Germantown coffee-shop opening seen as more than your typical coffee-shop opening

Patrons sat on plush sofas and chairs, some tapping away on laptops, while others stood in line for a slice of lemon pound cake and other fare at Saturday’s ceremonial grand-opening event at Wired Beans Café.

The long-awaited Chelten Plaza tenant is the second café location for owner Robert Wheeler. It is also an outlier that, to a large extent, transcends grudges related to the controversial Chelten Avenue shopping center.

“It’s a good thing for Germantown,” said Wheeler, whose flagship location is on Germantown Avenue in Mt. Airy. “They have a meeting place, somewhere you can network, something that is going to be a part of the community.”

Technology and culture

At Wired Beans Café, an iPad stands in as an order-taking device, as well as the cash register. It’s a matter of efficiency, Wheeler explained.

“I definitely wanted to learn from every mistake I made in Mt. Airy,” Wheeler said.

Despite adding new wrinkles, he kept the artistic-community aura in the café.

Helping during the café’s official premiere was Coffee After Dark host Darius Lantz who engaged customers with a line-up of poets, musicians and storytellers.

Scheduled for every Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Lantz will hold an open mic for artists in the community.

“Well that’s just it, the word ‘community.’ Broken down, it’s commune and unity,” Lantz said. “When we have a place where people can come to, that creates experiences, that is always a thriving thing. It keeps resources communing and I think it’s a great thing to have.”

Also at the event was David Melvin Jr., a Philadelphia storyteller who told a parable about a man who asked for ingredients to make a soup.

As the man prepared the dish, people in the community came to add elements. As more people arrived with meats and vegetables, the more the soup grew. Once the soup was complete, the people had a feast. They were full and had still had soup to spare.

“The resources that people bring will make [the café] a grand place to be at,” Melvin said. “I’m fairly certain that you won’t go hungry in any shape, image or form — whether your mind, spirit or stomach — because you came to this place.”

Foodie approved

Helen White, a web-business entrepreneur who had been at the café for several hours before the grand opening events, enjoyed the pound cake, tuna-melt sandwich and coffee drinks.

“I’m a foodie,” White said. “I’m just so glad they’re here. They’ve got great hours because I’m an early riser.”

Similar to White, Philippe Amouro, who works at a local pharmacy, took time to utilize the free Wifi available at the shop.

Adding to the community aesthics, several framed photographs were displayed on the walls. They belong to photographer, Aaron Swan. For the past decade, Swan has traveled between Philadelphia, New York City, Charlotte (NC) and Atlanta showcasing his work.

“I was just surprised that he allowed me to put up so much work on the walls,” Swan said. “Rob is very much into family and the Germantown family. He’s really loyal to them and he knows how loyal they are to the shop.”

Family pride

Sipping cherry water ice, sharing a few laughs and sitting at a table outside the café were Dawn Crawley and Marie Wheeler, Robert’s sisters.

“Who could ever imagine we’d be sitting outside of our brother’s business on Chelten Avenue?” Crawley said. “This came a long way. Just to see this, be outside and eating and talking, you know, it feels good.”

Added Marie Wheeler, “It’s awesome. He put his whole heart and soul into the first one and he decided he was going to do this one. All his ideas came true.”

As frequent customers, the sisters know the menu very well.

“The bacon, egg and cheese panini,” Marie said. “I eat them all the time.”

While the sisters enjoyed their entrees, Robert Wheeler’s son Isaiah and three nephews prepared food orders. Prior to opening both the Mt. Airy and Germantown café, Robert Wheeler coached children sports teams and was a mentor to his teenage nephews. He saw a parallel.

“I felt like that was a gift,” Robert said. “Just to be able to talk to a kid, our youth in the black community, there’s not too many people that could actually talk and listen. I don’t know if they thought that they could relate to me because I wear sweatpants, sneakers and t-shirts like them, but they definitely listen and I keep them all close.”

Editor’s note: Know of a recent business opening in Germantown or West Oak Lane? Drop a line to bhickey@whyy.org.

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