Half a block from the intersection where a Philadelphia police officer was shot execution-style through the window of his patrol car last year, Siddiq Moore is renovating an empty corner storefront. At the end of the block is a beer store that opens at 7 a.m. daily. A few doors down is a Chinese restaurant, where the only brightness comes from the sun glinting off pit bulls’ studded collars as their gruff owners drag them in and out of the dark facade.
“That’s where the drug deals go down,” Moore says, watching from across the street. He turns back to his building, where a rainbow mural patterned with colorful kids’ handprints and finger painting peeks out behind fluttering construction plastic. “My place is going to be an anchor store for the neighborhood.”
The goal of his project, the 42-year-old West Philly native explains, is to bring safety and solidarity to the 60th Street corridor, and serve as a beacon of hope.
“I want it to be a community gathering place,” he says. “Somewhere I can mentor young folks, show inner city kids there there are other options, and inspire them to think about education as a way to get out of the trap.”
“The trap” that faces kids growing up in West Philadelphia, as Moore sees it, is both physical and psychological. Physical in that many rarely travel outside their neighborhood, much less the city, and end up feeling like those few blocks are all there is in the world. And psychological in that because it’s so easy for to fall into what he calls “street stuff” — selling or transporting drugs, stealing or hawking stolen goods — it’s easy for them to end up with a criminal record at a young age.
“Once they get a record, then they feel they’re trapped and won’t be able to get a regular job, so they might as well get back into illegal stuff,” he says. “So I give them alternatives.”
Moore’s chosen medium for enacting change in his community? A Philly tradition: Water ice.
‘My thing is quality’
It was as a student at Temple that Moore landed on the water ice play.
During the spring of ‘95 (second semester, sophomore year) he got a job working on a food truck between classes. The truck was a popular one, home to Jeff the Chef, who liked to call himself “the turkey king.” Jeff won students’ hearts by offering a year-round supply of turkey done up just like it was Thanksgiving leftovers. Each night, he’d roast fresh birds, then carve ’em into sandwiches, hot platters, croquettes and turkey burgers to serve the next day.
“Jeff was a great entrepreneur,” Moore says. “I’ve never met a better person than him in terms of morals and integrity.”
The summer after Moore started working on the truck, Jeff the Chef decided to add water ice to his menu. It was just one freezer, in the back, but it gave Moore an idea. A different vendor had been having trouble maintaining the water ice cart he always set up on the corner of 13th and Montgomery — employees were stealing from him and not doing good work — so Moore bought it from him and went out on his own.
“I got the idea to make it with real fruit because my thing is quality,” he says. “And that other stuff, that stuff they call water ice, if you get it on your hands it’ll stain them for two days. I’m not gonna eat that, and I’m not gonna sell it to someone else.”
He experimented, and once he hit on the winning recipe, Siddiq’s Real Fruit Water Ice was born.
After graduation, Moore kept the business going. The frozen treats business being dependent on warm weather, he picked up other jobs to stay afloat. He worked as a construction plasterer, but his heart was always with his cart.
“You’re never retiring off a seasonal water ice business, and people were saying I needed to go and get a regular job, but it really was a passion,” he says. “I love making people happy, that gives me a lot of joy and satisfaction, and my water ice make people happy.”
The passion soon paid off. At a corporate event that had hired him to dole out ices, one attendee’s face lit up as he tried a sample.
‘I could use a guy like you’
“I know about you,” said the man, who happened to be a district manager for Tedesco, the food service company. “You’ve got that cart at 13th Street. You’re always hustling. I could use a guy like you.”
“I’m gonna take you up on that,” Moore said. He took the man’s card and reached out to arrange a meeting a few weeks later, hoping to get Tedesco to start carrying his water ice. Instead, after showing up in a suit and tie and presenting a well thought out business pitch pulled from his briefcase, he was offered a full-time job.
Moore became a service manager for Tedesco. He became familiar with the ins and outs of commercial food service, from sanitation to customer service and inventory to employee management, and he did well with the company, eventually overseeing on-campus dining at Temple and Drexel. Part of the deal, though, was that he always have summers off so he could keep Siddiq’s Water Ice going without missing a year.
“When I was growing up, everyone always told me I needed to be in business, I just had that temperament,” he says, and after four and a half years at Tedesco, he was itching to get back to being his own boss.
With the small amount of money he had been able to save, he began investing in real estate, using dividends from that to grow his water ice business. He signed a five-year lease and opened a storefront at 57th and Walnut to complement the cart at Temple (the location closed at the end of the lease because there wasn’t enough walk-up traffic). He also got involved with community programs that helped mentor neighborhood youth. Soon he realized he could meld the two.
What the community needs
The structure at 60th and Irving that will be home to the flagship Siddiq’s Real Fruit Water Ice has no past as a commercial storefront. When Moore bought the property two years ago, it was nothing but a line of low-slung trinities, none of them very well-cared-for. Doors that look like they lead to homes are still there, dotting the back of the building, complete with battered mailboxes.
But now, instead of walking into a living room, stepping over the threshold takes you into a busy hive of construction activity.
Architectural plans tacked up on the wall reveal the eventual structure of the shop interior. The back will be a large commercial kitchen. The second floor is for offices. And the front of the shop, the part that looks out on 60th Street, has been refitted into a proper storefront, with big plate-glass windows and a large diagonal entranceway at the corner. A fancy gelato case has been ordered to hold the water ice, and a sandwich counter is being installed.
“Water ice is relatively healthy, and I’m going to sell grilled chicken salads, wraps, all kinds of healthy food,” Moore explains. “It’s what the community needs.”
When Moore’s shop opens in late 2016 or early 2017, there will also be more decadent treats available — a colleague is eager to introduce West Philly to the temptation that is fried Snickers, and also bring funnel cakes from the Boardwalk to the sidewalk — but the general idea is to make Siddiq’s into much more than just water ice. And not just by way of menu.
Moore already takes on apprentices each summer, hammering in the importance of soaking up as many skills as they can as he deploys them to count out spoons for catering events or scoop finished ice into containers for transport to his cart. The storefront will give him a home base for the mentorship, plus many more opportunities to hire additional employees.
Even if people who live nearby don’t actually work at his shop, Moore wants them to feel at home there — and be part of making it something special. He enlisted a group of students from a nearby kindergarten to help decorate the exterior, and aside from getting a cool finger-painted mural, he’s hoping to leave a mark on them, too. He wants those same kids look back in 30 years and say, “We helped create that, it’s our community center and we made it happen.”
That they’ll be able to treat their own kids to the best water ice in the city will just be a bonus.