Sweet Spot: The Bakery that Serves Dessert with a Purpose
Wes Lyons and Amber Greene's Cakery Square serves its cupcakes with a side of youth empowerment.
Wes Lyons first made his mark in our region as a star player on the Woodland Hills High School football team in Churchill Borough. Lyons went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business while playing football for West Virginia University and spent time under contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a wide receiver and tight end, though he never appeared in a regular season game.
As talented as he was on the field, it’s his post-football work that will have the longest lasting impact in Pittsburgh. In 2013, the North Braddock native created a program called “The Pursuit.” Lyons’ curriculum is intended to prepare high school students for academic and real-world success by building life-skills such as time-management, intellectual curiosity, decision-making and self-esteem building.
Lyons says he often thinks about ways to evolve and add credibility to The Pursuit. One such idea was sparked following several dessert-tasting events he threw as fundraisers: open a bakery that would offer the opportunity of real-world employment for some of the students enrolled in the program. Lyons partnered with a longtime friend, Amber Greene, to open Cakery Square in The Waterfront in July 2017. The business currently employs five students affiliated with The Pursuit.
“We’re molding these kids and their work habits. For a lot of them, this is their first job and they’re raw. We can teach them the expectations of what it means to have a job,” says Lyons.
Greene, also a Woodland Hills alum and North Braddock native, oversees the big-picture business operations including researching new products, marketing, accounting and payroll. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Pittsburgh and a MBA from Florida State University. Prior to opening Cakery Square, she worked in marketing for several large corporations in Pittsburgh.
The Cakery Square storefront features a refrigerated display case of cupcakes, cakes, cannoli, cookies and more. Greene says it’s the extra-large, filled cupcakes, which come in flavors such as strawberry shortcake with strawberry filling, almond torte with Bavarian cream and White Russian with white-chocolate and vodka ganache, as well as seasonal offerings such as a Steelers-themed black and gold with vanilla buttercream, that are the more popular offerings. Cakery Square’s strawberry champagne cake is a big draw, too. Greene prepares custom tea blends in flavors such as rosé, berry bubbly, amber cider and candy apple. Cookie and cake decorating classes are offered to both kids and adults.
“We try to keep things fresh so whenever you come in here, you’re seeing something different,” she says.
Lyons says that he and Greene run Cakery Square as if they were running a family business, and that this style of management encourages the student-workers to see the job as something other than a punch-in, do your work and then punch-out workplace. “It’s so much more than just going to a job. They’re picking up books when it’s slow. They are learning about decorating cakes if they want to do that and all sorts of other things. They’re learning about life,” he says.
All of the current and most of the former Cakery Square employees still are in school, so it’s too soon to fully celebrate success. Early signs, however, are encouraging. One former Cakery Square worker, for example, interned as a baker and is now a manager. “The dedication they put into this is going to transfer to whatever they do after this,” Lyons says.
Greene says that now that the business has been in operation for a year-and-a-half, she’s starting to think about the next evolution. “We can start to introduce them to the business side of things. Maybe one of them would want to franchise this one day,” she says.