Once a year, Fernando's Cafe, Downtown, becomes Furryland Cafe.
The city of Pittsburgh has played host since 2006 to Anthrocon -- a meeting for anthropomorphic enthusiasts who often wear fur suits or animal tails and ears -- and restaurant owner Fernando DeCarvalho goes beyond just welcoming the furries.
He decorates his store with paw prints, gives items on his menu furry-related names, designs special Anthrocon T-shirts and beanie babies, and offers furry discounts. This year, instead of plates, he handed out dog bowls.
A visit to Fernando's, furries say, is part of the Anthrocon experience.
But a few months ago, Mr. DeCarvalho had to call Samuel Conway, Anthrocon CEO, with some bad news. Damaged by the recession and weighed down by debt, Mr. DeCarvalho, a native of Brazil who opened his restaurant a decade ago, couldn't make his rent and would have to shut down his Liberty Avenue shop before the furries came to town.
Furries are a loyal group of people, Mr. Conway said, and they decided they'd try to keep a furry-friendly business open long enough for one final Anthrocon.
"We figured we'd raise $3,000 to $4,000 -- enough to keep the hound away from his door. No pun intended," he said.
In a short time, donations flowed in from around the world. At the end of April, Mr. Conway handed Mr. DeCarvalho a check for a little more than $23,000. It will cover rent, electricity, gas and food, keeping Fernando's Cafe running through July, when Mr. DeCarvalho will close the shop and begin religious studies to become a pastor.
"I believe God worked through the furries, because I really was in need," he said.
Mr. DeCarvalho will be sad to see his restaurant close in July, but he said he moved to Pittsburgh more than a decade ago to learn English and he has lived the quintessential American dream -- albeit with furries.
The unlikely match -- between a 29-year-old restaurant owner from Brazil and a convention known for attracting people who wear animal outfits -- began at the first Pittsburgh Anthrocon convention in 2006, when Mr. DeCarvalho drew chalk outlines of paw prints leading from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to the sandwich shop he briefly renamed Furnando's Cafe.
He welcomes every convention that comes to town, but no one responded like the furries. That first year, he did three months worth of business in four days.
"Everyone loves coming here," said Nik Kovar, a 22-year-old from Texas who wore a blue and white tail as he ate breakfast at the restaurant Friday morning.
Mr. DeCarvalho charmed a group of people that is often not welcomed with open arms, Mr. Conway said. It was, however, the brick incident that earned Mr. DeCarvalho his "furry badge of honor."
In one of the convention's first years in Pittsburgh, Mr. DeCarvalho interceded when a man was harassing his furry customers, Mr. Conway said. The man responded by hitting him with a brick, sending Mr. DeCarvalho to the hospital with a fractured skull and leaving him with a scar on his forehead.
"He literally became a legend from that event," Mr. Conway said. "We just adored him ever since."
On Friday, the first day of his first Anthrocon, Edward Moyer, a 35-year-old from Manitoba, Canada, who goes by "Racs" for raccoon, was already a regular at Fernando's Cafe.
He had never met Mr. DeCarvalho when he received Anthrocon's request earlier this year for donations to keep the restaurant open, but he had heard of Fernando's Cafe. He sent in $100, and when he reached Pittsburgh after a two-day drive, he visited Furryland Cafe to see what he had saved.
"This is like the mecca of the convention," he said. "You've got to come here at least once."
It's difficult for Mr. DeCarvalho to explain the furry phenomenon that boosted his business to his friends and family back in Brazil, but he has sent them videos.
And while he isn't a furry himself, Anthrocon declared Mr. DeCarvalho an honorary one.
"Even if he's honorary, I think he's got a little fur in him," Mr. Moyer said. "We rubbed off on him, maybe."neigh_city
Kaitlynn Riely: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1707. First Published June 16, 2012 4:15 AM