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April 18, 2016

The Lucky Goat serves coffee and music to connect neighbors in Brewerytown

Its name has roots in an Ethiopian fable and drives the spirit behind the business

Business Neighborhoods
Carroll - The Lucky Goat Cafe Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The Lucky Goat Coffee House is situated on the border between the Fairmount and Brewerytown neighborhoods, serving both communities.

Imagine a world with no coffee.

It’s safe to say that more than half of your faces likely twisted into a state of shock, while your bodies shrank back in horror as if to distance themselves from the very possibility of such a reality.

No worries, as a fellow coffee drinker, I cringed while writing it, so count yourself among family.

Now, imagine being the lucky goat to first indulge in the magical bliss that is coffee.

According to Ethiopian legend, a herder followed his goats up into the mountains, where he observed them dancing joyfully after eating the red berries of a bush. (I have a similar reaction when that freshly brewed, elixir-like liquid hits my bloodstream and causes my spirit to break into a praise dance because, glory be, my morning — and the world — have been saved from…a coffee-less Syreeta.)

It seems fitting to pause now and give the proper shoutout to the O.G. (read: Original Goat): You are the MVP, the true G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time)!

This legend inspired Toyin Ajayi-Frankel, a Philadelphia transplant originally from Lagos, Nigeria, to pay homage to that first goat by naming her Brewerytown-based coffee shop The Lucky Goat Coffee House. Her passion for coffee and its culture were first sparked while living in Seattle.

Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Toyin Ajayi-Frankel, owner of The Lucky Goat Coffee House.

“With $1 in your pocket, you can walk into your neighborhood coffeehouse, make friends, find out who is who, sit down and work or just completely lose yourself in your own thoughts if you want,” she said.

The Lucky Goat set up shop at 26th and Poplar streets in 2013 amid a vastly evolving time for the Brewerytown neighborhood on the northern cusp of Fairmount. Three years later, the residents now reflect the meshing of the neighborhood’s past and future, and create a unique present.

“Lucky Goat is in a building that sits just where [the] Brewerytown, Fairmount and Francisville neighborhoods come together,” said Ajayi-Frankel. “It is a neighborhood which represents the full cultural, economic and racial diversity of Philadelphia.”

Bamidele Faleimu, a barista at Lucky Goat, said the coffeehouse provides residents with a more intimate atmosphere compared to mainstream coffee shops.

Faleimu takes great care in being knowledgeable about his customers. In addition to remembering their names and usual orders, he also learns their interests in hopes of possibly connecting them with relevant people, places or events.

This sense of connectedness is nurtured over quality coffee and teas from brands like La Colombe, Two Leaves and Novus, and locally sourced baked goods — all at affordable prices.

For Faleimu, the goal is to build an authentic relationship with the people he serves and ensure that they feel comfortable and valued every time they visit. Because they are.

“They’re not cash cows, they’re people,” he said. Lucky Goat's atmosphere “is sort of like a barbershop but with coffee instead of, like, cutting hair.”

A customer smiles widely and nods his head in agreement while laughing at the apt description, and adds, “It is. It really is like that.”

Faleimu’s desire for connectedness is a part of the glue that binds coffeehouse to community.

Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The Lucky Goat Coffee House, located on the corner of 26th and Poplar streets.

Ajayi-Frankel's desire for the coffeehouse to essentially become a “community member” is deeply shaped by her upbringing in Lagos during the 1960s. She is one of 11 children who enjoyed spending time outdoors playing with friends and attending big family and community parties with live music.

“I was surrounded by people, literally, in a city of 10 million people from 200 ethnic groups and 201 languages spoken. It was an exciting time to be born,” she said. “Nigeria was a newly independent country with people determining who and how to govern themselves, [and] wealth was being created overnight from [the] discovery of oil, new industry and more.”

Nigeria’s diversity provided her with everything she’d need to live anywhere in the world and feel at home. It also fueled her love of music, the arts and performance.

“My own knowledge of who I am through the arts and history of the Yoruba then make it possible for me to then understand, relate and enjoy cultural expressions of other peoples,” she said.

She loved arts and culture so much, she and her husband, Andrew (“Andy”), became advocates of and contributors to African arts and culture.

“I participate in diverse art forms from all over the world and, for me, what I do with African arts is sharing who I am while allowing others the opportunity to know my culture beyond the political language, propaganda and limitations,” she said.

The Lucky Goat currently partners with Johnny Brenda’s to bring artists from Africa to Philadelphia.

Andy shared a love of African music with Greg Mungan, venue manager for Johnny Brenda's, and agreed that there weren't enough of the artists making their way to Philadelphia. So, they decided to do something about it.

“We've never had a partnership with another coffeehouse,” said Mungan. “What makes the partnership between Lucky Goat and Johnny Brenda's is our shared sense of community.”

Mungan believes that the warmth from the folks at Lucky Goat “informs the vibe at the venue on the evening of the show.” He and Ajayi-Frankel agree the experience of great music and a celebratory atmosphere at a great venue help introduce Philadelphians to international talent.

With the additional assistance of Faleimu, the four curate the shows, working only with artists who inspire them.

“African artists literally travel across continents to bring their amazing musical talent and culture to Philly,” said Mungan. “We do our best to honor their commitment and talent.”

From community builder to culture influencer, The Lucky Goat Coffee House and all those tied to it have one goal in mind: keeping us all connected.

When asked what she hopes Lucky Goat's legacy will be, Ajayi-Frankel replied, “A community anchor cherished for being a welcoming safe spot where people can gather, learn and expand their life experience, available to all for a reasonable price.”

Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The Lucky Goat Coffee House serves La Colombe coffee, which is brewed with care to ensure the proper combination of acidity, body and strength.