Squirrel Hill has gained a new certified kosher business this month: Bunny Bakes & Specialty Coffee, a coffee shop and bakery run by Friendship Circle, a Jewish nonprofit dedicated to building relationships among community members of all abilities.
The store is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Friday at 1926 Murray Ave. for those looking to grab a coffee or dessert, but Bunny Bakes’ mission is more complex than just providing kosher baked goods.
Bunny Bakes serves not only the public but the Friendship Circle community.
Many of its employees are members of Friendship Circle who are in a training program to learn the skills required in the workforce. Some of those employees have moved to full-time positions with the bakery, while others are making their way through the individualized program before looking elsewhere for work.
The “Bunny” in Bunny Bakes comes from the nickname of the late Bernita Buncher, an avid supporter of Friendship Circle and an advocate for those with disabilities. When Friendship Circle acquired the building that would later house Bunny Bakes, Buncher immediately pitched having a shop staffed by community members with disabilities.
The store has 10 employees of varying abilities and another six employees in the training program. In the training program, they learn customer service and food safety skills that have helped some members move to positions at local restaurants.
The training program isn’t new; Bunny Bakes has its origin in a series of bakery pop-ups that began in 2020 to offer Friendship Circle members a place for career training and community-building. For Rabbi Mordy Rudolph, co-founder and executive director of Friendship Circle, one of the organization’s goals has been to provide more adult-centered spaces for its older community members.
“Our philosophy is that you don’t age out of Friendship Circle, and anyone who has been a part of Friendship Circle is always welcome back,” said Friendship Circle’s co-founder and Executive Director Rabbi Mordy Rudolph. “It felt to us for a long time like the next phase of socialization for our adults is going to have some work component to it.”
Creating that space doesn’t stop with the program — it goes to the very design of the store, down to the placement of the chairs, which leaves space for those in wheelchairs to move freely. It’s ADA-accessible, tables designed to fit wheelchairs, an adult changing table in the bathroom and lights that can be dimmed on request for those with sensory issues.
Friendship Circle Director and co-founder Rivkee Rudolph said the goal was to have a bakery that had accommodations built in.
“Obviously, we’ll accommodate as needed, but there should be minimal accommodations required from someone who needs it,” Rivkee Rudolph said. “The idea of universal design is that from the beginning, we have everybody in mind and then as needed, we can build accommodations.”
But the focus on accessibility doesn’t take away from the products themselves. The married Rudolphs were more than eager to talk about their shared passion for coffee. Bunny Bakes sources its coffee from Pittsburgh coffee company De Fer Coffee & Tea.
“We’re all pretty serious coffee drinkers here, and we wanted to make sure that if we were going to sell coffee it was high-quality, great coffee,” Rivkee Rudolph said.
Bunny Bakes also offers kid-friendly drinks made with flavored steamed milk, something Rivkee Rudolph has said is popular with moms bringing their children in for “Mommy and me” dates.
When asked for their favorite thing on the menu, both Rudolphs said the coffee, adding that the cinnamon buns and carrot cake muffins were good dessert options. The menu is in its first phase, focusing on sweets such as brownies, muffins and its most popular offering so far: cinnamon rugelach.
The next phase, planned to roll out in about a month, will launch a slate of savory options alongside pre-ordering. Bunny Bakes also plans to add more gluten-free options to the menu. Bunny Bakes has one gluten-free option and a few nut-free and vegan options, including dairy alternatives for drinks.
But above all else, Bunny Bakes is about community engagement. The team participated in a Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s milkshake and cookies event to raise money for charity, something they want to do more often moving forward.
“That was a big reason why we chose to have a bakery and café — so that our members had as much opportunity to interface and have that visibility with the community,” Rivkee Rudolph said.
The store opened on Nov. 7 during the hustle of Election Day, but the excitement hasn’t died down for the team.
“I know it’s been an exciting experience for me,” she said. “Watching them develop the skills that we need for them to be a part of our bakery team has been very satisfying, encouraging and really just exciting to see the way that it’s been received and how it’s all come to life.” PJC
Abigail Hakas is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.