By Caitlin Cesa | Photographs by Michael Fornataro
Former Pittsburgh Steeler Wes Lyons is tackling a new project — this time, off the field. In partnership with University of Pittsburgh graduate Amber Greene, he opened the doors of a recent addition to The Waterfront’s Town Center: Cakery Square. At this bakery, however, it’s less about the sweets and more about the community.
Cakery Square works in tandem with Lyons’ Pursuit Program, offering individuals enrolled in the program an opportunity to secure a job at the bakery. The Pursuit Program focuses on preparing underprivileged youth in Western Pennsylvania for academic success by developing their decision-making skills, improving their writing and communication skills, and keeping them invested in their education. At Cakery Square, the students can exercise what they’ve learned outside of a classroom setting. “It’s an extension of the program, instilling life skills in the students,” says Greene.
Lyons thought that the students involved in The Pursuit Program needed to see their scholastic efforts as a business investment, which inspired him to create a space where they could use their education in a workplace environment. And after the success of previous dessert-tasting fundraisers in support of The Pursuit Program, opening a bakery seemed like the best route to take. “Prior to this, they didn’t see the education company as a business,” he says. “But this actually is a physical business that they can come to, see, touch, and be a part of.”
Growing up in North Braddock, just east of Cakery Square’s Homestead location, the bakery is close to Lyons’ hometown and the homes of the program participants who work there. “We work with a lot of students from the Braddock area, Woodland Hills School District, and even Homestead and the Steel Valley area,” he says. “So, that’s what really encouraged me to open up something in the community that the students had easy access to.”
In order for students to be considered for employment at the bakery, they have to stand out from the crowd of over 300 individuals enrolled in The Pursuit Program. Lyons sees networking as an essential ingredient in the recipe for success. “The kids that work here all did something a little extraordinary to step out and separate themselves,” says Lyons. “One student reached out and talked about networking back in December, and we didn’t open until July. So, these kids were reaching out for a long time, before I actually even mentioned there were job opportunities. They were reaching out and doing things to build that relationship with me so that they could potentially have an interview and be hired.”
At the bakery, student workers take on tasks both at the counter and behind the scenes. In addition to manning the register, setting up display cases, and restocking sweets, Lyons says they’re expanding their reach to the kitchen. “They’re taking on some of the decorating, filling some of the lady locks and cannoli, and working on icing. So, they do a little bit of everything.” Above all, they are learning responsibility. Opening the bakery took a great deal of hard work and commitment, and the students certainly do not take that for granted, doing all they can to make Lyons proud. “They want to impress me, so they want to make sure they’re doing the right things.”
Cakery Square’s uniqueness extends beyond its involvement with the community by creating an atmosphere that is inviting to community members, too. Unlike a typical bakery, you won’t be in any rush to leave once you select your treats inside the stylishly simple parlor space. The rich warmth of the hardwood floor complements the bright white walls to create a relaxing environment for indulging and basking in the sunlight that pours in from the large front windows. “It’s a place for customers to come in, sit down, enjoy their dessert, and have some coffee or tea if they want to, which you don’t find a lot of in this area,” says Greene.
Within the range of SpecialTEA loose-leaf teas available at the bakery is a collection of Champagne teas that Greene formulated herself. The flavors include Bellini, Berry Bubbly, Mimosa, and Rosé. Each blend pairs well with any of the available sweets, including cakes, cake pops, cookies, cupcakes, donuts, and even gelato. Cakery Square also offers gluten-free and vegan desserts upon request, and custom cakes for any occasion. Cookie trays, mini dessert trays, mini cupcake assortments, and cookie gift boxes will all be available for the holidays, too. As Greene puts it, “We have a little bit of everything, but with a twist!”
One of the most delightfully unusual desserts available at the bakery, and Greene’s personal favorite, is the Strawberry Champagne Torte, a variation of the extremely popular Strawberry Champagne Cupcake and one of several alcohol-infused menu items. “It has strawberry Champagne mousse, a vanilla Champagne cake, and a strawberry filling in it. I put my heart into it,” says Greene, who collaborated with the bakers to perfect the recipe for this and all specialty desserts offered at the bakery.
Even as the menu continues to grow, co-owners Lyons and Greene stay focused on the bakery’s main purpose and goal: benefiting the youth. “We’re not trying to compete with all the bakeries around, necessarily. We’re trying to just grow within, continue to work with more students, and invest in them,” Lyons says. “We went through obstacles and challenges [when opening Cakery Square], and it would’ve been easy to give up and just say, ‘Forget it, that was a good idea.’ But these kids were counting on this bakery opening. That’s what drives us. We’re going to continue to let that be our story and that’s going to continue to push us.”
Cakery Square, 159 E. Bridge St., Homestead. 412.514.9443. cakerysquare.com.