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United by Blue ramps up dining in its new flagship store in Old City

"Coffee is about community much more than a clothing store is," one of the founders says.

United by Blue founders Mike Cangi (left) and Brian Linton at their new retail store at Second and Race Streets in Old City.
United by Blue founders Mike Cangi (left) and Brian Linton at their new retail store at Second and Race Streets in Old City.Read moreMICHAEL KLEIN / Staff

Buy a kayak and a breakfast sandwich. Or maybe wool gloves and a pulled bison sandwich on potato roll. Or a quilted vest with a mug of ReAnimator coffee and a plate of griddle cakes with house-made sausage.

United by Blue, the Philadelphia-based outdoors-theme retailer, opens its new flagship store on Thursday, Nov. 16 in The Bridge, a new mixed-use building at Second and Race Streets in Old City. It's a wide-open space, with its selling floor spilling over to the coffee counter, which segues into a seating area and an open kitchen.

The brand's first location, a half-block south, opened in 2013 with a coffee bar, followed by locations in University City and New York City. In their new corner space beneath the Ben Franklin Bridge, founders Brian Linton and Mike Cangi are banking on a more extensive menu and a BYOB policy to serve more customers and prospective customers.

Linton and Cangi launched United by Blue in 2010 with a small line of T-shirts focused on ocean water conservation and sold at wholesale. The premise is to pick up a pound of trash from oceans and waterways for every product sold, through company-organized cleanups.

"The café part of it started because we were looking for a new office," Linton said. "When we found it, we were thinking about ways that we could activate that downstairs" on the street level

"We never thought that a regular apparel store, or a store just with apparel, would be enough of an engagement with the community.We weren't that well known as a brand, so coffee gave us that hook and gave us that engagement. Coffee is about community much more than a clothing store is."

The model worked. "We were getting to the point where the size and scale of what we were doing over there was starting to catch up with us," Cangi said. "We had times where all the seats were filled and we couldn't get any more people in there. We couldn't fit any more retail into this space and from a size perspective, we were lacking. It's always felt like the food options were OK — really just something that you were not coming there specifically for. We felt like we were at the point where we could justify building a space that takes in our entire sustainability mind-set and applies that to a full menu as well."

The menu — built around breakfast and lunch — is utilitarian. The cafe also is BYOB, a valuable asset in that pocket of Old City. Hours match the store: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.

The old ground floor United by Blue space at 144 N. Second St. will accommodate company offices, now based on the second floor.

Linton attributed United by Blue's growth to its ability to hit on an outdoor aesthetic that is appealing to a younger generation. "We're one of the first members in this millennial-focused outdoor space," he said. "It may not be something that Philadelphians see as like a huge market, but nationally this aesthetic and this vibe, the urban outdoorsman, is actually a really big and growing part of the industry."

But Philadelphia is not exactly your glamping, camping, outdoor hub of the universe. Why wasn't the company set up in a more outdoorsy market? "We both from here. Temple University was what united us," Linton said. "We actually find that we're a lot more competitive and unique by being from Philadelphia, than if we were from an outdoor hub. We're a big fish in a small outdoor pond, because there's not this huge outdoor presence. We are Philadelphia's outdoor brand."