Casellula @ Alphabet City is the first dining spot in Pittsburgh to end its no-tipping policy, just 10 months after it opened.
When Frozen Eggs and Fruit Co., a retail bakers' and candy makers' supply store on Boggs Avenue on Mount Washington, closed its doors in 2008, great howls and lamentations were heard throughout Pittsburgh kitchens. Where, oh, where to find a one-stop shop for ingredients, supplies, decorations and wrappers?
Come to the rescue is Grandview Bakery and Sweet Shop on nearby Shiloh Street. Not only does it stock baking- and candy-making supplies, but it also is a full-fledged bakery, party place and mini-cafe. The parking is easy, the prices are right and it's an open and cheerful space.
Flanking a wall display of plastic molds for chocolate making are brightly lighted rows of goodies: jars of sparkles and sprinkles, tubs of icings and fondants, blocks of chocolate and caramel, packs of wrappers and fancy cupcake papers. There are pastry bags and tips, cookie and biscuit cutters, cake pans of all sizes, flavorings and tints, bonbon and truffle fillings.
Across the aisles, glass display cases are filled with baked goods that Hansel and Gretel could only dream about. Decorated cakes with fluffs of whipped buttercream in tempting tints and shapes dare customers to break their resolutions. Another case is jammed solely with classic and novelty cupcakes (try resisting the Hot Chocolate Cupcake, six bites of cake with marshmallow filling and cocoa buttercream frosting).
Another case holds cafe treats, but not for long. Customers order eclairs, mini-bundt cakes, lady locks and generous cuts of apple strudel, coffeecakes, all-butter (for real) cookies, doughnuts and hand pies, sweet and savory. All goodies can be warmed up and "eaten-in" with a cup of coffee or tea. A row of small cafe tables hugs the window wall facing Shiloh Street.
This is no ordinary bakery.
A new job
Vickie Pisowicz is the unlikely owner of the venture. With a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton, she began a career in business. Then she topped off her education with two more degrees, an MBA and MPP (master of public policy), both from Harvard. For much of her career, she was employed at Alcoa.
"About Alcoa: Then-CEO Paul O'Neill had led the company to become arguably the safest company in the world," she says. "He was co-chair of the Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative (PRHI), which worked various community healthcare stakeholders such as hospitals, doctors and insurance companies. In 2000, he asked me to consider taking a leave of absence from Alcoa and go to work at the PRHI. He wanted me to use my skills and know-how to apply the same principles and strategies to make healthcare safer. I did that for almost three years. Then I started my own consulting company."
And that was the beginning of change.
As a resident of Mount Washington for 15 years, Ms. Pisowicz has filled out many a CDC (Commercial Development Corporation) survey asking what businesses residents would like to have. Consistently at the top were a bakery and a hardware store. "My inner wheels began to turn," she says. "Baking is a science; it's creative and I love a bakery; it's a happy place. All of those things appeal to me. During the time when I was in healthcare, I heard of a Dessert Expo to be held in Las Vegas. I decided to check it out, and I liked what I saw."
Then life intervened. Her grandmother got sick.
"We have a very small family," says Ms. Pisowicz. "I wanted to take care of her. My grandmother was an only child and so was my dad. I'm an only child, too. It was the right thing to do." So for two years, she did part-time consulting while she nursed her grandmother.
It was during that time that the Frozen Eggs and Fruit Co. went out of business. And when the Eckerd drugstore location on Shiloh Street closed, a large space became available. Enough space for a bakery and a supply shop and, yes, even a small cafe.
"It all lined up. Everything. I decided to jump in and fill the void," she says. "We hired local contractors and builders, and we hired local support services and sales people. I'm proud of that." The shop opened in October of 2011 with a focus on the needs of the local community and a product line that did not compete with the local stores.
"We make everything from doughnuts to wedding cakes" she says, and offer catalogs to order from and a party room "where every guest gets to decorate and have his or her own small cake. And eat it, too."
And that's the story of a successful second career. Best of all? Grandmother got better and is going strong at 91.
Marlene Parrish: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-481-1620.