Mat Falco, owner of Herman’s Coffee in South Philadelphia. Herman's transformed from simply a neighborhood coffee shop to a market for odd gourmet provisions, offering items such as tinned fish and cocktail mixers.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Mat Falco, owner of Herman’s Coffee in South Philadelphia. Herman's transformed from simply a neighborhood coffee shop to a market for odd gourmet provisions, offering items such as tinned fish and cocktail mixers.

The neighborhood coffee shop makes room for food carts and groceries

“I give credit to the garage doors,” says Mat Falco, reflecting on the unique location that has helped Herman’s Coffee survive the past year with admirable vibrancy. The former auto repair shop and car wash in Pennsport with roll-up walls on both flanks is not just a coffee shop anymore, but also a pop-up hub for food carts. And now an unusual market, too.

Philly’s coffee shop culture suffered as legions of regulars could no longer caffeinate and linger, limiting most customers to takeout. And Herman’s was certainly built as a friendly local hangout, a micro-roastery modeled after the neighborhood brewpubs Falco once celebrated as cofounder of the now-defunct Philly Beer Scene magazine.

His trusty Diedrich roaster is still producing small batches of the chocolatey espresso (Moyamensing blend), high-voltage joe (Diner blend), and delicate single varietals like a recent strawberry-scented beauty from Bali. The crowds also have kept coming during these past months for the ever-changing lineup of vendors who perch beneath Herman’s open garage doors five times a week, including Milk Jawn ice cream, the Tabachoy Filipino cart, New Liberty Distillery, and Fudena’s jollof rice bowls.

Baristas work behind the counter at Herman’s Coffee in South Philadelphia.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Baristas work behind the counter at Herman’s Coffee in South Philadelphia.

When Herman’s finally rolled up its garage doors for customers to reenter its breezy space in October, the cafe had embraced yet another identity as a mini-market. This store, though, is not focused on everyday essentials like eggs and toilet paper. It features an intriguing collection of esoteric quality of life provisions: a wall of 80 different bitters and cocktail mixers, fancy pastas, meal kits, 50 hot sauces, and 47 varieties of imported tinned sardines, mackerel, and shellfish.

“I wish people appreciated tinned fish more,” Falco says. “But I bought things I like, so, if it doesn’t sell? That’s not the worst problem.”

Herman’s Coffee, 1313 S. Third St., hermanscoffee.com and on Instagram