The plan to bring a Wingstop franchise to Mt. Airy's commercial corridor is not happening. Local businessman Richard Johnson intended to open a 58-seat restaurant at 6700 Germantown Avenue, a historic building that is being renovated by Mt. Airy USA (MAUSA).
Several near-neighbors have come forward to voice objections to the chicken restaurant but Anuj Gupta, executive director of MAUSA, said the decision came down to timing.
New obstacles were making it impossible for Johnson to open the Wingstop by year's end and MAUSA could not afford further delay on occupancy due to loan obligations on the building, which has stood vacant for over two years, said Gupta.
A spirited community meeting last month caused State Representative Cherelle Parker's office to put together a steering committee comprised of residents to work with Johnson and Gupta on compromise and solutions to key concerns raised, including parking, waste disposal and late business hours.
Gupta acknowledged that the concerns raised were serious, but said the restaurant also had a lot of supporters. If the project's time schedule worked out, MAUSA would have moved forward with Wingstop, he said.
High Point steps up as new tenant
MAUSA quickly found a silver lining in the form of a replacement tenant, Gupta said. Mt. Airy's own High Point Cafe is seeking to expand into the wholesale bakery market.
Originally set to become the building's second tenant, High Point is now poised to sign a lease to occupy the larger Wingstop space as a new business entity: High Point Wholesale.
Unlike High Point Cafe's two coffee shop locations in Mt. Airy, the Germantown Avenue site will not be a retail operation.
High Point Cafe owner, Meg Hagele, said developing a wholesale bakery business has been a long time dream. Just six months after opening the Carpenter Lane location, the cafe had already outgrown its 100 square foot bakery space, she said. High Point currently bakes 300 to 500 pastries a day in addition to quiches, other desserts and homemade sauces.
Others have approached Hagele to sell High Point's baked goods at area coffee shops, but the cafe's kitchen constraints made it impossible to consider.
The move towards expansion is something she has been mulling for the past five years, Hagele said.
"It feels really nice to have the serendipity of the right space at the right time," she said.
Another component of the wholesale operation will be coffee roasting. Though the cafe developed its private coffee blend in partnership with a friend Hagele has known since her barista days in Seattle (some 20 years ago), she wants to begin making High Point's own coffee to be sold wholesale.
The building's space will hold High Point's coffee roasting facility, as well as a coffee laboratory. Though the site will not be open to the public, Hagele says there will be a full bar set up for coffee tastings, brewing seminars and the training of baristas.
High Point will bring over its current staff of five bakers at first, but intends to add five more employees within its first year of operation. The coffee roasting enterprise will be rolled out after that time.
High Point plans to move in by December. The wholesale bakery should be up and running by early next year, according to Gupta.
The concerns that some residents had with the proposed Wingstop, such as a lack of designated parking and alcohol served on the premises, are a non-issue with the wholesale business.
Hagele noted that High Point's delivery vehicles will not use Westview Street and outgoing deliveries of baked goods will take place along Germantown Avenue in the early morning hours between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.
Hagele says bakery waste is less offensive and mostly involves food containers, not grease or other waste created by restaurants.
Trash disposal will be handled by a private company who will come to the site multiple times a week, she added.
A need to attract investment
Gupta said the community needs to figure out a place for business folks like Richard Johnson.
"He's talking about serious investment. The kind we've never seen on Germantown Avenue," he said.
Finding quality tenants is a challenge in a tough commercial real estate market, especially for the southern end of Mt. Airy, Gupta explained.
"We know right outside our back door, people need jobs," he added.
MAUSA remains hopeful that Johnson will consider that kind of investment somewhere else in Northwest Philadelphia, if not Mt. Airy.
In an email statement to NewsWorks, Johnson said he is still looking to open a second Wingstop in Northwest Philadelphia, but will begin that process after his Roxborough franchise has been open for six to eight months. He anticipates the Roxborough restaurant to open at the end of July.