When Ryan Pollock and Stephanie Mertz first entered the workforce, cross-country travel and crafting sandwiches were far from their minds.
But after losing their jobs in the architecture business, the young couple decided to embark on a road trip across the country that would inspire the birth of the Rybread café.
“When we started [the trip], we still were applying to architecture firms,” Mertz, the restaurant’s co-owner, said. “One of my girlfriends from college had given us a book from ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,’ and we stopped at a couple of those places. As we stopped, we kept saying to ourselves, ‘Gosh this seems fun, we could do this,’ so along the way we started putting together a menu.”
Since that road trip, Rybread – a name cleverly inspired by co-owner Ryan Pollock – has grown into its own. Mertz and Pollock, now married, run the eatery with the assistance of Pollock’s father, Dennis Pollock. The café, located on Fairmount Avenue near 23th Street, offers a variety of sandwich options, the majority of which are named after cities Pollock and Mertz visited during the course of their trip.
Coming from a background in architecture, the couple had to teach themselves how to manage the business aspects of the café through their own experiences.
“It really started out as a passion and a hobby, and as we grew in popularity we were kind of forced to reevaluate what we were doing and think, ‘This is a business, and we need to treat it as such,’” Mertz said.
As is the case with most major culinary business ventures, starting and maintaining a café from scratch did not come without its share of difficulties.
“The hardest part was beginning to manage a staff of my own and having them share the common vision for all of our restaurants,” Pollock said.
Since its debut in April 2010, Rybread has seen a number of changes. One of these changes included the café making its foray into the craft beer industry with the opening of a second location, Rybrew, last year. Located on Girard Avenue, Rybread’s sister location offers the same menu options as Rybread in addition to the eatery’s own home-brewed beer blends.
The debut of Rybrew may seem like a formidable leap for the humble café, which the couple confirmed when they described the transition from lunch cuisine to craft brewing as just as challenging as it was rewarding.
“One of our managers had a passion in craft beer and was willing to nerd out,” Pollock said. “He definitely learned a lot in a little bit of time to help develop our portfolio. We started with 150 beers, and now we have around 300.”
Other changes in the café include the addition of gluten-free options to the menu as well as improvements in culinary efficiency. The staff has also been split and assigned specifically to one of the two locations. Pollock sees this separation as a way to allow the staff to settle into one location and improve customer satisfaction.
Aside from their wide array of sandwiches and classic menu items, Rybread and Rybrew also offer catering services.
For Pollock, running the restaurant means much more than just bagels and quick lunches.
“The customer interaction and being able to have happy customers at the end of every day is the most rewarding part,” Pollock said.
As co-owner, Mertz said she naturally shares a similar sense of satisfaction in Rybread.
“Seeing our employees grow on a daily basis and seeing our growth in the past four and a half years – I think that’s why we wake up every day saying if you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” Mertz said.
Eamon Noahdreisbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org