In the 2 1/2 years that David Falck ran Guppy's Coffee in the Bryn Mawr train station, patrons say, he managed to create a special community as he transformed the sparse waiting room into a welcoming sit-down cafe. He introduced normally harried commuters to one another, doted on caffeine-fueled students, and conversed about books and events with retirees.
Mr. Falck, 50, died Friday, Dec. 3, of melanoma at Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse. He was diagnosed with a recurrence of the disease in mid-October.
"David was a human social network," said Gordon B. Fowler Jr., president and chief executive officer of Glenmede Trust Co. "He brought people together."
Never modest about his talents as a barista - a skill he honed during 15 years at the now-shuttered Barnes & Noble in Bryn Mawr - Mr. Falck was the first to say he made one of the smoothest cups of cappuccino on the Main Line.
The Bryn Mawr man was also known for his wide-ranging conversations, said neurosurgeon Richard A. Davis, an associate professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, in an e-mail. The two would sip coffee and discuss Homer and the origins of Western culture, as well as the sonnets of the English poet John Donne and current events.
The cafe's name was a nod both to Mr. Falck's love for swimming and to the competition he faced from large chain stores as he reinvented the former taxi stand.
"He looked at Guppy's as the small fish in the big sea of coffee shops," said Jennifer Falck Mihok, his sister.
Linda Frankel of Amtrak's real estate development department, which oversees station cafes, said Mr. Falck was "a community favorite" and would stock certain candy bars for younger customers.
Mr. Falck never forgot his regular customers' orders and would cut them off when they had too much of a good thing.
Raoul Ferguson, a taxi driver with Main Line Taxi, said he would drop by for coffee, cantaloupe, and "a special hot dog that was most delicious."
Mr. Falck would let him buy only one frank.
" 'That is way too much sodium,' he would say," Ferguson recalled.
Mr. Falck may have been destined to become a barista. His great-grandfather ran an espresso shop in Torriglia, Italy.
When he started Guppy's, Mr. Falck made it his main goal to serve a good product, said Nadine Karel, 30, of Media, a friend who filled in at the shop. As it went on, she said, Mr. Falck told her it became about the people.
Mr. Falck was born in Atchison, Kan., before moving to the Main Line as an infant. He attended Rosemont Elementary School and Radnor High School and graduated from Villanova University with a degree in English.
His love of travel took him to Japan - where he taught English - as well as Europe, India, and Indonesia. He also served as a waiter at the former Garden restaurant in Philadelphia.
Swimming was a lifelong passion for Mr. Falck. To celebrate his 40th birthday, he rode his bicycle from Bryn Mawr to Wells, Maine - about 400 miles. Then he swam a mile and a half around Drake Island with his stepfather, J. Gregg Miller, walking alongside on the beach.
The Sunday before Thanksgiving, Mr. Falck swam a half-mile with his friends on the Valley Forge Masters Swim Team. It was the last practice he would attend.
In addition to his sister and stepfather, Mr. Falck is survived by his mother, Mary Tassia Falck; a sister, Melissa Falck Luperi; stepsisters Eleanor M. Roman, Margaret Miller Ratner; and a stepbrother, J. Gregg Miller. His father, E. Richard Falck, preceded him in death.
A memorial service will be at 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17, at the Merion Cricket Club in Haverford. Donations may be made in Mr. Falck's name to the Villanova University Swim Team c/o Development Office, 800 Lancaster Ave., Villanova, Pa. 19085 or Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse, Division of Wissahickon Hospice Inc., 150 Monument Rd., Suite 300, Bala Cynwyd, Pa. 19004.