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A year later, Kensington Avenue Storefront Challenge winners are slowly moving in

Cà Phê Roasters' Thu Pham prepares a Vietnamese iced coffee. October 9, 2018 Category: FeatureFeaturedLongResults


Correction: The spelling of Thu Pham's name has been updated. (10/9, 1:50 p.m.)
Community development takes investment — money, time, local buy-in — to be done right.

Case in point: Only one of the nine finalists in Shift Capital’s Kensington Avenue Storefront Challenge (KASC) met the goal of opening its business by Summer 2018.

Last year, Shift Capital, a social impact-focused developer, put a call out for businesses that could revamp Kensington Avenue’s commercial corridor. They’d all find homes in empty spaces on the avenue, which is the “backbone of the neighborhood,” said VP of Development Maria Sourbeer.

Each of the nine winners, which were announced in December, were promised a free year’s worth of rent, business advice and funds to support renovations. The prizes would be jointly provided by KASC’s founding sponsors: Shift Capital, the City of Philadelphia Department of Commerce, Impact Services and New Kensington Community Development Corporation.

Seven of those businesses are still working toward opening, and one dropped out of the challenge. Below are descriptions of each business and an update on their progress:

  • AC // Sounds — Boutique audio design and production studio. This is the first winner that’s officially up and running on Kensington Avenue.
  • Cà Phê — Specialty Vietnamese coffee roaster and retailer that has signed a lease on the avenue, where construction is currently underway. In the meantime, Thu Pham, one of the coffee roaster’s founding partners, said she expects the coffee roastery to open late this fall in MaKen Studios. Shift Capital is also headquartered there.
  • Drummond’s Kiddie Kollege — 24-hour daycare center. The owner submitted architecture plans for a space to the Department of Licenses and Inspections in September. When approved, she’ll be able to officially sign a lease and kickstart renovations.
  • Juggernaut Glasshaus — Artist incubator space, glass studio and gallery. A lease was signed, and the owner has initiated conversations with a contractor and electrician.
  • Naturally Sweet Desserts & Insomnia Vegan — Vegan bakery and late-night delivery service specializing in desserts made from locally sourced produce and herbs. A space is currently being prepared for the business’s use, as the owner continues to work on permit drawings.
  • Philly Pretzel Factory — A second location from a franchisee who’s been in business for more than 10 years. After finding a contractor and floor plan, this business’s next step is signing a lease and starting construction.
  • Pound Cake Heaven — Local, family-owned and operated business specializing in homemade sweets. The owner has found a space and is working on finalizing a lease.
  • Soil to Soul and Juice Jawn — Restaurant focusing on healthy soul food and fresh juices. This business is evaluating how compatible their space on Kensington Avenue is with its business model, and exploring further financing options.
  • Riposo Café — Traditional Italian restaurant also serving coffee and homemade baked goods. This business withdrew because of financial reasons, but is welcome back whenever ready, Sourbeer said.

Sourbeer said the original Summer 2018 deadline was ambitious, considering each finalist has different structures and missions. For example, one business must focus on finding the best play equipment while others need to build kitchens.

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“You can’t underestimate the difficulty of opening a new business, and our winners had beautiful ideas,” she said, but bringing them to fruition is not easy. We spent a lot of the last year bringing in capital and figuring out how to finance what they need.”

(Read more about Shift Capital’s philosophy of social impact real estate development here.)

Pham said Shift Capital has been instrumental to Cà Phê’s development. A Shift Capital representative even connected the coffee roaster with creative agency Little Giant Creative — which led to Cà Phê running a pop-up cafe alongside the 2017 Knight Cities Challenge winner’s “A Dream Deferred: Redlining, Past, Present, Future” exhibit through November.

“Since the very beginning, [Shift Capital] has been so supportive every step of the way,” Pham said. “From the day that we won the competition, they have stayed connected with us.”

Pham heard about the KASC during her second year as a college and career adviser at the Kensington Health Sciences Academy for college prep nonprofit 12+. Raymond John, the nonprofit’s CEO and cofounder, is also a founding partner of Cà Phê.

Cà Phê’s neighborhood focus is the type of revitalization Sourbeer said Shift Capital was hoping for: Portions of the shop’s proceeds will support 12+ and its work at Kensington schools, and the roastery will employ members of the Kensington community.

In conjunction with the challenge, the developer also co-organized a street clean-up effort on the avenue with Impact Services. The two organizations employ people to pick up trash four days a week.

“Our goal and focus is to create positive energy on the avenue,” Sourbeer said. “Finding a way to fund and support and accelerate businesses is important to us.”

“The award was just the first step, and now,” she said, Shift Capital is “continuing to brainstorm on how to keep Kensington driving. The challenge is part of a bigger picture.”

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