When real estate businessman Lee Larkin began working in Fishtown, he waited for someone to open a restaurant catering to the needs of the health-conscious. After more than a decade, he decided to do it himself.
“I think I’m crazy,” Larkin said. “I like to dream and imagine things to do, and make them—especially design.”
Front Street Cafe at 1253 N. Front St. opened as a coffee shop Sept. 21. In addition to juices, smoothies, tea and coffee, grab-and-go items are available at the counter like pastries and sandwiches. Next month, the bistro-style restaurant will include dinner service to-go with a full bar. The cafe will be open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day.
Larkin bought the building 13 years ago when he started his real estate ventures in Fishtown. A former parking lot wrapped in an L-shape around the property now acts as an outdoor seating area, complete with salvaged carriage house doors that can open to face Thompson Street or conceal the garden from the street.
For Larkin, eating healthy and limiting meat consumption affects his daily life. As a result of a tick bite in 2010, Larkin developed an allergy to red meat. With the help of business partner Nicole Barclay, chef Chris Rubinstein and general manager Andrew Petruzelli, Larkin created a menu that doesn’t alter the experience of guests with restricted diets.
“At most restaurants, if you have a dietary restriction, you might be able to eat 15 percent of the things on the menu,” said Larkin. “We wanted to flip that where people with restrictions could can eat 85 percent of the things on the menu. Farm-to-table is a catchword these days. We want to be healthy and have a place where people can eat at several times a week and it’s actually going to make them healthier.”
In the kitchen run by Petruzelli, even the most basic ingredients are carefully considered.
“We came up with a recipe for our own gluten-free flour blend,” Petruzelli said. “It’s flax, chickpea and brown rice flour. We spent about a month on it. We’re making pretty much everything in-house. I’ve been on this project for eight months now. We’ve spent that entire time sourcing stuff and honing that concept.”
A significant part of Front’s concept is sourcing organic local produce and meats, curating a wine list with mostly organic options and even finding organic liquors to keep behind the bar.
Larkin’s decision to incorporate a grab-and-go counter into his space corresponds with the mantra of every realtor: location, location, location.
“Thompson Street is on an angle to Frankford, and then it runs on an angle deep into Fishtown,” Larkin said. “So everyone that walks to the El is funneled right past our front door. La Colombe doesn’t open until 7 a.m., so that’s why we open at 6 a.m.”
In addition to juices like the Firefly (carrot, pineapple, lemon, turmeric and ginger), the coffee bar serves coffee from Counter Culture and organic teas from Rishi Tea. Food items like a quinoa mushroom burger with smoked mushrooms and house-made coconut yogurt are packaged for those who want to run first and then eat.
Petruzelli and his culinary team are working on finalizing menu items for dinner in order for the restaurant to become the spot to start or end the day—or both.
“You only get one chance for a first impression,” Larkin said.
Madeline Presland can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: Since this story ran Oct. 13, the recipe for the gluten-free flour has changed.