PHILADELPHIA – After lunch in the Reading Terminal Market, I stumbled upon a small coffee shop on Arch Street that appeared to be in an art gallery. The building was labeled ‘The New Temporary Contemporary’ but the door said ReAnimator Coffee.
There were artisanal brooms hanging on the wall at the entrance and what I would call unconventional art behind the coffee bar. Not knowing much about modern art, I felt intimidated and had an urge to fake an important phone call so I could quickly turn towards the exit.
In an instance, the barista Nate coaxed me over to the beautiful wood-sculpted countertop he was standing behind with a smile and an introduction to confusion around me.
The New Temporary Contemporary (NTC) at 1222 Arch St. is the annex gallery of the Fabric Workshop and Museum (FWM), which was founded in 1977 by Marion Boulton Stroud.
Currently, the FWM is hosting the Workshop Residence from San Francisco in the NTC. The NTC has undergone renovations for the current exhibition in order to look more like a storefront.
“[Stroud] extended the use of this gallery space to us and we wrote a project proposal that sought to open up this gallery and reconsider the way that visitors would interact with the museum,” Workshop Residence Director Braden Weeks Earp said.
Workshop Residence founder Ann Hatch has been friends with Stroud for quite some time and she even sits on the board of the FWM. According to Earp, Hatch is ‘a patron of the arts and life-long San Franciscan’ who has founded the Capp Street Project in 1983 and co-founded the Oxbow School in 1997 with Robert and Margrit Mondavi.
“So what we proposed doing from the very beginning included a coffee bar as a way to bring people in from the street,” Earp said.
After a busy retail season leading up towards the holidays, the Workshop Residence chose to do this ‘experiment’ at time when business would be slow in San Francisco. In the brutally cold months of January and February, Earp said ‘it was important to have an informal invitation for people to hangout’ and learn about the project.
“Oftentimes when people go in a gallery, they may unintentionally feel unwelcome or like they have to go in and look at the art and leave,” Earp said.
When the Workshop Residence was approved by FWM, it was artist/collaborator and Philadelphia-native Lauren DiCioccio who made the connection with ReAnimator Coffee.
“About two or three years ago, my dad started telling me, ‘my friend Tony from tennis, his son quit his job and started roasting coffee. It’s kind of like how you’re an artist, he’s really doing something creative, it’s so cool,’” DiCioccio said.
Mark Capriotti met ReAnimator co-founder Mark Corpus around 2001 during their college days at Drexel University. But the two didn’t come together on the project until years later.
“We would hang out in college and occasionally after college,” Capriotti said. “At that time, we were both brewing beer and were interested in food and drink while [Corpus] was roasting coffee at his apartment.”
With a five-pound coffee roaster installed in Capriotti’s house, the two began the process towards wholesaling. Spending about six months to get branding, packaging, and roasts together, the two Marks continued working their day jobs.
“That snowballed into a pretty good business and we bought the 25-pound roaster you see here today,” Capriotti said.
“We put that in a gross warehouse near [Olde Kensington] in 2012 and [Corpus] quit his job,” Capriotti said. “We signed the lease for our first café in March 2013 and that’s when I quit my job.”
The first café opened at the triangular intersection of E. Susquehanna Ave. and E. Norris St. in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood.
The second location at 301 Master St. opened in the Olde Kensington section of the city about 13 months after the first.
“The owners of the building really wanted something like a coffee roaster,” Capriotti said. “They offered us this space right after we opened the other space. That’s why they are so close in proximity and time opened.”
In a developing area, there is not as much foot traffic around the Master Street location and the building’s owners wanted a wholesale business that could also brighten up the area with a retail space. Capriotti said they will be adding a bakery and area for wholesale retail in this space.
ReAnimator Coffee sources its beans from a variety of countries in Central America and Africa such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Ethiopia.
“We’ve gone to Ethiopia and Central America each year for the last three years,” Capriotti said.
Capriotti said ReAnimator’s clientele trends toward the younger crowd of people around 25 to 35 who grew up in a culture of openness to trying new food and drink. This can also be attributed to the fact that both locations are in gentrifying neighborhoods where the general population is younger.
Earlier today, Philadelphia Business Journal published an article showing trends in Philadelphia and Boston that correlate new Starbucks Coffee shops to neighborhoods going through gentrification. So far, ReAnimator hasn’t faced competition from the coffee giant in either Fishtown or Olde Kensington with the closest locations being on Temple University’s campus and the north end of Port Richmond.
In no way does ReAnimator discourage older people or people who aren’t as experienced in coffee from stopping by. In fact, Capriotti said baristas are trained to be ‘approachable, friendly, and informative’ with customers so as to make the artisan coffee experience less intimidating.
“We like to change people’s mind by experiencing our coffee,” Capriotti said. “We try not to be too salesy. We feel like the coffee speaks for itself.”
In the same way that there has been a shift from mass-produced American light beer to small operations with more emphasis on taste, Capriotti believes that coffee is more than an ends to a means and ‘can be an experience.’
“People have started to realize that beer is more than just a vessel for getting alcohol into your body,” Capriotti said.
The same goes for a caffeine delivery system like coffee.
Note: The Workshop Residence will be in Philadelphia until Saturday, March 7, when they will host the final event in their “Unboxing” series.
(Twice a week, they have chosen Artist Boxes from the FWM archive to ‘unbox’ and study the archive of material providing a window into the behind-the-scenes process involved with each project.)
The final event with feature a box from a project by Tristin Lowe. Lowe will be in attendance for the unboxing and an informal artist talk. This event is free to the public.