PHOENIXVILLE — The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced many business owners to get creative in how they keep their business operating in the wake of closures and reduced capacity.
Steel City Coffeehouse and Brewery in Phoenixville is among the businesses that have pivoted to meet the challenges.
Steel City recently opened a food pantry, giving customers a chance to grab some staples while they pick up their unique eats, craft beers, coffee and non-coffee beverages.
“The concept of the pantry works in Phoenixville because it’s a walkable town,” said owner Laura Vernola, adding that there aren’t a lot of places to walk to pick up the items carried in the Steel City Pantry.
The new addition opened on Aug. 28, and offers eggs, milk, butter, bread, non-dairy and specialty items, including products from woman, couple and family-owned food artisans from around the U.S. Some of the Pennsylvania vendors featured in the pantry include: Conebella Farm cheese; Tait Farms Foods jam jellies and spreads; Stoudt’s Wonderful Good Market breads; and Crisp & Co. Pickles.
The pantry area is about the size of a double wide closet according to Vernola. In addition to a refrigerator, the space features a stainless table and some shelving for products.
It is located opposite of the stage in the 1800-square foot venue — a stage that remains silent, due to reduced indoor occupancy.
“Music was a huge loss for us. That is what Steel City was and is,” Vernola said. “People hang out here because they like the music and vibe. When we lost the music we started to think ‘what can we bring in?’”
Vernola said she and husband and co-owner Ed Simpson closed Steel City closed in March, ahead of the state mandates. Initially they did not offer curbside takeout or delivery, but began to offer the option on Easter. Vernola it’s something that will be offered from now on.
When Governor Wolf initially increased indoor dining occupancy to 50% in June, Steel City started to bring back the music.
“Then they took us back to 25%,” Vernola said, adding that because of the back and forth on occupancy, she and Simpson have made the decision not to bring music back until February 2021 at the earliest.
Vernola said once the decision to add the pantry was made, it took about two months to get everything ready.
“We invested about $2,000 into the pantry. It was a very stressful decision — do we spend it or hold on to it for safekeeping,” she said. “We decided to bite the bullet and see where it will take us.” She said they purchased a double door retail fridge and began researching products and a supplier.
“I felt it was a good way to support not just the companies in Pennsylvania, but also other smaller companies,” she added.
Vernola said that in the winter Steel City will bring in more items for the upcoming baking season — including maple syrup, pancake and bread making kits, baking vanilla, flour and sugar.
She said so far the feedback has been “phenomenal.”
“We hope to bring the music back at some point,” Vernola added. “Music is why Steel City is here. If the pantry takes off we might look at putting it in a different area of the store.”
The Steel City Pantry, and Steel City Coffeehouse and Brewery is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
In addition, Steel City continues to offer open mic night hosted by Simpson via the Zoom conferencing app.
Starting Oct. 2, Steel City will launch a new initiative — the Live From Steel City Podcast — as a way to “continue to engage with our creative community during a time without live entertainment.”
This podcast will feature a “sit down” with musicians and artists from across the region, to get to know them while also showcasing their talents, according to Vernola.
“For our pilot episode, we invited a few past owners of Steel City and we will chat about our best memories, favorite musical acts, funniest moments and all the things that we’ve learned along the way,” Vernola explained in an email about the new venture.
The first podcast will be recorded at Steel City on Friday, Oct. 2, on stage in front of an audience of no more than 20 ticketed guests. The podcast will be posted online the following Wednesday at www.livefromsteelcity.com. Ticket holders will also be able to submit questions for participants in advance.
According to Steel City’s Facebook page, tickets will be on sale “soon” for the first podcast. Visit https://www.facebook.com/steelcitycoffeehouse for the latest updates.
According to Vernola, the podcast will be produced and co-hosted by one of Steel City’s baristas, Sarah Vey, who is a senior public relations student at Temple University.
Steel City Coffeehouse, 203 Bridge St., opened in 1997 and is Phoenixville’s oldest coffeehouse and only listening room and live music venue. In 2016, it was purchased by Vernola and Simpson. In early 2019, Steel City Coffeehouse became Steel City Coffeehouse and Brewery. For more information visit https://www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com/