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Chester County Press

Post-pandemic, Philter writes its next chapter

08/15/2023 01:42PM ● By Caroline Roosevelt
Philter has re-emerged from the pandemic with a new business model and a partnership with Meredith Mitchell and her new catering and culinary business, "A Little More".

Through the turbulence of a worldwide pandemic, Philter owner Chris Thompson somehow cleared hurdle after hurdle and kept his popular coffee shop in the heart of Kennett Square afloat. Now, on the soon-to-be occasion of its tenth anniversary on Dec. 9, Philter has come to mean so much more than just coffee. 
Although its coffee keeps Philter’s loyal customers coming back, the concept that Thompson began also represents community, creativity and camaraderie, and it has emerged from COVID-19 better than ever with a new menu in partnership with business partner Meredith Mitchell and her new catering and culinary business called A Little More. I recently sat down with Chris and Meredith to unpack the new Philter and its business plan.

Caroline Roosevelt: Let’s start with what happened during the pandemic. It killed so many businesses, and yet you were able to ride out wave after wave.
Chris Thompson: It took a while to get back to normal. There were temporary changes but when we reopened, we knew that people wanted quicker service and I wanted to maintain quality. We invested in new equipment, and we didn’t do in person dining at all, and everything was to-go. We had the grab n’ go breakfast sandwiches because I did see a need for those. It was a good option, but it was never right, because it was never what Philter was supposed to be. 
CR: How did you transition back to the original model?
CT: I did keep up with showcasing the work of area artists, but I just didn’t add any new products and as we ran out, I didn’t replace them. I was getting to the point where I finally realized I wasn’t happy with the current model. It didn’t feel right, and it wasn’t as rewarding as it used to be. Then Meredith came one day, and we had a heart-to-heart talk about Philter. She is part of the Philter family -- her sister and brother have worked here, so I trusted her. I told her I was trying to get Philter back to the way it was. Later that night she sent me an email and after a few meetings, we settled on her leasing the kitchen and running her operation through here. She subleases and then, obviously, we share the space with the customers. I hadn’t seen this model before, but I knew it existed, and because of it, we can both do the things we love to do.
Meredith Mitchell: I was at Longwood Gardens working as a horticulturist and at Temple finishing a degree. I’d been at Longwood since 2015 and was really feeling a need to move on and school was just not clicking for me. I liked what I was studying but it was not a good fit. So, when Chris and I met up, I had left Longwood, stopped graduate work, was working at Harvest Market with Megan Bushnell and was having a reset. I have always had a connection to growing food, and Philter was always a topic at the dinner table between my siblings. 
CR: It really does feel like a family here. As a customer, I was so excited when everyone came back after the pandemic.
CT: It took me a while to realize something wasn’t right. I was missing those connections -- the friendships that were formed, the bonds and the professional connections.
CR: Tell me about how you both came to create the new menu at Philter.
MM: We had to honor the classics, beginning with the Bahni Mi, Hummus Sandwich and the Spicy Egg Sandwich. I really wanted to make a menu based on locally sourced, simple food. We also wanted to keep the rotating pastries – from our talented baker, Chase, and from Tess Baker from O So Sweet in Chadds Ford.
CR: Fall is fast approaching. Any sneak peaks or menu updates?
MM: We are bringing back some grain bowls, warmer salads and the lunch special of a cup soup, a salad and a half sandwich. We want to keep the things people love while keeping it fresh.
CR: Let’s talk more about the partnership between A Little More and Philter. Will this be a long-term collaboration?
CT: At least for the next three years.
MM: I would not be able to do this without Chris. I did not have the capital to start my own business. I’m only here because Chris was able to lease me that space. He’s been very patient as I’ve navigated through running my own business.
CT: I found this when I was cleaning up my office the other day... (Chris disappeared then quickly re-emerged from the kitchen with a crinkled strip of paper with the original mission for Philter typed onto it.) “To provide our guests and community with a comfortable place to enjoy high quality coffee and food, delivered with sincere hospitality, and to provide a workplace that is supportive of our employees’ individual pursuits and growth.”
CR: I love that you invest in the creative community, and everyone invests in you.
CT: That was my philosophy in hiring.
MM: I don’t think everyone who works here realizes that our regular customers are invested in our lives and supporting us. I’ve met customers’ grandchildren. You don’t get that everywhere.
CT: The things I needed to do to get through a very strange time took away a big part of what made this place special. When we brought our furniture back in after the pandemic, I just stood behind the counter and smiled, because it felt so right.

Photo courtesy of Philter