New coffee house aims to keep it simple.
When the School District of Philadelphia closed 23 schools at the end of 2013 and auctioned Edward Bok Technical School in 2014, uncertainty surrounded its future. Developers who bought similar grand old schools in gentrifying neighborhoods turned them into private residences, sold them for high prices, and locked the community out.
Bok was different because it always has been. In 1935, Designer Irwin T. Catherine designed the 340,000 square-foot art déco building as a vocational school with vocation-specific classrooms and spaces. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Lindsey Scannapieco of developer Scout, Ltd. saw a community space for makers, creatives, innovators and entrepreneurs. A seasonal bar opened on the rooftop, and artists and artisans moved in.
The only thing missing was coffee.
Under the antique curing lights of an old auto body bay, Whitney Joslin and Adam Gery of Two Persons Coffee sit at a butcher-block art table streaked with decades of paint. “Almost everything in this space is an adaptive re-use of the furniture and elements included in the sale of Bok,” said Joslin. A tour of the seating area is an homage to the school’s past. There are lab tables, card catalogs, old musical instruments and trophies of 1970s sport victories any other developer might have thrown away.
Even the name – “Two Persons” – is an homage to Edward Bok, who wrote a novel of that title.
Gery, Two Persons’ manager and operator, managed Last Drop Coffee in Center City for a decade and a half and now devotes seven days a week to the new venture. Joslin, a managing partner, has a background in architecture and fell in love with the space.
“One of our goals is to keep things simple,” said Joslin. “We want to serve the tenants in the building, but we also want contractors, people in the neighborhood, and people who once attended Bok to feel like they can come in, have a regular cup of coffee with no fuss, and enjoy the space.
The menu is simple – coffee, tea, basic espresso drinks and baked goods. The sourcing is simple, too, and based on personal connection. The pastries come from Machine Shop Bakery, a small-batch wholesale French bakery that also operates out of Bok. “We’re their first delivery of the day,” said Gery. “The coffee comes from Passenger Coffee in Lancaster. Our day-to-day blend is a light roast that people will find consistent and enjoyable. We sell the beans for home use, too. We hope to have single-origin varieties for sale in the future.”
“Keeping a simple business model means we do a few things well,” added Joslin. “It makes operations easy, fits in well with the community, and is environmentally responsible.”
Two Persons is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. They accept cash and credit cards. Access is from the building’s southwest entrance at 821 Dudley Street.