In the late 1970s, Zoe Rose helped transform the declining Ogontz Avenue into a thriving commercial destination. Along with Pennsylvania State Representative Dwight Evans, Zoe started the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation (OARC), a community development organization aimed to improve the quality of life for residents in West Oak Lane.
More than 30 years later, at the urging of another state representative, Rose is looking to replicate that, this time for Germantown.
“My purpose is community development, and my passion is food,” Rose said.
She has opened a new bakery, Happy Bread Café, replacing the Dunkin’ Donuts at the corner of Germantown and Chelten avenues. Inside the 1,200 square-foot dining establishment, patrons can munch on breakfast sandwiches and pastries, glance at the historic Germantown photos adorning the walls, and catch up on one another’s lives.
“I love the hospitality business,” said Rose, a veteran of the food service industry who owned and operated concession stands at Veteran’s Stadium and restaurants inside the Philadelphia International Airport. She focused on urban studies as an undergrad at Temple University, and went on to obtain a graduate degree in community economic development from Southern New Hampshire University.
After decades of catering, Rose sought a change and entered the publishing industry, launching a community lifestyle magazine titled “Proud Neighbor.”
However, a friend who works as Pennsylvania State Representative Stephen Kinsey’s fundraiser requested that Rose come out of retirement to cater Kinsey’s first inaugural address.
“He and his family loved it so much that he asked me to bring some high-quality eateries to the Germantown area,” Rose recalled. “I said no, I’m out of that business.”
But then her fondness for food was reignited while watching a TV show about a man that came to the United States to start a yogurt shop.
“He was selling 350 million cups over a small period of time,” Rose said. “So I asked myself, ‘what are you waiting for?'”
Rose believes that public safety, economic vitality and beautification are the three keys for turning a business into an asset to the community.
“Appearance means everything in the world because it sends the signal that we care,” Rose said.
Jumpstarting the beautification process, Rose installed more windows to the Chelten Avenue side of the building and plans on adding outside seating once spring comes around.
But in order to make those adjustments, she had to obtain a letter of support from the Germantown United Community Development Corporation to secure a Storefront Improvement grant.
Andy Trackman, executive director of GUCDC, said he was thrilled to help out Rose in any way possible.
“It’s exciting to have a new business at such a prominent location in Germantown,” Trackman said.
Trackman says that although they’re seeing a slight uptick in new businesses along Germantown Avenue, there are still too many vacancies on Chelten Avenue.
“We’re trying to overcome 60 years of disinvestment in central Germantown,” Trackman said. “But we are making progress on overcoming the perception that it’s a dirty and dangerous area.”
Trackman says the consistency in street cleaning and increased communication with police are two positive factors helping to wash away the stigma.
“Public safety is the root of everything,” Rose said. “People don’t want to walk down a street where they’re threatened.”
When she was working in the infancy stages of OARC, Rose ordered an aerial shot of what the avenue looked like. Then she had a rendering done of what the area would like after revitalization.
“It gave people the hope and vision of where we were going,” Rose said. “We need to mobilize the residents to make a change.”
Zoe’s son, Ade, was working in Miami as a brand manager for Tiny’s Tequila, the liquor line owned by the wife of hip-hop superstar T.I., Tameka “Tiny” Harris.
“I didn’t really see this one coming,” Ade said, regarding the call from his mother to move back home and work at Happy Bread Café.
“But I was helping all these other people get richer, so why not bring all these resources to my mom,” Ade said.
After all, it was the name of a recipe that he brought home from school some 20 years ago that inspired his mother to open Happy Bread Café.
“I couldn’t get past the name,” Rose laughed. “Happy bread.”
So Ade traded warm weather and palm trees for a wintry mix in the concrete jungle of Northwest Philadelphia. He takes orders, pours coffee, and greets everyone with a welcoming smile, including Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf.
“We’ve been open less than two weeks, and I already notice regulars,” Ade said.
Customer Stephen Knight comes by for coffee and business meetings.
“It’s good for the neighborhood,” Knight said. “I’m all about helping people starting out new businesses.”
The chicken and waffles is the most popular item, said Ade, and everyone asks what makes happy bread different from the similar but more well-known monkey bread.
“Monkey bread has a biscuit-based dough, whereas we make our own signature dough,” Ade said.
There will be plenty of happy bread samples along with a marching band, drill team and DJ at the ceremonial grand opening of the cafe on Nov. 21.
Ade said he can’t wait for business to take off and that he’s grateful his mother is bringing him along for the ride.
“She sees a vision that good food and good business can uplift the neighborhood,” Ade said.