Vancouver is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, a forest of high-rises set in the shadow of the North Shore Mountains. The West Coast metropolis is often cited as a model of smart urbanism and ranks among the best places to live in the world. But for Vancouver real estate entrepreneur Breanna Tyson and her partner Brett Walsh, there was something irresistible about Pittsburgh.

They moved here about three years go, and their company, Hullett Properties, is already making its mark on the city — including a recently completed 27-unit condo complex at 2554 Smallman St. in the Strip District which houses the James Cafe on the ground floor.

James Cafe at the 2554 Smallman St. condos. Photo courtesy of Hullett Properties.

Hullett Properties’ other projects in the works include:

  • The Triangle Building, a vacant, historic property Downtown, will house 15 apartments and another James Cafe.
  • A 179-unit apartment building at Railroad and 26th streets in the Strip District will be built on the site of the old J. Harris Lampshades factory starting in the spring of 2023.

“One of the things I love about this city is how walkable it really is,” Walsh says. “If you look at the Triangle Building — how long does it take to go from there to PNC Park? It’s like nothing.”

Interior of a condo at 2554 Smallman St. Photo courtesy of Hullett Properties.

All 27 units at 2554 Smallman St. have sold — ranging from $350,000 to $1 million.

The couple saw a market here for a stylish, Scandinavian-influenced design, which was supplied by Indovina Associates Architects based a few blocks away.

“With the Strip, there’s a ton of bad-looking buildings here,” says Tyson. “Obviously, I’m a little biased — but if you look at the outside, this building is really different, with the white glazed brick. A lot of people are going with the corrugated metal panels because they’re really cheap. We put more money into the facade. I called every brick manufacturer in the U.S. We ended up getting brick from one plant and they shipped it down to Kentucky to glaze it.”

Toast at James Cafe. Photo courtesy of Hullett Properties.

The developers were negotiating with a local restaurant operator until the pandemic hit. The pause gave them time to reconsider, and they decided to open their own cafe.

“Brett and I believe in the Strip so strongly, that we felt if we could do a cafe, learn how to do a great model, and modify that for our other buildings — that would be something valuable for every development we could ever do, anywhere,” says Tyson.

The bright, cozy James Cafe (named for one of their children) has a European feel, combined with coffee from Brooklyn’s acclaimed Variety Coffee Roasters, and a healthy, light West Coast-influenced menu of salads, breakfast sandwiches, grab-and-go wraps, granola yogurt parfaits, cheese boards and toast.

The Triangle Building, which Hullett Properties purchased in September 2019, is an entirely different challenge.

Restoring the six-story, red brick structure, which dates back to 1866, involves a complex process of applying for a host of historic preservation tax credits and grants.

“Every day we’re looking at our computers, praying we don’t get any emails about finding asbestos or mold or something during the demo,” says Tyson.

The Triangle Building in Downtown Pittsburgh. Photo by Mike Machosky.

“One of the things we’ve really been trained in as developers is making retail integrated into the rest of the building,” says Walsh. “So it really has a sense of place — a home — whether you’re there for a month, or five years.”

That led to plans for another version of the James Cafe to fill the gap between Downtown’s high-end restaurants and fast-food joints. The cafe at the Triangle Building will feature breakfast and healthy, mostly vegetarian lunch options. But it also will stay open later into the evening and serve alcohol.

The Triangle Building will also house 1,500 square feet for another retail space on the ground floor that is expected to be ready by September 2023. The 15 apartments above will feature up-to-date amenities, including a podcast recording booth.

Hullett Properties has three more Strip District projects in the early planning stages.