When River Wards Café
founder Joe Livewell gets on the phone with Flying Kite
, his need to pause the conversation is a pretty good indicator of where the business is now, and where it’s headed.
Livewell works seven days a week at the café, which opened in March. There are two other staffers on the team so far, but he was behind the counter himself during our interview and had to put down the phone for a rush of customers.
"I think I just sold everything on the menu," he says of the variety of things his customers just bought.
Livewell grew up in Fishtown. The La Salle University
alum started his career in finance, working as a high-yield bond trader, and then transitioned to a job consulting for a software company in San Francisco.
But owning his own business has always been at the back of his mind.
"I didn’t know how to transition from career to business owner," he recalls, "It is a pretty intimidating jump when I didn’t know which levers to pull to make it happen financially...I got this really strong feeling one Monday morning that I didn’t want to do [the software job] anymore."
He first branched out into working for himself with a kids’ clothing line that didn’t prove profitable, but it was the bridge he needed to think seriously about a more independent career.
"It got me living differently," he says. "I was flexible; I didn’t have a nine-to-five to go to…Basically, I started making connections and relationships that would allow me to [have my own business]."
Back in Philly, he began working for ReAnimator Coffee
as a wholesale bagger in their roasting facility; he also worked a stint at Fishtown vintage retailer Jinxed
ReAnimator was "a big influence on my coffee practice," he says of adding a passion for the brew to his existing expertise in finance and customer service. His first real look at opening a café of his own came when he bumped into real estate developer and future business partner Laurence McKnight (a family friend) about two years ago.
McKnight was developing a property on Richmond Street in Port Richmond, and there was a vacancy at 3118. They talked about doing a coffee shop. Work on the 800-square-foot space, which seats about 25, really ramped up in winter 2016 with woodwork from Fishtown’s Philadelphia Woodcraft Company
Now River Wards Café serves ReAnimator’s Keystone Blend, pastries from Au Fournil
and soft pretzels from Center City Pretzel Co
Livewell says his customers enjoy the personalized experience they get at the café.
"We’re very open talking about what we’re serving and engaging the neighborhood," he says. He attributes much of his success so far to the active support of the community. "We’re doing well. Every day new customers come in, and a lot of times they’re so excited." Five months after opening, people are still saying "thank you for coming to Port Richmond. And I think that’s going to continue as businesses come to the street."
River Wards Café opens at 7 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. It closes at 3 p.m.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Joe Livewell, River Wards Café