Co-owner Tommy Medley bonded with customers of the White Rabbit Cafe and Patisserie when it opened in 2013, and that hasn’t changed as the Greensburg eatery marks its 10th anniversary today.
Medley estimates as many as 30% of his customers are regulars who have been coming throughout the past decade to the North Main Street business to partake of its coffee and tea beverages and the sweet and savory treats made in-house by his partner, pastry chef Amber Kunselman.
“Kids who were coming in with their parents when we first opened now have jobs and are customers in their own right,” Medley said.
“It’s always cool to see new people, too,” he said, including students from Greensburg’s Seton Hill University and other nearby colleges. “We’re often a meet-up space for friends or retirees, and we do get a lot of study groups.”
“The customers are really what make the White Rabbit so great, the community that has been built between the regulars and the staff,” said Bree Specht-Burns of Greensburg, a barista at the cafe. “It’s a very uplifting atmosphere.”
During their first year of business, Medley said, he and Kunselman were roughly the same age as a number of their customers who were enrolled in the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine program at Seton Hill.
“We really forged a connection with them,” he said. “I’ve now been to three of their weddings and I’ve been to one of their daughters’ third birthday party.”
Medley said he and Kunselman intended their business to be a welcoming, cozy space — the opposite of the impersonal atmosphere he’d experienced in some corporate-owned shops.
“We’ve had an absolute obsession with customer service and community-building,” Medley said. “You can come in and hang out. Every person who comes in matters.”
Two bookcases along a side wall are stocked with volumes that people can browse through and exchange.
“It started with overflow books from my collection,” said Medley, who has a master’s degree in library science. “If you want a book, take it and bring me something to replace it.”
About a year ago, Medley started a section devoted to banned books and was pleased when a pastor who is a customer expressed appreciation for the gesture.
“We talked about the need for a diversity of viewpoints,” Medley said. “It’s not antithetical to faith or politics or any sense of morality. It’s enriching.”
Similarly, he said, customers at the White Rabbit seem to have embraced the more adventurous choices on the shop’s beverage and pastry menus.
“People like those more specialty things,” he said, including cortado — a combination of espresso and milk with Spanish origins.
During the summer, the White Rabbit found itself with an abundance of rosemary on hand, so the herb was incorporated into a beverage flavoring.
“We tried it as as a one-off, and it was ridiculously popular,” Medley said. “So now it’s on our permanent menu.”
Specht-Burns often finds herself preparing the popular horchata for cafe customers.
“It’s a Mexican rice milk that we make here,” she said. “The rice is soaked overnight, and we add cinnamon and sugar to it.”
Kunselman, Medley said, strives to include international culinary traditions in her pastry offerings — including ma’amoul, a Middle Eastern date-filled treat.
Some of the dates for those pastries were supplied by a customer from Saudi Arabia, a Pitt-Greensburg university student whose family grows the fruit.
“We made them and sent him home with some,” Medley said.
Navigating the early stages of the covid-19 pandemic was a major challenge for Medley and Kunselman. After closing for about three months, they reopened cautiously, Medley said.
“We had dozens of emails from people asking how they could help, maybe by buying gift cards, to make sure we had what we needed to make it through,” he said.
The Paycheck Protection Program helped them to keep their staff on board, but they sold their Greensburg home and moved into an apartment above the shop to help with their finances. They’ve also added a pastry assistant to help Kunselman keep the shop’s counter stocked.
“We’re more or less back to normal, but we do have shorter hours,” deciding to forgo operating on weekends, Medley said.
While some offices that provided part of the shop’s customer base have remained closed, some who are now working remotely will stop in to have a coffee and pastry while using their laptops.
“We’ve seen the resurgence of people just wanting to hang out and exist in the public space, which has been really nice,” Medley said. “We’ve become ingrained in people’s lives.”
Visit thewhiterabbitcafe.com for more information.