, especially after a late night out. My late husband’s Lions Club held not only its meetings but also nearly all its special events there.

My cousins and I will miss the waitresses who have taken such good care of us, including Vicki, Marilyn, Anna, Lisa, Renee and Jess. We became friendly with high school students who worked there before heading off to college, often coming back to work during breaks and summers.

We always saw people we know there and became friendly with others we shared the dining room with each week. The Blue Flame welcomed large groups and single diners. You didn’t have to wait for your entire party to arrive; the waitresses knew that empty seat or two would be filled soon enough.

My children ate many a meal there, and they always got a big kick out of the videos the Georges ran on a video screen, especially because some of the photos featured a very young Aunt Nancy, who was a waitress there years ago. This past year I enjoyed several Sunday breakfasts with my son, Stephen, his wife, Natalie, and my granddaughter, Lucy.

I regret I cannot continue that tradition with them at one of my favorite neighborhood places. But I am so grateful to the Georges for always letting us linger over many Sunday meals. And I wish them all the very best. They so richly deserve it.

Lucy Fallon carried on a family tradition when she made her first visit to the Blue Flame at 3 months old with her dad, Stephen. (Helen Fallon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Helen is a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Contact her at hfallon@unionprogress.com.

Helen Fallon

Helen is a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Contact her at hfallon@unionprogress.com.