The kitchen has always been a comfortable place for Vanessa Wong—she grew up working in her family diner to help pay for law school.
Wong, a 2008 Widener University alumna, always dreamed of starting her own restaurant. In the summer of 2014, she decided to invest in Fishtown’s growing food industry with her husband, Ryan Slaven.
Fishtown Social, a casual-cozy wine bar, opened March 10. One of the biggest challenges was getting a liquor license for the new venture, Wong said.
“We went at seven in the morning, the only time before work and before the kids were up,” Wong said. “The guy had a license waiting for us, so we had to decide right there. We committed to the license before we even had an idea of what the concept was going to be.”
They took inspiration from Tria Cafe, a wine-and-cheese bar in Washington Square. Wong saw a wine market in Fishtown that was underserved.
“Everything here is beer and dive bars,” she said. “We wanted to stay away from that because the neighborhood is more sophisticated than you think. There’s a good group of young professionals moving in that appreciate something a little nicer.”
Wong and Slaven spent time in Tria to refine the concept for their own place. The decor at Fishtown Social strays away from the dark wood and industrial feel of other local bars, creating more of a laid-back, clean and modern look.
“We wanted something casual, not a production,” Wong said. “When it starts getting warmer, we’ll open up the outside so people can have a glass of wine and enjoy a book.”
They also plan on making the cafe child-friendly, with high chairs and changing tables.
“When you think of bar, you think of college kids, and we wanted to provide a place for parents to feel comfortable bringing their children,” Wong said
Nick Brydels, a 2011 alumnus, serves as the cafe’s sommelier and noticed the same demand for the neighborhood.
“I love drinking wine, but there was nowhere in the neighborhood to go,” Brydels said.
Brydels has been in the service industry since age 18, working in restaurants like Fork and Isabel BYOB before joining the team at Fishtown Social.
“It turned out to be what I needed, and they needed someone with an enthusiasm and passion for wine,” he said.
Fishtown Social plans to keep its wine menu organic and locally sourced to make connections to the community. Brydel plays a vital role in the selection of wine, creating a variety of flavors from floral and fruity to spicy and dark. Wine ranges from $8-12.
The menu of cheese and meat was a process of trial and error.
“I have a general understanding of food pairings, but sometimes it just relied on how yummy it tasted together,” Brydel said.
Small plates range from $7-18, with the choice of triple-cream brie, espresso and lavender-rubbed cheese and serrano ham. So far, the bar has received positive feedback and sizable crowds.
“The first few nights we were so busy my mom was in the kitchen and my dad was bussing tables,” Wong said.
Fishtown Social opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 12 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
Madison Hall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.