In a way, Baris Budak is the Santa of Anthrocon — if Santa ran a restaurant, that is.
Budak owns the restaurant at 963 Liberty Ave., which transforms each year into Furnando’s Furryland Cafe during Anthrocon, and he’s spent the last six months dreaming up ideas to make the dining experience extra special for furries.
“We start preparing in January, and we say, ‘How do we surprise furries, so this can be their Christmas in the summer in Pittsburgh?’” Budak said.
This year, costumers will find extra-long straws, giant fans, a hydration station, and collapsable dog bowls underneath their metaphorical Christmas tree at Furnando’s.
The straws stretch from 20 to 40 inches, so furries can drink water without having to remove their headpieces, Budak explained. Jumbo-size fans at the restaurant will help those in fuzzy costumes stay cool during the convention. Free water will be available for passersby.
That brings us to the collapsable dog bowls.
For a few years, Furnando’s has offered plastic dog bowls instead of traditional dishes during Anthrocon.
“If the furries are coming, No. 1, we are going to be serving them in dog bowls,” Budak said. “They get their dog bowls, and they all have dates on them. It’s like their yearly thing — they come and collect one, and that’s their souvenir.”
But Budak noticed that collapsable bowls might be easier to transport, so he did some research. He bought a few options and tested them for sturdiness with the help of friends and even actual dogs. The option he selected comes equipped with a hook, so fursuiters can attach the bowl to their collar or costume.
A few years ago, Budak took over the space from Fernando DeCarvalho, a legend in the furry community who owned what was then called Fernando’s Cafe (or Furnando’s Cafe during Anthrocon).
DeCarvalho, a native of Brazil who moved to Pittsburgh to learn English, was one of the first Pittsburghers to welcome furries to town when Anthrocon arrived in 2006.
“When we first arrived in Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh had never seen furries. And any time a convention of our size moves to a new city there’s always a little bit of ‘how are we going to be received?,’” said Sam Conway, CEO of Anthrocon, the massive anthropomorphic convention.
As a welcoming gesture, DeCarvalho grabbed some chalk and drew pawprints on the sidewalk from the convention center hotel to the front of his restaurant.
“When our folks woke up and saw that, that was it, they were in love with him from that point on,” Conway said. “Everybody adored him. He was very supportive of us.”
Then, in another early year of the convention, a panhandler aggressively demanded money from furries standing outside of Furnando’s. DeCarvalho asked the man to leave them alone, and the man hurled a brick at DeCarvalho, catching him in the forehead, Conway recounted.
By chance, Conway continued, one of the furries there was a paramedic, so they immediately helped DeCarvalho, while another furry followed the man and called police. Other furries took up a collection to fill DeCarvalho’s hospital room with bouquets of flowers.
Fast-forward to 2012, and DeCarvalho’s business struggled to weather the recession. DeCarvalho, now with a lightning bolt-shaped scar on his forehead from the brick incident, called Conway to explain that Furnando’s wouldn’t be open for Anthrocon.
So, naturally, Conway shared the news with the furry community, and “donations came pouring in” from across the world — even from people who had never been to Anthrocon or to Pittsburgh.
“Within five days, we had collected on the order of $22,000 in $10 and $15 and $20 donations from many people,” Conway said, and he headed to Pittsburgh with the money on what was expected to be the last day for Fernando’s Cafe. “That’s one of my favorite scenes from my entire life — the look on his face.”
With that donation, DeCarvalho stayed open for Anthrocon, wiped out a portion of debt, and closed up shop, seeking a career in ministry.
He passed the torch to Budak, who had already gotten in on the furry spirit at his Pizza Parma location a few blocks away on Penn Avenue.
That Pizza Parma location, by the way, is permanently moving to 963 Liberty Ave., because of a planned redevelopment on Penn Avenue. So the shop on Liberty will be now be known as Pizza Parma during year — except during Anthrocon season when it will transform into Furnando’s Furryland Cafe.
“This guy took it to the next level,” Budak said about DeCarvalho’s commitment. “After that point … I took to the next level from what he had.”
Budak said he asks furries what they need, trying “to find a way to make their life easier when they are here” — like offering straws and dog bowls.
“If a costumer was overheated and thirsty, he or she would have to duck into a corner or be forced to take off the head in public, which is sort of a taboo. You work so hard to create that illusion, and then it becomes shattered,” Conway explained. “The straws are 22-inch straws, and you can feed it through the muzzle, and you’re able to have a sip of water, no problem.”
As for the dog bowls, well, they’re more of a souvenir than a practical way to eat.
“You’re not going to see somebody planting their face in it — maybe for a photo op. But nobody likes to get to marinara sauce on their shirt,” Conway said.
Nobody likes to get marinara sauce on their ornate furry costume either.
Furries don’t limit their love to just Furnando’s Furryland Cafe.
Ten Penny, Bill’s Burgers, and Condado Tacos are other popular spots for Anthrocon attendees, said Conway, whose fursona consists of a lab coat with a cockroach drawn on the back.
“One of the hallmarks of furries: They absolutely love to eat,” Conway said. “They’re like adorable furry locusts descending on a city.”