Food made a perfunctory appearance in the CNN show that aired Sunday; what should have been included instead?
Wesley Lyons admits he’s not much of a dessert person.
So the fact the former football wide receiver who signed with the Steelers is opening a bakery on Saturday at The Waterfront shopping center in Homestead might seem like a nutty idea. He’ll tell you it makes perfect sense.
What the North Braddock native is sweet on, he says, is helping disadvantaged youth reach their potential through the educational/mentoring program he established in 2013, after finding success as an author and motivational speaker.
Called “The Pursuit,” the life skills program teaches high-risk students in grades six through 12 strategies to overcome obstacles and succeed in life. Along with decision-making, goal-setting and time management skills, the curriculum helps kids plan for future jobs and careers. That is where the new bakery, which he co-owns with long-time friend and business partner Amber Greene, comes in.
Along with five bakers, including one Mr. Lyons “borrowed” from a small shop in Duquesne, the staff includes four of his program’s participants, who’ll do everything from building pastry boxes, working the registers and waiting on customers, to taking out the garbage.
Cakery Square's 5-inch cookies and cream specialty torte above their mini cupcakes at the bakery in Homestead. (Stephanie Strasburg/Post-Gazette)
It was actually the teens who asked Mr. Lyons to be hired and not vice versa, and the store started taking shape this spring after two years of planning.
A number of students wanted to be involved in the venture. Those who didn’t get the job have been volunteering just so they could get real-world experience in retail, hospitality and food service.
“It’s such a positive thing. Their bikes are always back there,” Mr. Lyons says, referring to the store’s back door. “They just want to be around to help.”
The idea for a bakery grew out of the dessert tastings Mr. Lyons has held over the years to promote The Pursuit. As the program has expanded over the past four years (it now counts more than 250 students from 14 schools), he started thinking about ways the students could put the skills they were learning to use. Some sort of retail operation was a natural, but only if they could easily get to it after school or on weekends.
He started looking for space at The Waterfront, which was not only close to the Steel Valley, West Mifflin and Woodland Hills school districts but also offered an untapped market — it didn’t have a bakery.
His friend Ms. Greene, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business from the University of Pittsburgh and Florida State, respectively, had always wanted to own her own business and helped Mr. Lyons turn that idea into reality.
Along with playing a key role in developing the bakery’s recipes and a marketing plan, she created the selection of specialty loose-leaf teas ($13.99 per 60 grams) that line the store’s wall. Unique flavors include Amber Bliss, Berry Bliss and Cotton Candy. Her champagne teas ($14.99 per 60 grams) come in Bellini, Mimosa and Rose.
“It’s a good fit,” she says of the blends, which she packages herself into purple tins. “And it gives the bakery a little twist.“
Cakery Square tempts customers with all the usual suspects: decadent fondant cakes ($15 for a 5-inch cake or specialty tort), cakepops ($1), doughnuts ($1.25), cupcakes piled high with colorful icing ($1 to $1.95), cookies sprinkled with sugar or studded with chocolate chips (50 cents to $1.50), and turnovers and elephant ears ($1.99). There’s also a display freezer of various gelatos ($4 to $6), and customers can buy gluten-free brownies and cookies on Saturday. Vegan cupcakes can be ordered in advance.
The bakery has a catering option for corporate and private events. Even before opening its doors this weekend, it has taken several orders for wedding cakes, just through word of mouth.
“We’ve worked so hard,” Ms. Greene says. “It’s so great to see it come to life.”
While none of Mr. Lyons’ students have yet expressed an interest in actually baking, he’s not ruling out the possibility of a budding pastry chef in their midst.
“We want to encourage kids to follow their dreams,” he says.
If you go: Cakery Square’s grand opening is at 1 p.m. Saturday. It’s at 159 E. Bridge St., Waterfront Shopping Center, Homestead. Info: 412-514-9443.
Gretchen McKay: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.