By Ainsley Maloney
At Rittenhouse Farmer’s Market, a seven-year-old turns his ice-cream cookie sandwich from Zsa’s Ice Cream cart sideways and takes a long, rotating lick of the creamy vanilla middle. At Manayunk’s Hidden River Yarns, an expectant mother cradles an armful of soft lavender yarn and pictures the blanket she’ll begin knitting for her newborn. At a shower on the Main Line, a bride-to-be takes her very first bite of the decadent mocha chocolate cupcake, custom-made by Nutmeg Cake Design, and closes her eyes in delight.
What do all three of these customers—likely without knowing it—have in common? They’re all enjoying treats that have been handcrafted, baked, or packaged in a small section of industrial buildings, hidden off a one-way street, right here in Manayunk.
From Cramped to Krams
Back in 2014, Danielle Jowdy, co-owner of Zsa’s Ice Cream with her partner, Parker Whitehead, were renting the kitchen of a private school in Montgomery County. There, they created made-from-scratch concoctions to sell from their food truck and at farmer’s markets. Meanwhile, their wholesales to co-ops and artisanal markets were growing. “We were bursting from the seams, space-wise,” Danielle said. At the school, “we had limited hours to load because of buses. There was never a guarantee there wouldn’t be an extra-curricular activity. We needed a place of our own.”
Meanwhile, just last year another business owner, Meg Skill, was easing into the launch of her specialty cake business, Nutmeg Cake Design, by renting the kitchen from Bakeshop on 20th on its off-hours. Though a wonderful start, Meg was ready for a more permanent setup. At first, she looked into commissary kitchens, rented by the hour. But, she said, “They’re still transient spaces. While that works well for people who make food in bulk—who can get in, make the food, and get out—it doesn’t work as well for businesses, like mine, that are customized and handcrafted. Wedding cakes can take 20 to 30 hours between baking and detailing. I needed somewhere where I could ‘set up shop,’ and work all night if I needed to.”
Soon, both Danielle (through a connection at the Manayunk StrEAT Festival), and Meg (through an ad on Craig’s List) were connected to Matt Woodruff. Matt, at that time, was in the process of splitting his family’s large industrial building, located at 220 Krams Avenue and previously rented by LeBus Bakery, into six 500-to-700-square-foot commercial kitchens. He was looking for tenants.
The timing, location, and setup were perfect. In late 2014, Danielle and Parker moved into one of Matt’s 700-square-foot un-finished kitchens that allowed them a blank slate to design their perfect space. Though it came with health code approved walls, floors, drains and sinks to get them started. Danielle and Parker purchased all of their own equipment and outfitted the space themselves. As for Matt, he made sure all the proper wiring was where it needed to be and provided to scale drawings, which made their kitchen design process smoother. “It has a 10-foot-by-10-foot walk-in freezer, a giant sink that fits full sheet pans for our ice cream sandwiches, and we worked with Matt to figure out the best spot for our ice cream machine,” Danielle said.
For Meg, in early 2016 she selected a fully furnished 600-square-foot kitchen in Matt’s building, removing the build out process completely and allowing her to move right into her new space and start baking. What Meg now pays in rent per month for her own fully furnished private kitchen is equivalent to what she would have paid for one week in a commissary kitchen. “Spaces like this are very rare in the city. It’s a gem of sorts,” Meg adds.
Outside both their kitchens, is a huge parking lot, and quick access to 76—both major boons. “The lot fits our two ice cream trucks and delivery truck,” Danielle said. Meg adds: “If you can imagine loading wedding cakes on 20th Street with my flashers on, while Septa buses were going by,” she said. “Now, I have my own permanent space. This location is ideal.” For Meg, her new central location has opened her business up to the Main Line providing a whole new market for her to reach.
A Place of Their Own
Without Matt, Meg and Danielle say, their dream of having a private kitchen space would have them taken years—if at all—to materialize. "At this point in my business, taking out a loan to build out a commercial kitchen space from scratch wasn't an option,” Meg said.
This is where having Matt as their landlord has been clutch. Since Matt previously used the space for his sister-in-law’s bakery, then Le Bus, he’s a health-code pro: he works closely with city inspectors to ensure the kitchens meet the health department’s regulations. He creates the blueprints, to scale, of each kitchen’s space and equipment. He compiles a list of the exact materials used throughout the building, down to the type of paint. And for some tenants he also collects procedures for cleaning surfaces and handling food, health department requirements, so they don’t have to worry about that. “We handle all of the things that would be really difficult for a typical kitchen to do,” Matt said. “If you’re not familiar, it can seem very daunting. We thought, why have everyone re-learn something that we can help them with very quickly?”
It’s of little surprise, then, that over the past 3 years, Matt has attracted a wonderful group of tenants to his one-story horseshoe-shaped building, which he officially calls Manayunk Commercial Kitchens. In addition to Zsa’s and Nutmeg, Save Your Fork Cakes and Queen Bee Pastry, both custom cake designers, share a space. Peddler Coffee rents a unit for its roasting machine to stock its coffee shop near Franklin Institute. The Juice Merchant rents a space for its up-and-coming juice truck. Then there’s Pantry Boy, a Blue Apron for crockpot lovers. “They’re just a great group of tenants—they’re energetic, they’re active, and they’re always thinking about their businesses,” Matt said. “It’s been really nice to have them here.”
Meanwhile, one block down Kram’s Avenue, there’s a different type of business with a similar backstory: Kelbourne Woolens, a wholesale distributor of unique artisan Fibre Co. yarns to local independent yarn and craft stores across North America, including Hidden River Yarns on Main Street and Loop in Center City.
Two years ago, Courtney Kelley and Kate Gagnon Osborn were operating Kelbourne out of a two-story historic home in Conshohocken. Their entire inventory was stuffed onto the second floor. “Our yarns are custom blends, and a lot of our colors are kettle dyed with really subtle variations,” Courtney said. “We were growing, introducing new colors every season. We needed a commercial warehouse space.”
In December 2014, they moved into the 3,500 square foot warehouse at 228 Krams Ave., owned by Neducsin Properties. It offers everything: more space and a loading dock, which eases the delivery of their yarn, all imported from Peru and Ireland.
Now, Krams Ave. is home to seven unique businesses that, just 3 years ago, were spread out across Philly, working in isolation and squeezing into schools and houses. Being in Manayunk offers them not only the private space to finally make their own, but also a built-in community. “It’s been awesome to be in Manayunk around other women-owned businesses,” Meg said. “And working alone can be isolating. It’s nice to pop over to Danielle’s and say hi.” Danielle adds: “We look out for each other. If someone gets a UPS delivery and isn’t there, we’ll grab the package. It’s nice to be in an area with people who are in the same industry.”
Being somewhat of a hidden gem in Manayunk, however, also means being obscure from customers’ view. “That’s kind of the point,” though, Danielle said. Aside from picks-up for orders, the buildings are not open to the public. They are industrial buildings, not retail shops. Courtney recalls a time a customer made that mistake: “I remember, she came in, looked around, and—you could see it on her face, the look of, Oh my god, this is the WORST yarn store EVER! There’s crap everywhere. I can’t even look at the yarn, because everything is in bags!” Courtney recalls, laughing.
While their location may be incognito, the true benefit of being in Manayunk is what the neighborhood offers them, personally, Courtney said. “In Conshi, there was nothing around us. Now, we’re so close to Main Street, it’s been nice to stop into Volo and get a cup of coffee. We have lunch at Lucky’s whenever we can—the guys know our French fry order (Main Street fries, no salt, sauce on the side).”
Supporting small businesses is really important to Courtney and Kate. Even if the benefit is not direct—let’s face it: Lucky’s won’t ever place an order for a whole bunch of yarn, Courtney said, with a laugh—the impact is larger. “We make our money off of small businesses in small towns, and Manayunk does that better than anywhere else,” Courtney said. “We are here because of Manayunk. This building wouldn’t exist in other neighborhoods. So I guess you can say that we find it really important to support this Main Street because, really, we are working very hard to support all of the Main Streets, all across the United States.”
Visit the Manayunk Development Corporation Contact page for full contact information.
Office: 4312 Main Street, Philadelphia, PA 19127