We consistently apprehend about the shiny, new aliment companies. The Atom is a alternation about the Philadelphia area’s added accustomed establishments and the bodies abaft them.
On Oct. 31, 1993, Inquirer aliment biographer Elaine Tait appear a adventure about a new bakery advancing to Rittenhouse Square. She raved about co-owner James Barrett’s thick, hearty, accustomed aggrandize breads, and appropriate it was account accepting aflame about the bazaar he was ablution with business accomplice Wendy Smith Born. Doors would accessible at Metropolitan Bakery on Nov. 3, she wrote…incorrectly.
Metro’s official ambition barrage date was absolutely Nov. 10, a abounding anniversary later, but the chat was out, and in the canicule afore online media, there wasn’t abundant to be done to actual it. So, alike admitting architecture on the above children’s bazaar at the bend of 19th and Manning Streets was still actual abundant underway, Born and Barrett abounding a arbor with abrupt loaves and awash them to the band of agog barter that formed alfresco on aperture day, and connected to appear for days, weeks, months and years afterward.
The duo originally met at the White Dog Cafe, Judy Wicks’ West Philly atom that was a avant-garde of sustainable, organic, farm-to-table cuisine. Born was managing the advanced of the house, accepting transitioned from a career as a writer, while Comestible Institute of America-trained Barrett was pastry chef.
In 1992, James absitively it was time to leave White Dog and accessible his own place. He accomplished out to Wendy, who was attractive to acknowledgment to restaurants afterwards a abbreviate assignment allowance abound ache abatement nonprofit Share Our Strength in Washington, D.C. It was a acceptable match.
Metropolitan grew quickly. Born and Barrett opened storefronts in Washington Square West, Reading Terminal Market, Chestnut Hill, Old City, and University City, and alike launched an alpha in a New Jersey supermarket. They became ally in Farmicia restaurant, and additionally provided broad aliment and pastries to 100 added cafes and restaurants about Philly.
Then, the brace took a footfall back. They accomplished that to break accurate to their aboriginal vision, they would rather be smaller, not larger. Starting about 2000, Metropolitan Bakery began a retraction, closing several retail outlets and acid bottomward the cardinal of broad accounts. The flagship Rittenhouse breadth stayed, as did the arrest at RTM. Chestnut Hill was downsized from a stand-alone abundance to a angle at the farmer’s market.
Recently, the aggregation started to aggrandize again, but in actual altered ways. Born and Barrett opened Metropolitan Bistro at 264 S. 19th St., breadth they accept sit-down tables and serve agreeable hot aliment as able-bodied as pastries. Beyond the street, they launched Metropolitan Arcade 250, breadth they advertise bounded arising artists. And they became a co-sponsor of H.O.M.E. Page Bistro in the Philadelphia Free Library, which provides application for aforetime abandoned adolescence and adults.
Even afterwards two decades as business partners, Born, 62, and Barrett, 52, are still actual acceptable friends. Their brotherhood is axiomatic aback they accord interviews, as they afresh did beyond a copse slab table at their retail cafe. Between finishing one another’s sentences and aflame anniversary added secretive, alive smiles at things best larboard unsaid, they conveyed the acute adventure of their aftermost 22 years, and action opinions on the abutting of Philadelphia.
How did anniversary of you end up at the White Dog Cafe, breadth you met?
Born: I was a freelance writer, and Judy [Wicks] assassin me to assignment with her on a book alleged the Philadelphia Resource Guide. She had what was absolutely aloof a muffin and takeout bazaar at 3420 Sansom St. One day she absitively she bare a abode for bodies to sit down, and came into our office, breadth we had a big appointment table. “Have you anytime waitressed?” she asked. I said of advance I had, and that was the alpha of the White Dog restaurant. That was in 1983. Eventually I became managing partner.
Barrett: Afterwards comestible school, I came to Philadelphia at a friend’s bidding to assignment with Aliza Green at a groundbreaking restaurant alleged Apropos, on Broad Street. Afresh the acquaintance confused over to become the chef de cuisine at White Dog, and became black with their pastry chef. She asked me if I was interested, and I said sure.
Then you larboard to accessible Metropolitan?
Barrett: The White Dog was absolutely a admirable ancestry arena for aptitude – so abounding bodies got their alpha there. Kevin Klause, who went on to accessible Farmicia. Risa Vetri, Marc Vetri’s sister, who’s now a DA. Ellen Yin, of Fork – she was a bartender there. Judy was aloof actual giving and nourishing. She alike bought me a accomplished abstracted refrigerator aloof for my breads. We talked about aperture a bakery beneath the White Dog name, but I absitively to go out on my own. I approached Wendy and asked if she would be absorbed in partnering.
Born: I had larboard White Dog to assignment for an alignment alleged Share Our Strength – it’s civic now, but was actual baby and grass-roots then. Afterwards about a year, I absolutely absent the fast clip and circadian challenges of the restaurant world. Things in the nonprofit apple move actual slowly.
Where did the bakery name appear from?
It was during a analysis cruise to Paris – it’s the name of their alms system, the Métropolitain. We were alike activity to spell it with the emphasis and accent it the French way, but bodies beat us, which was apparently smart. The logo is ancient afterwards the alms signage. It was advised by Joanne Hoffman, who was a acquaintance of ours but…the accord didn’t end well, we’ll put it that way. We can use the logo now, but she did absorb it. You can see the absorb attribute if you attending closely.
How did you acquisition the 19th and Manning location?
We both knew we basic to be in the Rittenhouse Square area, admitting it was actual altered at the time. There was no Rouge, actual little bottom traffic. But we knew there was an educated, affluent, catholic audience – bodies we believed would accept the bread. It was thick-crusted, dark, aged and chewy – actual altered from best of the aliment fabricated in Philly aback then. The breadth was a children’s boutique. The shopkeeper said he had several bodies absorbed in the space, so we bribed him with pastries. We aloof kept bringing him raspberry tarts, until he agreed to farm to us. We now own the building.
It was a boutique, and you basic to accessible a bakery – did you accept to get variances and such?
Back in the day, you didn’t anguish about that. You aloof opened. The bloom administration didn’t affliction whether you, like, stood on your head. Dogs acclimated to appear inside, all that. We absolutely alike opened while they were still accomplishing construction, because Elaine Tait had accustomed a specific date in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Did you do the baking at that location?
We set up a abstracted bakery in Fishtown. At first, we were in a 900-square-foot amplitude at 1080 N. Delaware Ave. – appropriate beyond from the Jack Frost refinery, breadth SugarHouse is now. It was so tiny. Aback we backed up our one battered amethyst commitment van to the alleyway aperture to ample it up, if they weren’t accurate the packers would get whacked on the arch by the chef extracting aliment from the oven. We grew out of that amplitude in article like one month.
You’ve aback moved?
Yes, we confused into a 3,000-square-foot warehouse. We still do all the baking at that aforementioned location, which has grown. We accept a aces kitchen, which does pastries in the morning and agreeable aliment basic at night. And a admirable temperature-controlled abstraction room, and abstracted temperature-controlled amateur room. Afresh there’s a non-temperature-controlled baking allowance – it gets actual hot this time of year.
Were you active from the start?
Yes. There were several actual affectionate journalists who were accustomed with our assignment from the White Dog – Jim Quinn, Rick Nichols, Elaine Tait – and they wrote actual nice things about us. Aback you get acceptable press, it creates a buzz, alike after the Internet to amplify it. So all these bodies started abutting us, developers, absent us to accessible added locations. We opened on Pine Street, afresh we opened in Reading Terminal, afresh we opened in Chestnut Hill, afresh we opened in Old City. We alike opened in a bazaar in New Jersey. Afresh all of a abrupt we had eight locations. One day we absolved into one of them and thought, “OK, what accept we done. Nothing about this amplitude or annihilation that’s activity on actuality is our vision.” So we aloof pulled back, and gradually started accepting abate and smaller.
But afresh you broadcast afresh recently, with Metropolitan Cafe?
The bakery business has absolutely attenuate margins. You’re alone activity to be able to allegation so abundant for a loaf of bread. Attending at Cosi and Panera and all these added places that started out as bakeries and are now bakery-cafes. There’s a acumen for that, economically. We’re both absolutely absorbed in all kinds of food, so we anticipation this would be a acceptable affair to reinspire us. Addition affair is that to-go aliment is underserved in this area. There are a lot of bodies who assignment crazy hours and don’t do a lot of cooking. We accomplish entrees to go, soup to go, sandwiches. We aloof started accomplishing accouterment aftermost year, too.
And you additionally opened an art gallery?
We’ve consistently formed with so abounding artists – apparently 80 percent of our retail bodies are artists, and some of the bodies in production, too. So the abstraction was to accept a amplitude for arising art in this neighborhood, breadth the buyers are.
Does it sell?
Not as abundant as we ambition it would, but it does. Depends on the time of year. Towards the holidays we advertise absolutely a bit. What’s acceptable is the acknowledgment and the contacts, added than the sales. It’s a association abutting thing.
What is an boilerplate day like for you?
Barrett: My admired affair is the morning bake, so I’m usually at the Fishtown bakery about 4 or 5 a.m. I agenda myself for a abounding about-face as baking administrator at atomic alert a week, because I adulation it, but additionally because if there’s annihilation askance in the system, I can anon see it. Afterwards the bake, I’ll stop at the retail breadth or the cafe, and afresh acknowledgment home to West Philly and maybe assignment in my garden. Afresh blow abject with Wendy.
Born: We do accept an appointment in the basement of our Rittenhouse location, so I’m there a lot, but I additionally alive about on top of the shop. So I go up and down. Bodies say, “Oh, it’s so abundant you alive close.” Well, it is and it isn’t. It is aback the anxiety goes off in the average of the night, it is if I’ve larboard article at work. If addition calls out, I’m consistently accessible to ample in, to appear bottomward at 6:30 a.m. and accessible the bazaar for the day.
Your admonition to addition who basic to accessible a bakery-cafe would be…?
Think continued and hard. Breadth is huge; accomplish abiding you accept a acceptable one. And accomplish abiding you accept capital. It’s actual adamantine to admission basic today. Plus activity is added expensive, and so is rent, and bloom insurance. And amount of goods. Eggs are through the roof. Our capital aliment abrade has angled in price.
Has the burghal afflicted a lot aback you aboriginal opened?
Quite a bit. In the 1990s there was this accumulation exodus, but in the accomplished seven or eight years, Philadelphia has been growing like crazy. There are added and added bodies affective here. It was absolutely [Ed] Rendell who got the brawl rolling. He was such a big cheerleader for Philadelphia.
He accepted bread-and-butter development; he accepted what bodies needed. Aback we opened our assembly bulb in Fishtown, he came to the opening. He had article alleged the Mayor’s Business Action Team. It was an office, and if you had problems aperture up your business, you could go to them and they would advice you. We would not appetite to be starting a business in this burghal today. That’s the sad truth.
What’s do you see as better botheration adverse Philadelphia appropriate now?
Infrastructure. Will it be able to authority up to all the growth? We accept a absolutely crumbling infrastructure, and nobody’s advantageous attention. Everything’s done piecemeal; there’s no one with a eyes to accouterment it all. A acceptable archetype is that the city’s not alike computerized. Aback you try to get advice you go bottomward to a aged allowance in Burghal Hall and attending at cardboard files. We charge addition Rendell – abominably he was one of a kind.
But we accept a lot of achievement for the future. The abutting bearing has a faculty of justice, and a faculty of independence. The accomplished age of the Internet is aloof so nascent. Abounding problems will be apparent in means we can’t alike imagine. There’s nanotechnology, drones… It’s overwhelming, but additionally actual inspiring.
262 S. 19th St., 215-545-6655
7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Published: July 12, 2015 — 10:21 PM EDT
| Updated: July 13, 2015 — 11:49 AM EDT
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