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Four white cups brimming with hot coffee sit precariously in a teetering cardboard beverage carrier perched on a customer’s forearm. She struggles to reach for the doorknob that barely clings to its old wooden anchor. “Oh, let me get that for you!” exclaims the petite redhead sitting close to the door. “So sorry about that, this door is just so old,” she apologizes with a wide grin. The building is indeed old and full of history, and the woman who jumped to her feet to avoid a catastrophic spill of steaming coffee knows the historic space inside and out.
Her name is Angela Vendetti and she is the owner of the new Mugshots Coffeehouse and Cafe located at 29th Street and Girard Avenue. The shop opened Nov. 1 and Vendetti is at once relieved and excited about the newest addition to the Mugshots family.
Two other locations exist, one is in Manayunk and the other is in Fairmount. “To be honest, I was ready to kill someone,” she says with a laugh. “October is the busiest month for the Fairmount store because of all of the Halloween tours happening across the street at the Eastern State Penitentiary. So opening the new Brewerytown store and hosting its grand opening party on Halloween was a bit of a nightmare,” she says with a smile and shakes her head, “but we got through it.”
The shop on Fairmount Avenue opened in 2004, followed by the opening of the Manayunk store two years later in August of 2006. Two more years passed and Vendetti decided to expand upon the Fairmount store, which allowed for a new kitchen as well as twice the amount of seating. “We’re pretty much running on a two-year cycle because two years after we renovated Fairmount, David Waxman and Jake Roller from MM Partners came to me and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you open up a new place in Brewerytown?’ And I initially said no, just because we were tapped out,” Vendetti explains.
In addition to the large expansion project underway in Fairmount, Mugshots had just lost a $50,000 line of credit from Citizens Bank and the business’s financial circumstances were looking fairly grim. However, a combination of grants afforded Vendetti the ability to eventually open in Brewerytown. With the help of Patricia Blakely of the Merchants Fund, Mugshots was able to update its website and in doing so, expand its catering menu. The second grant was the one that in the end made the new cafe location a possibility.
Upon entering the coffeehouse, the most notable structure is the tall, gold-arched ceiling that stretches across the front counter. “This place looked like a completely different space before the construction process began,” says Vendetti. “It had dropped ceilings and when we tore them down we were like ‘Whoa, that looks amazing!’ Then it dawned on us that lighting was going to be a bit of an issue.”
The new Mugshots location has a distinct neighborhood feel to it that many chain cafes lack. Paintings crafted by local artists adorn the walls, and hand drawn chalkboards display the numerous menu items. It’s the menu in particular that adds to the distinct nature of the shop. Many of the food options are vegan, and that includes sandwiches, paninis, tofu salads and even many of the baked goods. This decision stems from Vendetti’s own past as a vegetarian, and she aspires to bring healthier food choices to a neighborhood desperately lacking those options. “I’ve always been interested in eating a vegetarian diet, which I think is ultimately more sustainable. However, my goal was never to be a destination spot for only vegetarian food, I wanted to serve the needs of the community as well.”
Adam Cottman, a local resident who lives between the Fairmount and new Brewerytown locations, appreciates the meat-free menu options. “I’ve been a vegetarian for years and the food at Mugshots is definitely the best I’ve ever gotten at a coffee shop. I live on Poplar, so I used to go to the cafe on Fairmount Avenue pretty frequently but now I’m going to have to split my time between the two.”
Sustainability is a key issue for Mugshots, but the owner doesn’t try to push a vegetarian agenda. Many items include fresh poultry and pork, and all of the meat the cafe buys is locally farmed and sustainably raised. Other items including cheese, eggs, yogurt and fresh produce originate from local farms as well, mostly from the Lancaster area. Back in 2002 when plans for the Fairmount store were materializing, fair trade roasters were hard to find. Recently, there has been a renaissance in the organic and fair trade culture, which has broadened Mugshots’ prospects. “Once the dust settles a little bit, I’d definitely like to start tasting and trying different local roasters. Back when we started, there were really only three or four local names in the business, but organic products have gained notoriety lately,” Vendetti says.
Mugshots is also part of the Independents Coffee Cooperative, which is a small group of independent coffeehouses that share information and resources from local fair trade sources. They have a dual mission that includes supporting fair trade companies as well as informing customers about issues related to sustainability.
In addition to selling healthy, sustainable fare in her cafes, Vendetti also offers a buying club option for customers. It’s accessed through the website and allows customers to order food from the local vendors and farmers that the cafe locations buy from. Mugshots essentially acts as a middleman in terms of the ordering process, and patrons pick the food up at the store a couple of days after their order has been placed. “[The] longtime residents on Girard have been wanting fresh food options, so I’m hoping the buying club will take off up here,” Vendetti explains.
It is clear that owning and operating the three coffeehouses is a labor of love for Vendetti, who after a long career of working corporate jobs welcomes the idea of working for herself. “Each day is different, and that’s something I’ve come to love,” she explains. “I realized a while ago that I’m not good at working for other people, and I don’t like it. Owning a business is not easy, but since owning a café is viewed as a lifestyle-oriented career, a lot of people assume it’s a laid-back, relaxing job. It isn’t.”
Despite its rapid growth, Mugshots does not appear to be losing steam. The sales for the opening week of the Brewerytown store were almost identical to that of the Fairmount location in 2004. “So far, we’re on par with Fairmount and have surpassed Manayunk. This is a great sign, I’m really excited about it,” Vendetti beams. Although the new cafe is still stretching its legs in the new neighborhood, it looks like Mugshots will do just fine in Brewerytown.