Developer Ken Weinstein to expand Trolley Car brand with new University City cafe

 Developer Ken Weinstein is expanding his Trolley Car brand to a third location in University City. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

Developer Ken Weinstein is expanding his Trolley Car brand to a third location in University City. (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

Developer Ken Weinstein is expanding his Trolley Car brand to a third location in University City.

The new two-story cafe, to be called Trolley Car Station, will anchor the University City District’s 40th Street Trolley Portal redesign project.

The $2.1 million overhaul of the city-owned property aims to transform a barren expanse of concrete, situated between Baltimore and Woodland avenues, into a vibrant social hub with improved lighting, movable seating and more green space.

This includes a full green roof on the cafe building, which will be developed by Philly Office Retail.

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The portal project is UCD’s next big public plaza, building on the success of The Porch at 30th Street Station.

“It’s a good time to get involved in University City,” said Weinstein, president of Philly Office Retail and owner of Trolley Car eateries in Mt. Airy and East Falls.

Trolley Car Station will be the first new restaurant for the group in five years. Like its predecessors, the new cafe will feature a homestyle menu, ice cream, plus “mix and match” six-packs of beer for take-out.

The cafe is expected to break ground this year and open in 2017.

To University City and beyond

Weinstein says he was approached by UCD some five years ago, in part because of his restaurant chain’s family-friendly vibe and record of community service, but also because of the logic in having a Trolley Car restaurant at a SEPTA trolley portal.

“We weren’t looking to open another Trolley Car, but it just seemed like such a natural fit and a great location for us, that I jumped at chance,” Weinstein said.

And though the majority of Philly Office Retail’s redevelopment projects have been in Northwest Philadelphia, he has been eyeing West Philadelphia for some time.

A decade ago, the group acquired a vacant state office building at 5548-5554 Chestnut St. It’s since been completely rehabbed and is fully occupied by nonprofits.

Weinstein is now starting to buy on the 52nd Avenue corridor, with the purchase of two properties next month. One is a three-story building and the other consists of five store fronts — both have 10,000 square feet of space.

The Baltimore Avenue corridor has long been neglected, but UCD is beginning to reclaim it. “We want to be a big part of that,” he said.

Trolley Car Station

Trolley Car Station will be the only food establishment at the revitalized transportation portal.

The new cafe also marks Philly Office Retail’s first new construction project in its 27-year history.

That could pave the way for other such projects, as the economics of new construction are rapidly changing in neighborhoods like Mt. Airy and Germantown, Weinstein said.

“Maybe we’ll get over our fear of new construction and bring that back to Northwest Philly, absolutely. Now that the numbers are starting to work, I can see us getting more involved in new construction and not just renovating,” he said.

Though he spends most of his time on commercial real estate, Weinstein says Trolley Car is how most people know him.

While Philly Office Retail’s focus is renovating blighted properties, the restaurant chain has become the highly visible platform for various community programs, like a table tennis club and local teacher’s fund.

The idea of building community through food has always been key, he asserted.

But there are no plans to further expand right now.

It’s a one-time opportunity to join a neighborhood with caring, activist residents that reminds him a lot of Mt. Airy.

“I think our branding and our community involvement will really hit home there,” Weinstein said.

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