Coworking at Ela, a Queen Village restaurant, before it opens for dinner

Queen Village restaurant Ela doesn’t start serving until 5 p.m. on weekdays, but on one recent Thursday, if you looked through the window you could see plenty of people there. They weren’t dining, but tapping on laptops propped next to half-eaten bagels and meticulously poring over graph paper while sipping iced coffee.

Welcome to WEach Seats, a Philly-based startup that takes restaurants’ daytime-vacant dining room’ and turns them into coworking space.

Aug. 16 was one of the free demo days for the unconventional concept, which sprang from the minds of a Queen Village couple last year.

We tested out the nine-to-five grind at Ela, to get a taste of what its like to spend the day working in spot that’s usually thought of as a place to relax. There’s no place settings, no hustle and bustle, no clinking of glasses or scents of delicious food. Just a few muffled sounds emanating from the kitchen as staffers prep for the day, and a WEach-provided insulated coffee canteen and a jug of water.

Per founders Matthew Weaver and Sarina Chernock, offering just the bare essentials — some refreshments, a portable printer/scanner machine, WiFi and a space more interesting than home — is precisely the point.

How the company got started

The idea for WEach Seats emerged after the birth of Weaver and Chernock’s son, Garrett, in April 2017. All of a sudden, both of the remote workers had no home office to work from: It had been converted into a nursery.

“We wanted an office space close by, in Queen Village where we live, but there weren’t any,” Chernock said, “so we started thinking about underutilized spaces that both parties could make revenue off of if they were transformed into coworking spaces.”

What first came to mind? Restaurants that are closed from morning to evening because they’re in neighborhoods where the “lunch crowd really isn’t there,” Weaver explained.

The duo began knocking on doors and making inquiries, rallying restaurants to get on board. Other than having empty space that could be occupied with busybodies, selling points included luring WEachers to become the happy hour or dinner regulars and getting a portion of the revenue from the startup.

By last winter, they had already gotten commitments from Writer’s Block Rehab in Midtown Village, Bar One in Bella Vista, Paris Wine Bar in Fairmount, Original 13 Ciderworks in Kensington and Ela.

Weaver and Chernock started feeling more confident about not being the only ones who thought this would be a cool solution to the coffee shop dilemma — and the numbers further back them up. As of 2017, at least 43% of employed Americans work remotely, which means that a lot of them are in need of a spot that won’t make them feel guilty for not buying a croissant in the midst of typing up a project.

“Coffee shops pressure you to buy food all day to keep your spot or avoid being frowned up. And traditional coworking spaces — like WeWork — are expensive and concentrated heavily in Center City,” Weaver said.

At the beginning of 2018, they incorporated and began creating the WEach Seats smartphone app with local software development company PromptWorks.

“This city has a great, emerging tech market, and it is a microcosm of what is going on with millennials. There’s a trend toward coworking, freelancing and people working remotely in some way, as well as a trend for young people — in particular in Philly — not living in Center City,” Weaver said.

How it actually works

One of the people at Ela was WEacher Jenna, who asked to go by her first name. She works in HR for a large company, usually remotely at least three days a week.

But she’s been aching to “not stare at [her] own desk” and be in a space that wasn’t as distracting — she has a baby, which makes working from home extra tough. So far, she said, WEach Seats has been a fantastic solution, because it was “easy to find parking, the internet is good and there’s plenty of food options around here.”

As for this reporter’s experience? Hungry. The whole time. Some characteristics of places are difficult to separate from the physical space itself.

But if you’re looking for a remedy to cabin fever and an escape from the monotony of at-home work life, maybe WEach Seats is worth the stomach rumbles.

On the WEach Seats app (available on iTunes and the Google Play Store), you can see which locations are offering seats (capped at 24 per restaurant), check-in, scope out specials and make updates to your account or upgrade your membership.

Credit: WEach Seats

Speaking of membership, that’s $155 per month or $55 per week (the weekly membership option was made primarily with travelers in mind, Chernock explained).

Crunching that monthly membership down, on a month that has 22 work days, that’s about $7 per weekday. Per’s comprehensive guide to coworking spaces in Philly, WEach Seats’s monthly membership is a bargain in comparison to the other options available in the city.

But, then again, there aren’t any perks or actual amenities at WEach Seats — in other words, you’re getting what you pay for.

In order to keep the hype alive and peak curiosity before the startup’s official start in Fall 2018, the startup has been offering free “demo” days during the month of August. All you need to do is show up and provide evidence that you’ve downloaded the app (you don’t need to sign up to become a member). Up next are:

  • Wednesday, Aug. 22 at Original 13 Ciderworks (1526 N. American St.)
  • Wednesday, Aug. 29 at Writer’s Block Rehab (1342 Cypress St.)

Check the app and the desktop site for more updates and for more demo days.