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How Cogito Coffee made its way from Croatia to Center City Philly

"I happened to be there on the first day. I went in and the light went off in my head."

Matija Hrkac (left) and Marko Brkich at Cogito Coffee at 105 S. 12th St.
Matija Hrkac (left) and Marko Brkich at Cogito Coffee at 105 S. 12th St.Read moreMICHAEL KLEIN / Staff

Cogito Coffee’s new cafe on 12th Street near Chestnut is the first American location from the Croatian roaster.

How it got here is a small world/Philadelphia connection.

A couple, Hannah Powlison Belković and Matija Belković, opened a cafe about a decade ago in Zagreb. Matija Hrkać signed on as a partner, and they expanded with four more shops.

Enter Marko Brkich, the Philadelphia-raised son of Croatian immigrants. He had spent 11 years as a commercial real estate developer but wanted to get into hospitality. “I figured I needed some experience in order to do that effectively,” he said. “So I started bartending. I spent about three years in bartending and at which point I felt that I had enough experience or I knew enough of what I didn’t know to accurately gauge how to get into it,." he said. "And coffee seemed like a great idea.”

Brkich frequently went back to Croatia see his family. On one trip, he says, he noticed someone with a coffee cup. “I said, ‘Where did you get that?’ And they said, ‘Oh, this group from Zagreb just opened today.’ So I happened to be there on the first day. I went in and the light went off in my head that, you know, these are some just two guys opening up a coffee shop. They have expansion plans, and you know they’re quality-driven."

"When I got back to the States, I had thought about maybe bringing the brand here, Brkich said. So I just reached out via their web email and we emailed back and forth a couple of times, we Skyped, met a couple of times and then I went over to visit them.”

Hannah Belković, it turns out, is an American from Glenside.

The Belkovićs had already thought about Philadelphia as a potential entry market to the United States, but “they just didn’t really have anybody to work with here on this end,” Hrkać said. “So it was very serendipitous of us that are our ideals aligned.”

Cogito’s roasting style is a little lighter than some of its competition, especially some of the bigger brands that are available in the Philadelphia market. Brkcich said customer service was another key.

Until Cogito opens a U.S. production facility, coffee is roasted in Zagreb, though the company is sourcing green beans and using a roastery in Queens, N.Y.

The 12th Street location, between Shake Shack and DaMo Pasta Lab, is cheery and light-filled, set up around a counter and galley kitchen. Most food is of the pastry variety, sourced to Machine Shop and Lost Bread Co.

Hours are 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. but are in flux.