With its wood floors, chalkboard menus and inviting blue and white decor, Bluebird Kitchen is a welcome homey addition for the 9-to-5 crowd Downtown. And it’s not just the bakery-cafe’s quaint street sign (featuring a little bluebird tucked in a nest) that stands out from the other restaurants in Market Square.
“I thought Downtown really needed a place where you could get really high-quality food to go,” says owner Liz Moore Pessaro, 35. “The whole idea is…fine-dining quality food with quick service and convenience at a good price.”
Bluebird Kitchen serves up sandwiches, soups, salads and pastries at a speed convenient for people on the go. Bluebird Kitchen’s menu, designed by executive chef Steven Thompson, features creative combinations that you won’t find at your standard sub shop: The house-cured roast beef sandwich is served with garlic confit, thyme onions and horseradish aioli on the restaurant’s own focaccia bread, while bleu cheese, roasted shallots and caramelized walnuts complement the roast chicken salad.
Catering to Downtown’s busy professionals, the restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday. Pessaro knows just how busy life in the corporate world can be. Before opening Bluebird Kitchen, she worked for years in finance and investor relations in New York City.
“It was never my dream job,” says Pessaro of her former career in high finance. “I always wanted to do something that I really enjoyed… I love food, I love to entertain, I love people. This just seemed like the best thing for me to do.”
The process of opening the bakery-cafe was often trying. She first began to think on the restaurant’s concept five years ago and, after writing a firm business plan in the summer of 2009, started to plan the restaurant in Pittsburgh while working full-time in New York.
Progress was occasionally stymied by lack of funds, logistics and even losing the cafe’s original space: Pessaro originally intended to open Bluebird Kitchen in the Union Trust Building before relocating to the current location in Market Square. “There were definitely some times when I didn’t think it was going to happen,” she says.
Now, Bluebird Kitchen has quickly become a popular spot Downtown. “We were busy from the beginning, thankfully,” says Pessaro. “Much more so than I thought. I feel very lucky and grateful.”
The 1995 Mt. Lebanon High School graduate and Royal Court resident opted to open her restaurant in Pittsburgh rather than New York out of a desire to return to her hometown and contribute to the city’s recent growth. “Pittsburgh has changed so much since I first moved to New York,” she says. “I’m excited that we’re getting to be a part of some of the changes that are happening here.”
“I thought it would be a more difficult transition for me, even just moving to Pittsburgh from New York, but I really feel like this is what I was meant to do and I’m really happy doing it. I don’t miss a thing about the old 9-to-5 office job.”
In particular, patrons are responding well to the cafe’s attention to food quality. “People are more in tune with what they’re eating these days, and they want better quality,” says Pessaro. “We bake all of our breads, breakfast pastries and desserts. We roast all of our meats in-house—we don’t use lunch meat.”
While employees note that the Cuban sandwich and fried egg breakfast sandwiches are strong sellers, one customer went out of his way to praise one popular lunch staple: the turkey sandwich, which Bluebird Kitchen serves with gouda, avocado, butter lettuce and a savory shallot-bacon jam.
“This was my first time here, and that was fantastic,” he told a beaming Pessaro on his way out the door.
“It’s really nice to have people come into your restaurant,” she says. “It sounds strange, but sometimes you’re sitting behind the counter and you think, ‘These people are coming in to eat our food!?’ It’s definitely surreal.”
—JASMINE TURNER firstname.lastname@example.org