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It used to be the place where sentinels kept watch on a giant military production center, overseeing the manufacture of everything from Civil War muskets to laser-guided ballistic missiles.
Soon, it’ll be a new restaurant and all-day cafe, offering breakfast, lunch and brunch to a growing community along the Delaware River on the edge of Bridesburg.
The Guard House is set to open this spring in the guard house of the Frankford Arsenal. The former sprawling munitions factory in Lower Northeast Philly went defunct in the 1970, but is finding new life as a mixed-use campus.
Think Navy Yard North, said Matt Handel of Alliance Partners HSP, which teased a coffee shop when it first snapped up a quarter of the 800,000-square-foot site in 2017.
“We’re not the first to think of food and coffee as being an amenity for commercial tenants,” Handel told Billy Penn. “The Navy Yard, the Bok Bar…we looked at the arsenal and said it needs some element of that.”
After putting out the call — sign on for five rent-free years and create a cool restaurant in an unusual location — Alliance found its chef: Khoran Horn.
Horn, who runs Stripp’d Juice in Old City and the culinary collaborative “Black,” brought in chef Matthew Gansert, an alum of Forsythia, Attico and Jaxon.
It’ll be the first on-site food and drink amenity for the arsenal, which is already home to two charter schools, a handful of engineering firms and various other creative manufacturing companies. Split-flap makers Oat Foundry are headquartered there, for example, as is deli powerhouse Dietz & Watson and the Soulfull Project, an oatmeal maker that donates a meal for each one purchased.
“We’re taking this pretty seriously,” Horn said, mentioning housemade French-style pastries, a La Colombe coffee program (with espresso and tonics) and daytime food with “attention to detail.”
The all-day menu isn’t finalized, but Horn teased great breakfast sandwiches, a grilled lettuce Caesar salad and a mini house-fried funnel cake he said would work perfectly as an after-school snack.
Considering the many students, parents and teachers who are likely to become customers — and also the rest of the neighborhood, which will have easy access to the cafe through one of the campus’ main gates — there’s a concerted effort to keep things affordable.
“We’re not opening a run-of-the-mill concession,” Horn said, “but it’s definitely not going to be expensive.”
The restaurant, which is being designed with a dark, industrial aesthetic by D2 Groups, is about a 10 minute drive from Fishtown and right off Exit 27 on I-95. As there’s no dinner service, Horn and Gansert are planning to host interesting pop-ups and other events and activations during the evening.
Per Horn and Handel, Guard House Cafe is targeting a mid-March opening. Brunch will start a few weeks later.