A bakery and cafe set to open Tuesday in Squirrel Hill has a menu rivaling most coffee houses: espressos, cappuccinos, lattes and teas; sweets including cookies, muffins and pastries.
But the mission at Bunny Bakes & Specialty Coffee isn’t all about serving up food and beverages. The 20-seat spot at 1926 Murray Ave. is staffed by workers with special needs and diverse abilities.
It’s also designed to accommodate patrons of all abilities with accessible seating and tables and an adult changing table in one of its two restrooms.
Bunny Bakes is operated by Friendship Circle, a nonprofit that since 2006 has been forging connections among youths and adults of different abilities, faiths and education levels.
Even before the pandemic, the organization wanted to launch a workspace for career training and a bakery-cafe, says Rabbi Mordy Rudolph, co-founder of Friendship Circle.
After holding some pop-up cafes at Friendship Circle – located next door to Bunny Bakes – the organization determined the bakery-coffee shop concept would provide jobs for different skill sets including bakers, baristas, servers and inventory managers.
About 14 individuals have gone through training for cafe positions in the past year, says Rivkee Rudolph, co-founder of Friendship Circle and Mordy Rudolph’s wife. Although not all trainees will work at the cafe.
“The goal is not to hire all of them at Bunny Bakes,” she says. “They can develop skills, resume-build and potentially get employment elsewhere. We hope to connect local businesses with amazing employees … it’s important to give the community a model.”
Those who work at Bunny Bakes are paid at or above minimum wage, she says.
The cafe’s name honors Bernita “Bunny” Buncher, a Friendship Circle donor and president of the Buncher Family Foundation – now called the Jack Buncher Foundation – who died in 2021.
“She was a friend of Friendship Circle,” says Mordy Rudolph. “When we purchased the building, she said we should have a shop where people with disabilities could work.”
Baked goods for the cafe are made on-site. Besides sweet treats, it plans to add savory items and will feature gluten-free, vegan and kosher options. It will also offer packaged baked goods and cookie trays for events.
Julie Mazer-Remaley, kitchen manager, was formerly a pastry chef at Oakmont Bakery, Rivers Casino and elsewhere.
Coffees and teas are being supplied by De Fer Coffee & Tea, based in the Strip District. Bunny Bakes will also sell De Fer’s line of coffee beans, which includes flavors sourced from Peru and Guatemala.
“We take our coffee very seriously,” says Rivkee Rudolph, who was emphatic about partnering with a coffee supplier that “sources beans very specifically.”
Hours at Bunny Bakes are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Friday.
Because the cafe will launch on Nov. 7, Election Day, patrons who produce their “I Voted” stickers will get discounts.
Mordy Rudolph says the cafe is working toward becoming a break-even operation and projects it will take two to three years to earn a small profit.
Friendship Circle bought the building that houses Bunny Bakes in 2017 and spent $3.5 million on the purchase and costs to renovate it into a street-level cafe and The Beacon, a teen wellness center that opened upstairs in May.
There were construction delays in getting some accessible feature, but the operators were willing to wait.
“We said, ‘We don’t care how long it takes as long as it is accessible and inclusive for everyone,’” says Rivkee Rudolph.