The Hop Along Cafe is leaping ahead of the herd to be Pittsburgh’s first bunny cafe. Owner Bex Tasker is still in the early stages of the business, which will be located at 625 Stanwix St., Downtown. The grand opening will depend on finishing construction and getting permits, but they hope to be serving coffee by Halloween. Nika Gill will serve as the general manager.
Much like a cat cafe, Hop Along will merge an animal shelter with traditional coffee shop offerings and eventually, says Tasker, a small selection of grocery items.
“Our goal is to strike a balance between sustainability, quality, and accessibility in all of our offerings,” says Tasker. “We will also be applying to accept EBT and plan to source our produce from local farms and growers.” (Electronic Benefits Transfer is a system that allows a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participant to pay for food using SNAP benefits.)
The main draw, of course, is the animals.
Hop Along plans to work with local rescue groups to act as a foster home for adoptable animals – a place to hang out until they find their “forever home.” The rabbits will be separated from the cafe with a double door system and held in “species-specific rooms.” Guests can spend time with the bunnies during 45-minute visitation slots from 10 am-2 pm and 4 pm-8 pm for $15, which can be applied toward the cost of adopting one of the animals.
Each adoption fee will be set by the partner rescue groups and will vary based on factors such as the animal’s age, medical needs, length of time at the rescue, and whether they are part of a bonded pair.
“Our goal is to make animal adoption accessible to everyone able to provide a loving, quality home,” says Tasker.
Visitation hours will always be supervised by a staff member educated about bunny body language and group behaviors.
Bunnies are one of the most commonly surrendered animals at animal shelters, says Tasker, because there is so much misinformation and a lack of education about their needs.
“They are deeply complex, emotional creatures who are not beginner-friendly pets. It’s our hope to provide both education and a therapeutic experience to potential adopters and the general public about bunnies and care for adoptable rabbits in a free-range environment designed specifically for small animals.”
Tasker also hopes to install a viewing window from the cafe into the animal area so that guests can have the experience of watching the bunnies for free and without direct exposure to their dander.
Hop Along has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000 for renovation projects and other costs. Eventually, Tasker wants to expand to include space for other adoptable animals — including cats, hamsters, and guinea pigs — and to offer educational opportunities on handling situations like finding a stray domestic bunny or an injured wild rabbit.
Tasker, who grew up around animals in rural Venango County says opening a place like this always felt like a possibility.
“As a child, I was constantly coming home with lost or abandoned animals. My parents often joked that I’d grow up to have an animal sanctuary or a ranch.”