Building Community Through Food: Little Baby’s and Pizza Brain Take Ownership, Pride in Kensington DigsBy Molly O'Neill |
Today the world’s first pizza museum — Pizza Brain — will open in Philadelphia, right on the border of Fishtown and Kensington.
Pizza Brain’s head of marketing Brian Dwyer says, “We’re two separate companies approaching different foods in the same spirit.”
That spirit is one of building community. Pete Angevine, co-founder of Little Baby’s, says “Ice cream is something that is a pretty iconic and familiar thing in America. It’s deeply intertwined into a lot of people’s memories and life experiences, so it’s something that everybody can get behind. It makes people happy. It brings people together.” But it’s not just about ice cream. “Ice cream is a vessel,” says Angevine. “It’s a platform. The mission, I guess, is happiness and new experiences.”
Pizza Brain’s founders are perhaps even more determined to transform the Kensington community. Dwyer describes wanting to be “the eyes on the street, making it feel like a safer place.” He and his wife actually live above the shop, and the other founders plan to move into other parts of the building as well. “That’s kind of our commitment to the neighborhood,” says Dwyer. “Getting involved in the conversation about what it means to be involved in the neighborhood.” He hopes that by working with other small business owners, Pizza Brain can help increase foot traffic and increase Kensington’s vibrancy.
Both Little Baby’s and Pizza Brain are committed to supporting other local businesses. Little Baby’s, says Angevine, donates ice cream and time to Greensgrow Farm, the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, the East Kensington Neighbors Association, and the Fishtown Neighbors Association. The shop also has accounts with small, environmentally friendly companies like Bennett Compost and Wash Cycle Laundry. Produce comes from neighboring Greensgrow, and dairy from Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg. Angevine says the eventual goal of running a zero-waste business “is framing most of the decisions” made at Little Baby’s.
Pizza Brain also sources produce from Greensgrow, and the local-business ethic is engrained in the very walls of the building. Head of business Mike Carter says, “We’ve done everything in terms of trying to preserve a 19th century structure.” Most of the shop was built using reclaimed wood and repurposed materials from a salvage yard in Northeast Philadelphia, owned by the people behind Provenance Architectural Salvage. Says Carter, “They take 80-90 percent of the debris and turn it back into drywall and usable building materials.”
But Pizza Brain’s philosophy stretches far beyond its own business. Says Dwyer, “Our bigger mission is to empower other small business owners to do what we did.” Inspired by Michigan’s Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, the Pizza Brain founders plan to create an “open books culture” to help other aspiring owners learn about the financial aspects of opening a business. They hope to teach business skills, and possibly provide capital and small business loans for other companies. “I’d like to see us working with interested people to locate businesses to Fishtown,” says Carter. “If we’re ever blessed with profitability, we’d like to give away some of that money to help other businesses.”
The immediate goal, however, is to strengthen the community that’s already blossoming on the border of Fishtown and Kensington. “We don’t want to change the neighborhood,” says Dwyer, “we just want to plug ourselves in. I’m really excited to see an intermingling of the people that are coming in, kind of enjoying it for the burgeoning art and business community it’s becoming again.”
Little Baby’s shares that enthusiasm. “I think we’re right in the middle of something,” says Angevine. He credits Brendan Hartranft of Memphis Taproom and Paul Kimport of Johnny Brenda’s for supporting Little Baby’s foray into the neighborhood, but says the locals are thankful for a new business that isn’t a bar. “It’s not a rock club,” he says. “It’s a place where families can go; it’s a place where you can go on a first date…it’s not sitting in a dark place drinking.”
Together with Pizza Brain, this wholesome ideal can become a reality. Says Dwyer, “At the end of the day, all we’re trying to do is open a community-minded pizza shop. We really want to be a safe place for families to gather and be themselves.”
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