With the power and name recognition of three Pittsburgh brands — Soup Nancys, the Om Nom Bake Studio and Savasana Juice — the Cultural District-based Umbrella Cafe already has a following. Open since September, the restaurant’s breakfast specials, soups and smoothies regularly sell out and there is usually a line out the door for lunch.
“I knew I couldn’t do it myself,” says Linzee Mihalcin, an owner and also founder of Soup Nancys. Her homemade soups have been a hit since Soup Nancys first opened in the Pittsburgh Public Market in 2011, but Mihalcin was ready for her own space. “I built my business there, but I was ready,” she says. “It was time to move on.”
So when City Cafe moved to Edgewood, the storefront at 951 Liberty Ave. across from the August Wilson Center became available. Mihalcin turned to fellow Pittsburgh Public Market vendors Om Nom and Savasana, since they, too, have a focus on using real ingredients, about joining forces to open a brick-and-mortar location.
In just two months, Umbrella Cafe is enjoying a steady and brisk business for both breakfast and lunch. And depending on what’s happening at the nearby David L. Lawrence Convention Center, or what the galleries are doing, their healthy foot traffic often enjoys an additional boost, says Om Nom’s Matt Schroeder.
By joining forces, the three like-minded vendors are able to keep their individual brand identities, explains Schroeder, while creating some new dishes. Om Nom Bake Studio started in 2013 as the brainchild of Schroeder and his wife Karla, who wanted to make more creative baked goods, such as bacon chocolate chip cookies. Steve Bland started Savasana Juice Company in 2010, because he wanted a healthy drink option to complement his hot yoga practice. All three have moved on from the Public Market to focus on building Umbrella.
The daily menu at Umbrella Cafe includes made-from-scratch items with a focus on mostly healthful ingredients. The “Yumbrella Specials” include dishes like the best-selling short ribs with mac and cheese (we said mostly healthful), and the vegan spinach and hummus sandwich. Breakfast sandwiches, especially with Umbrella’s signature hot fruit jam, are a customer favorite, and Vegan Fridays have been a hit with more than just the local vegan community.
Their pesto chicken salad sandwich is another big seller (with pesto made in-house), and the mock tuna salad sandwich (main ingredient: chickpeas) also is popular. On the juice menu, choices include a kale-apple-lemon-ginger blend, as well as a carrot-berry smoothie. All the juices and smoothies are vegan. And the baked goods have staples like brownies and scones, as well as artisan cookies.
Anything Umbrella doesn’t make in-house they try to source from other local companies such as La Prima Coffee, Ohio City Pasta and Mancini’s Bakery. And their walls are lined with pieces by local artists.
The cafe seats 36 people, and since the kitchen prep area and storage space are relatively small and dishes are made in-house daily, including soup stock, the Umbrella Cafe frequently sells out of its specials. In some ways, it’s a nice problem to have, Mihalcin says. The team has barely had time to breathe, never mind find time to plot their next move or think about expansion plans. But as they settle in to their new space, they’re on their way to becoming a quick dining staple of the Cultural District.
“These are all positive steps,” says Schroeder of their hectic first two months in business. “Now we just want to keep some of this momentum going.”