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W/N W/N: A Victory For All.

August 24, 2016


Text by Eric Fitzsimmons. Images by Grace Dickinson.

Many restaurants have adopted the language of the socially conscious. W/N W/N Coffee Bar was born in it.

Since late 2014, W/N W/N has been slinging quality roasts and teas alongside beer and cocktails at its chrome-and-glass storefront at 931 Spring Garden St. In a time when it seems every place with a food menu makes some claim to organically-grown, sustainable, grass-fed, free-range, artisanal fare, W/N W/N takes the ethical angle a step further in its community involvement and worker-cooperative ownership structure. W/N W/N is owned by the very people who work there.

Tony Montagnaro, one of the owner-workers who coordinates outreach and events, says W/N W/N came out of a group of people who had been working in hospitality jobs around Philadelphia and were tired of the way most places run.

“It’s a really exploitative industry, and most of the profits made in food and bev are due to low wage labor,” says Montagnaro, 26 , of Kensington. “Basically, those who are making all the money for the business and working the hardest have the least amount to gain, whether it be financially or in terms of equity in the business.”

W/N W/N flips that structure on its head. If you work there, you can become an owner and share in the profits and, conversely, everyone who profits is putting their time in at the bar.

Inside, W/N W/N aims more for a European-style cafe than your dimly-lit American tavern. During the summer, the sun is still up when W/N W/N opens at five on weeknights – with daytime hours on the weekend – and the place fills with light from the large front window. The tap tower shares space on the counter with the espresso machine. Display shelves behind the bar are split: liquor bottles sit on one side, mason jars of house-blend herbal teas take up the other. Art adorns the back walls and music hums along below the level of conversation. There is not a television in sight.

Behind the bar, Reddy Cyprus, 22, of South Kensington, is pulling handles. It might be the early hour or a well-cultivated persona but Cyprus comes across as the kind of guy who is psyched that you stopped in today.

Cyprus has been there since the place first opened for business and likes the open environment and having a say in the operations. Like any democratic system, it can get messy. But when everyone comes together, great things happen. Right from the start, Cyprus had a voice in how things got done.

“All of a sudden I could talk about what I wanted to see on the menu, I could talk about how a business should be run,” Cyprus says. “I’ve worked all over Philadelphia and I just feel like I’m treated like a human here, which is pretty nice.”

That openness and collaborative spirit extends to the shows W/N W/N hosts several nights each week, running from Thursday through Sunday. Montagnaro curates the events and says he is willing to work with almost anybody who writes to suggest an event. Live, acoustic music? They do that. Push the tables aside for a dance floor and bring in local DJs? They do that, too.

Austin Edward has performed at W/N W/N three times and what has set it apart, for him, is how much freedom artists are given to own the performance space. Edward, 26, of East Passyunk, most recently brought his emotional, U.K. club scene-inspired electronic music to W/N W/N, a collaboration with visuals by Hueman Garbij that he says could not have come about in other venues.

“For a place to allow myself and my friends coming in the way they have and this frequently, I don’t know any other place like that, any space where you can experiment,” Edward says. “It’s an extremely welcoming place to be as anyone — as a performer, as a patron. They extend a very warm welcome to everyone.”

W/N W/N attracts an eclectic crowd, from stragglers getting out of the big concert venues nearby to local artists brought in by the unique mix of performances and arts the bar has been highlighting through events like the monthly First Friday party, which kicks off the month-long exhibit of a local artists in the back of the cafe.

As the name suggests, W/N W/N works best when everyone benefits. Montagnaro knows nobody really thinks they will get rich off the project but the people involved hope what they do here serves as an example that other places try in Philadelphia.

“That’s been the last year and a half, just trying to figure out what works for us, what works for  this neighborhood and the community,” Montagnaro says, “and how to just be a community-minded business that is actually going to affect the things that are making change in the community, as opposed to just making money and getting out.”

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