European Inspiration: James Cafe Brings High-End Coffee and Healthy Eats to The Strip District
The owners, local real estate developers, plan to open multiple mixed-use properties in the city.
James Cafe in the Strip District is a European-style coffee shop owned by Canadian real estate developers who fell in love with Pittsburgh’s architectural heritage.
And they want to carry on that legacy with a number of mixed-use properties throughout the city.
Brett Walsh and Breanna Tyson, a married couple who are raising a family (and a few buildings) in the neighborhood, opened the business in August. It’s located at 2550 Smallman St. Operating hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
Inspired by their trips abroad in both the food and elegant decor, the cafe sells an array of hot and iced beverages, breakfast sandwiches, pastries, caramelized grapefruit, soups, salads, charcuterie boards and grab-and-go wraps. In time, they hope to expand the menu to make James Cafe — which bears their eldest daughter’s middle name — a brunch destination.
“Customers create the atmosphere as much as the owners,” says Tyson, who hails from Vancouver. “We already have a lot of regulars. We’re working through the menu, making modifications, seeing who our clients are and what our offerings should be. We want to bring fresh, light, healthy food and a different sort of experience to Pittsburgh.”
The husband-and-wife team have a partnership with Brooklyn-based Variety Coffee and are collaborating with local businesses such as Best Ever Granola and Mediterra Bakehouse. Starting on Nov. 19, The Farmer’s Daughter Flowers will set up a pop-up shop there on weekends through the end of 2022. Walsh and Tyson want to team up with more entrepreneurs who can use the space in the evenings after the eatery closes.
The cafe, which has seasonal sidewalk seating, is located on the ground floor of 2554 Smallman St., a building erected by their Pittsburgh-based company Hullett Properties. The residential steel structure has 27 condominiums, which are all occupied.
Walsh and Tyson own multiple sites in the Strip, Downtown and Bakery Square in Larimer that they plan to transform into mixed-use facilities that they believe will enhance the urban lifestyle.
One of their current projects is revitalizing the 156-year-old Triangle Building at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Smithfield Street, Downtown. The couple hopes to complete the project by late 2023, with plans for 15 residences with hotel-style services and amenities, as well as a public cafe with a liquor license, a podcasting room, outdoor seating and a take-out window.
“With the Triangle Building we are trying to create a sense of place and provide more flexible lease terms,” Tyson explains. “Here in the city, if you want to sign a six-month lease it’s very expensive. We are trying to be very market-driven.”
Walsh, who grew up in Montreal, where these types of facilities are the norm, says many residential developments popping up throughout Pittsburgh don’t offer community spaces or add them as an afterthought. He says as more people move to the city — from either other parts of the world or the nearby suburbs — there’s high demand for thoughtfully designed, all-inclusive dwellings.
“One of the great things about having a café in-house is that you can control the look and feel of it,” he says. “We have a commitment to our tenants to give them retail that adds value to their experience. We want to bring something to Pittsburgh that’s very different, but has a classic feel to it. That’s what a café is meant to be, a great meeting place. We live in a mobile world and we want it to feel more like home.”