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Author Archive | CT Liotta


Sermania Jewelry: A Gem on the Avenue

By CT Liotta

Artisan jeweler Joseph Sermania, wearing magnifying glasses flipped to his forehead, turns to his wife, Janice. They stand in their small jewelry store at 1719 E. Passyunk Avenue and try to complete an impossible task: recalling the most memorable experience they’ve had since setting up shop 14 years ago.

“I’ll give you one,” Joe grins. “There was a guy who was shopping at the men’s clothing store next door. His wedding was that day, and he was finally buying his suit. When he finished, he came to me and asked, ‘do you sell wedding bands?’”

“Wasn’t he a size 13?” Janice added.

One gets the impression that Joe and Janice could tell a story for every week they’ve been in business, bouncing memories off one another as they recall names and projects and dates.

The storefront is intimate. Small cabinets house curated collections of rings, necklaces and bracelets. Behind the sales counter is Joe’s bench, where customers can watch him fire his torch and perform delicate, precise work.

Joe Sermania at work. Courtesy Sermania Jewelry.

In 1981, when Joe was 24, he opened his first business on Jewelers Row. He had watched, worked with, and learned from master jewelers—including his older brother Sal—since age 11. He already had 13 years of experience to his name. “I don’t think I ever told my kids, but when I was a student at St. John Neumann, I’d arrange my schedule so I could finish class early and go work in the afternoon.”

Janice Sermania, a self-declared “Goretti Girl”, married Joe a year earlier, in 1980. While their children were in school, Janice would string beads and pearls and show jewelry at home. “In those days, we’d bring jewelry to people’s houses and do shows,” she added. “They’d cold call us, and we’d show up with gold at their dining room tables.” Continue Reading →

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What's Happening in:  Pennsport 

Mifflin Tavern – a place for everybody

Two years ago, IBEW Local 98 boss John Dougherty sold his bar, Doc’s Union Pub, on 2nd and Mifflin Streets. New owners Bill McKeever and Anthony Giordano re-branded it the Mifflin Tavern. In August, the Lamplugh family – brothers Russell and Joe and wives Megan and Kelli – took over daily operations.

The Mifflin Tavern burger.

“Walk with me while I talk,” says manager Russell, a high-energy GenX-er who grew up only a few blocks from the bar. He shows off new furnishings, distressed wood fixtures, and a lighter, brighter atmosphere. He also stresses the singular word that defines the new Mifflin Tavern: “Everybody.”

Blackened Tuna Bites with spicy remoulade and seaweed salad.

Prosciutto Fondue Fries.

It’s tough not to enjoy Russell’s tour. He’s smart but humble. He talks fast but speaks carefully. He hates any label that may exclude somebody from feeling welcome. The Mifflin Tavern is a place for everybody, past and present, in a dynamic neighborhood.

“I don’t care if you’re 25 or older than 60. We want our level of service to make you feel appreciated. You can see it when you look at the menu,” he says. “If you want a burger and a domestic bottle at an economical price, we’ve got you. We also have ten craft brews on tap from smaller local breweries.”

Buffalo chicken tenders. Made in house.

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What's Happening in:  East Passyunk Crossing 

Bok gets caffeinated: Two Persons

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.

Two Persons seating area

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.

Adam Gery and Whitney Joslin during construction at Two Persons, May 2018.

“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.

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What's Happening in:  East Passyunk Crossing 

We’re not Teas N’ You. Banh mi and bubble tea are coming to East Passyunk Ave.

New Southeast Asian quick-serve spot opens May 31st

By C.T. Liotta

The first thing you notice about Teas N’ Mi, 1907 East Passyunk Ave., is the sign – a bright red tongue between two baguette rolls that sandwich the company’s name. It’s bright and draws attention, and perfectly captures the light-hearted mood of a shop that offers drink items called Billie Jean is MATCHA lover and COCO? Is it tea you’re looking for?

Teas N’ Mi sign at night. Photo from www.teasnmi.com.

The shop is the creation of Tuyen Tran and Diana Gov, two long-time Philadelphia residents who give food associated with their parents’ birthplaces – Vietnam and Cambodia – a Passyunk Avenue-twist.

“One day we were walking along Passyunk Ave. and wondered why there wasn’t a bubble tea shop around this area.  So we decided, why not do bubble tea and banh mi?” said Tran. “This is our first venture together.  Diana and I have both been in the restaurant industry and we both cook at home often, putting ideas together.”

For South Philadelphians who may be unfamiliar with banh mi, it’s a made-to-order Vietnamese cold-cut hoagie traditionally served in sandwich shops and food stalls. The most popular sandwich on the menu, named Teas N’ Me Specialty, is traditionally called banh mi thit nguoi. It features, “Cold cuts, pickled carrots, pate, cucumber, cilantro, and jalapeno. The pork and pate are both fresh-made,” says Tran. Continue Reading →

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