New Bakers, Bakeries and Cafés about Town
by Emily Kovach
For many of us, the workday begins with coffee and a bagel at the corner café and ends with a baguette from the local bakery. It's a simple and satisfying pleasure to bite into a still-warm, aromatic sourdough, or see that our favorite kind of muffin hasn't sold out yet.
As generic chain cafés amass all over town, and as bread from the supermarket leaves you cold, take heart that Philly’s passionate artisans will leaven your spirits.
From beer-boiled bagels to cherry-cola doughnuts, here are a few of Philly’s rising bakeries and cafés.
The Little Bird Bakery & Cafe
517 S. 5th Street
Jessica Nolen has already delighted many local diners with delicious sweets through the dessert menus at Brauhaus Schmitz and Whetstone Tavern, both owned by her husband Jeremy Nolen. This past November, she opened her own shop, aptly named the Little Bird Bakery & Cafe (her maiden name, Vogel, translates to “little bird” in German). A graduate of the Restaurant School, she has demonstrated a knack for all sorts of scratch-made baked goods: Croissants, breads, cookies, tortes, pies, cheesecakes and many more treats stock the shelves in her cozy café. But the most popular menu item so far? “Baguettes!” Nolen says. “People want baguettes all the time. I've had to up my pars daily to keep up!”
Her vision for the café, which also serves coffee and light lunch fare, was simple: a bakery where locals stop by for their daily needs, as well as for special occasions. “I want it to be a place where you can come in and I'll remember your face and we can chat about the holidays, or whatever came to mind,” she says.
Ailbhe Pascal moved to Philadelphia in 2012 to pursue urban farming, and picked up bread baking skills along the way. Pascal (who prefers they/them as a pronoun) soon began bartering baked goods for art, or to thank friends who helped them move. In August of 2015, Pascal decided to start a business, and began renting space in the Center for Culinary Enterprises communal kitchen on 48th and Pine streets in West Philly. “Sustainable food is so affordable if you do it in bulk,” Pascal says. “So, scaling up just made so much sense.”
Fikira, which means “idea” or “thought” in Arabic, is a fitting name for the business, which is deeply informed by Pascal’s feminist, community-centric politics. “I became very fed up with homophobia and transphobia in my family and ran away,” Pascal says. “But I didn’t just run away; I ran into something and now my life is my own—how do I make it as fully realized as possible? That translates into Fikira, trying to live that truth.”
The bakery’s seasonal menu ranges from bialys to muffins to daikon dumplings, stuffed with greens grown at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education. Customers order through Fikira’s website, and within 48 hours, everything is delivered by bicycle to their doorstep. The deliveries go all over the city, and soon Fikira will be able to accept EBT and SNAP payments. “That’s necessary, especially when people living in food deserts are told they don’t deserve fresh food,” Pascal says. “Of course they do! Everyone does!”
Mighty Bread Co.
“People buy a loaf of bread because it makes them happy,” says Chris DiPiazza, whose baking gig is a stark contrast from his job as an IT professional where, he says, “people only call when something’s wrong.” DiPiazza, a South Philly resident, had been a bread baking hobbyist for a few years, and was educated and motivated by classes at prestigious culinary programs like the San Francisco Baking Institute. In November, he struck up a relationship with the owner of Stargazy, a British bakery on Passyunk Avenue, and began selling loaves from within the shop. Everything DiPiazza makes is naturally leavened, meaning a live culture is used in lieu of commercial yeast, and made in small batches. He prefers simple, classic bread flavors, like rosemary peppercorn and toasted sesame loaves, two very popular items so far.
This month, DiPiazza introduces a bread subscription program. Members will order through Mighty Bread Co.’s website, and for $32 a month, will receive a loaf of bread plus one other local, artisan-made product every week, available to pick up at Stargazy or Old City Coffee. While he plans to expand to a wholesale business in the future, he’s excited about the CSA model. “It’s a way for people to be more involved in what’s being made,” he says. “I do everything from buying ingredients to mixing dough, so it will be a very direct relationship. I think people like that.”
Front Street Café
1253 N. Front Street
Front Street Café, on the corner of Front and Thompson streets in Fishtown, is an ambitious, multi-functional establishment open daily from 6 a.m. until midnight (2 a.m. on weekends!), with organic coffee and fresh juice, a full bar, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner service. Owner Nicole Barclay is a longtime resident of the neighborhood who was frustrated with the lack of healthy options to fit her dairy-, wheat- and meat-free diet. The menu, 85 percent of which is vegan, reflects her commitment to fresh, healthy, responsibly sourced food with choices like kale-flecked hotcakes, a BBQ pulled mushroom sandwich, and sustainably harvested salmon from Skuna Bay, Vancouver.
The building itself embodies the philosophy of the café: Real estate developer Lee Larkin worked to uphold the integrity of the late-1800s architectural details of the building while incorporating sustainable elements. Additionally, 90 percent of the building materials were reclaimed, recycled or repurposed, and all of the tabletops, booths and banquettes in the space were made from reclaimed wood and materials. The outdoor garden patio was designed to allow rain runoff to permeate the soil and naturally irrigate the surrounding greenery. Front Street Café may be the only spot in town where the pancakes are green, but the building is greener.
4529 Springfield Avenue
Matt Quinn and Jeff Poleon met while slinging vegan pizzas together at Blackbird Pizza, and began to brainstorm what other kinds of vegan foods the city was missing. The answer seemed obvious. “Philadelphia has every other kind of vegan food, but not doughnuts!” says Poleon. “New York has Dun-Well, L.A. has Donut Friend, and we thought, ‘Why doesn’t Philly have a place like that?’” In March of 2014, they opened as a wholesale business, quickly amassed coffee shop accounts, and currently crank out up to 60 dozen doughnuts a day.
Soon after the new year, Dottie’s will opena storefront in West Philly, adjacent to its commercial kitchen—part of a larger goal to become a small local chain. The space will hold 10 tables and sell uniquely flavored doughnuts (e.g. matcha pistachio and cherry-cola), bagels from neighbor Four Worlds Bakery, plus some new additions: jelly-filled doughnuts, apple fritters and fresh-made “dots” (doughnut holes) tossed in flavored sugars. On the coffee front, Elixr Coffee will be on drip and espresso, and single-origin pour overs from a rotating roster of local roasters will be available. The shop’s aesthetic is clean and modern, but Poleon assures there will be playful touches, too. “We’re not stuffy at all,” he says. “We still love the image of Homer Simpson eating his doughnuts.”
Philly Style Bagels
1451 E. Columbia Avenue
After wowing crowds of early risers at their Saturday pop-ups at Pizzeria Beddia, bagel-obsessed duo Collin Shapiro and Jonathon Zilber are on the verge of opening a brick-and-mortar location to call their own. A combination of loans and a successful Indiegogo campaign secured them the space (at the corner of Columbia and Sepviva, right on Palmer Park in Fishtown) and a righteous oven (the Montague Hearth Bake 25P-2, or as they call it, “our life force”). The small takeout-only joint will channel a classic bagel shop vibe. “We aren’t sandwich renegades,” says Shapiro. “We want to put all the excitement into the bagels themselves.”
Their signature Yards beer-boiled bagels will pair with familiar breakfast and lunch fillings—cream cheese, lox, eggs and bacon, and chicken salad—as well as vegan spreads, and locally sourced veggies. Coffee from Counter Culture will round out the menu, and they hope to soon add other carb-y delights, like babka and challah.