Updated 12:30 p.m.
Izzat Rahman immigrated to Philly from his native Malaysia back in 2009 to attend Temple’s Fox School of Business. He majored in entrepreneurship and management information systems, and on the side, fixed bicycles for cheap out of his North Philly basement.
As part of his capstone project, Rahman drafted a plan he thought was genius: a hybrid business model incorporating bicycle repairs and organic coffee. He had high hopes when he submitted to Fox’s annual business plan competition. And then… he lost.
Evidently, business experts at the time didn’t see the same brilliance in his bike-java combo. But Rahman didn’t lose focus. After he graduated — though he had little money and almost no practical experience — he followed through on the idea.
In June 2012, Kayuh Bicycles and Cafe opened, brightening the corner of 19th Street and Girard Avenue.
Since then, other coffee/bike shop combos have popped up, like Fishtown’s Bikes and Beans — but Kayuh was definitely one of the first in Philadelphia.
And as his business has evolved, it’s become unique in more ways than one. Located in the heart of the rapidly developing Francisville neighborhood, it accomplishes a challenging goal: it brings together newer residents with longtime community members.
In Philadelphia, this is perhaps the most daunting task for neighborhood businesses. So how did Rahman do it? A combination of community events, company culture and good coffee.
“Businesses are about a transactional relationship,” Rahman said. “With us, obviously it’s transactional, but there’s a lot more than that. We try to make that connection.”
It feels like ‘home’
Plop a bicycle repair shop that doubles as an organic coffee place in the middle of a gentrifying neighborhood, and there’s a stereotypical scenario that comes to mind: The cafe-shop would be patronized by the younger, whiter residents and present itself as a sign of hostile development to the older neighbors.
Not so for Kayuh Bicycles and Cafe, according to community residents.
In Francisville, Larry Kane goes by the nickname “Pops.” He’s been in the neighborhood close to 40 years, and he’s so devoted to the community’s success that he’s dubbed himself “the mayor of Francisville.” You can recognize him by his favorite shirt, which reads: “Like Pops say, I’ll knock you the fuck out.”
Kane, 61, visits Kayuh every day of the week, and he said the shop is hardly hostile to older residents. Plus, it helps him meet the younger residents who have grown to populate his community.
“Everybody who comes in here is friendly,” Kane said. “I ain’t never had anybody come in here and disrespect me. The employees, they treat you like you should, like you’re at home. They welcome you in here.”
By Kane’s estimation, his fellow long-time neighbors feel the same way about the shop. He often meets them there for breakfast outside, and he loves attending the regular community events. Kane isn’t a huge biker, but the coffee got him in the door.
“Ain’t no spots around here to get a nice cup of coffee, an iced tea, a smoothie,” Kane said. “You have to walk so far.”
“But now, you can just stand on the corner, waiting for the bus, and drink a cup of coffee,” he added. “Don’t no coffee taste better than this. It’s the best coffee in the neighborhood.”
‘The glue that brings people together’
As a Malaysian immigrant, Rahman always wanted to create an inclusive company, one that brought people of different cultures together.
Fittingly, before he officially entered the bike repairs biz, he thought it needed a little more togetherness.
“Bicycle shops need to portray themselves as neighborhood hubs you can go to,” he remembers thinking, “instead of a place where you just drop off your bike.”
Once he combined bicycle repairs with local coffee and baked goods, he said the community engagement came naturally. “There’s two different businesses,” Rahman explained, “so they get that vibe that it’s unique.”
Plus, he thinks his status as an immigrant helps neighbors feel welcome there.
But that’s not to say Rahman doesn’t work at inclusion. He hosts free community events on a monthly basis, including:
- Free bicycle repair clinics every second Wednesday of the month (they charge for parts, but not labor)
- Open mic nights
- Spoken word poetry events
- Music performances
- A speaker series, inviting local business owners to come in and share their ideas with the neighborhood
- Group bike rides
Through events, Rahman said, he hopes his business can be “the glue that brings people together” in Francisville. And if it gets people to ride their bikes more often, that’s just gravy.