Scott Forman speaks with passion.
Whether the Northeast Philly native is talking about a fine bottle of wine, his dogs, married life or navigating city bureaucracy, the 35-year-old entrepreneur is never at a loss for words, or accompanying gestures or expressions.
To those who have gotten to know Forman, who lives in Fishtown these days, his passion is one reason he might have received the welcome he did when he started to present his plans for a neighborhood eatery.
As he tells it, the community learned about the Brindle Café, on Girard Avenue between Marlborough and Day streets, through his intense presentations.
Forman may have been visiting community groups that lacked any real governmental power, but he went into it as though he were addressing the board of directors of a major corporation.
Why? Because he wants people to know his is not some fly-by-night operation. He intends to stay here.
ldquo;I took a couple of weeks and let the curiosity of Fishtown dictate what I was going to do,” Forman, small in stature but big on ideas, said during a recent interview at his business.
That preceded Brindle’s soft opening late last year. For the first couple of weeks, there were no logos on the windows, no signs on the door.
It was just Forman, his refrigerated case, coffee machine, handful of cafe tables and a blackboard now covered with food and drink specials.
During those early days, he’d develop his menu accordingly. Someone came in and wanted a pork sandwich? He’d add it to the list of requests.
Another customer suggested adding salads. He’d accommodate.
To Forman, it was about catering to the neighborhood. The first-time entrepreneur, whose background is in bartending and restaurant management, didn’t want to open a restaurant in Old City because it was the “place to be.” Or Rittenhouse Square because of name recognition.
He came about his locale of choice because he knew a little something about Fishtown; he has lived here for five years, and was ready to serve his neighbors.
“We had moved here and saw the benefit of the neighborhood,” Forman said. “We speculated that this would be a good place to buy, and it turns out we were right.”
Forman and his wife, Deepti, who works in financial services, learned the lay of the land by walking their dogs throughout the neighborhood.
While taking a new route one day, Forman came across an available storefront at 221 E. Girard Ave. Fast-forward a year later and that space is now home to the Brindle Café, which offers Tanzanian, Colombian and Peruvian coffee, a wide assortment of eastern teas, and such fare as the beef and feta salad, slow-roasted pork sandwiches, a hummus and roasted peppers platter, and, yes, a gourmet peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich and the grilled cheese, both served on thick slices of challah bread from Kaplan’s Bakery in Northern Liberties.
Why peanut butter-and-jelly and grilled cheese? Simple, Forman says. Who doesn’t like peanut butter-and-jelly and grilled cheese?
And again, it all goes back to those suggestions by customers. At the same time, he does aim to introduce to the people around him certain things that he enjoys, hence some of the salad options and beverages on the menu.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of getting his business up and running was the hurdles he had to jump downtown. First there were the zoning variances and navigating the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections. Then came the permitting process. Add to that list the city bureaucrats on the other end of the phone, and the process became both trying and financially draining.
The financial part was a particular hardship, and one that forced him to shelve his original plan to hire employees to help him out. For now it’s just him taking care of the food and drink, not to mention running back-end operations.
“Most people would find it financially devastating” to open a small business in Philadelphia, Forman said. But his desire to help put Fishtown — a neighborhood he calls in transition — on the map is the inspiration that keeps him going.
That commitment is what he originally wanted to prove to the Fishtown Neighbors Association. “I wanted them to know because they were a priority,” Forman said. “I really wanted them to see that it (the business plan) was genuine.”
His decision to reach out paid off.
“The support was there, unanimously, for this project,” he said.
Forman didn’t borrow money for his venture, meaning all startup costs were paid out-of-pocket. And because he spent more on planning than he’d budgeted, he had little money left for things like advertising and hiring a wait staff.
“Doing it right cost me three times more than what was expected,” he said.
But to Forman, having a local business that strives to offer quality food at reasonable prices makes it all worthwhile.
“It came from something I really believed in doing,” he said. “Ultimately, I’m not giving up.” ••
To learn more about the Brindle Café, call 215-279-8866 or visit www.brindlecafe.com