He’s a big fan of coffee.
We meet at Saxby’s. He wears a plaid blue shirt, sneakers, a Penn cap, with a hefty–looking Patagonia snug on his back. It’s 8:46 a.m. on a Wednesday and Andrew Baltrus (C ‘19), better known as Drew, looks ready to head off to his 9 a.m. But Drew isn’t headed to class—in fact, he doesn’t have class at all today. Instead, Drew is headed to Sidecar, a small tech company whose Salesforce he’s run since his sophomore summer.
We leave Saxby’s empty–handed; there’s “better coffee” closer to his workplace, which sits adjacent to City Hall. It’s a 2.2 mile trek, a walking commute that takes him around 30 to 45 minutes each way. He uses SEPTA when the weather’s shoddy, but it’s early April and beautiful. Plus, his bike’s rusted.
This coming May, Drew will graduate with a B.A. in economics from the College and an engineering entrepreneurship minor from the School of Engineering. Over the past four years, Drew has been involved with Kite and Key, Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault (MARS), undergraduate research, local politics, and TA–ing for an MBA entrepreneurship course. In July, he’ll begin a product management job in Austin, Texas, a big move for someone who's bled Philly green his whole life. There’s a lot to look back on, and Philadelphia to say goodbye to, but Drew has always tried to live without regrets.
As we walk, he tells me about single origin coffee and roasting processes and how he prefers Ethiopian beans from the Yirgacheffe region because of how light and tea–like they brew. “I like coffee a lot,” he admits, which is a bit of an understatement. He tells me that he’s leaving for Austin during Memorial Day Weekend—he’ll take a road trip with his girlfriend of five years and the poodle, Jojo, they spontaneously got over Christmas. They’ll stop in Louisville for the distilleries, Memphis for the country music, Dallas for the family.
Drew doesn’t have any major post–graduation travel plans, but ideally, he’d be on the first plane to the Galápagos. “Really dorky,” he acknowledges, but he wants to see the finches and stand in a place not “touched by man.” He’s a big fan of nature—the pure, the preserved.
For someone so into nature, isn’t Philly a bit shabby in terms of green space?
Drew’s hand flies up, poised to correct. “See!” he declares, with the force of a native Philadelphian, “Philadelphia actually has some of the most green space for a big city. I’m just standing up for my city.” There’s Fairmount Park; Wissahickon Valley Park is great for hiking. Even Penn Park is good for the occasional pick–up soccer game.
When we pass one of the many Starbucks on Penn’s campus, Drew tells me that he’s thankful for the path that Starbucks paved—“they educated a lot of people about coffee”—but his true vote lies with his wallet. Starbucks does not have his true vote. Metropolitan Bakery or United By Blue are Drew’s campus go–to’s, but the real good stuff is downtown.
Drew is downtown pretty often, or at the very least, not at Penn; he estimates that he spends 75% of his waking hours off campus.
“I have two lives, it feels like sometimes,” he says. There’s his job, which takes him down to Center City three out of five weekdays. Drew hangs out with a lot of his high school friends too, who are based around Fishtown and East Passyunk; his girlfriend graduated from Swarthmore College last year and works in the area too.
Although he’ll be 1,600 miles from home in a month, “Philly will always be a part of me,” Drew says. “It’s goodbye right now, but it’s not forever.” He’ll miss the sports, the culture, even the pickle bar and milkshakes at Joe’s Steaks in Fishtown. “I feel sad that a lot of students don’t get out and explore and fall in love with the city,” Drew adds. It can be a bit frustrating when friends only want to go to the same “six places around campus.”
Drew’s college experience is distinctly shaped by his love for the city, but he hadn’t always wanted to come to Penn. He’s lived in Norristown his whole life, a suburb half an hour northwest of Penn, and was “looking at schools very far from Philadelphia. [He] wanted to leave.” His top picks were New York University and Claremont McKenna College in California. “But I’m very happy I didn’t go to California,” he clarifies. “I don’t have California vibes.”
At his parents’ bidding, Drew took the train in to Penn the October of his senior year. While on campus, he “found twenty dollars on the ground, which is pretty cool. I guess it paid for part of my application.” He ended up applying early decision.
Drew lived in Riepe College House his freshman year as part of the Integrated Studies Program. There, he met his hallmate Andrea Barreras, C ‘19, who would later become one of his closest friends at Penn.
Andrea recalls meeting Drew on the first day of school. “He kind of stumbles around from this soccer accident he had. And I thought he was just the frattiest person ever,” she says (“funny in retrospect,” because Drew had come into college intent on not joining Greek life). They started chatting about “philosophy, I think. Then he built this bookshelf for my room, and I was like, huh. Interesting.”
Freshman year was no cakewalk; “a lot of kids in college don’t have a full understanding of their sense of self yet. And I was really interested in that ‘see and be seen’ crowd,” Drew admits. Freshman identity crisis aside, college is “linearly going well.”
We enter the La Colombe on 19th Street—it’s bustling at 9:20 a.m., with lots of suits milling about with their lattes. Dimly lit, too, just like Elixr Coffee—another one of Drew’s Center City faves. He files into line and adds money to his cash card—“I get a dollar off at every coffee shop,” he explains.
As he waits, Drew tells me some of his funkier moments at Penn. Like that time he ran into Hasan Minhaj near the Inn at Penn, where Minhaj had been staying for the Democratic National Convention. Minhaj had asked him for directions to HipCityVeg. Drew, of course, complied, then told Minhaj how much he loved him and his work. “So, like, I’m taking all responsibility for why he has a Netflix show,” Drew laughs. He turns to the barista.
“Can I do a pure black and chocolate croissant?” he asks.
Drew wasn’t there when Minhaj gave a talk at Penn. “I haven’t done a lot of the SPEC events when they do talks with people, and I talk about how they’re great on tours, but I’ve just never gone to any of them.” He’s a bit miffed that he missed Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski last month; he’s a recent convert to the show. “I was like, I’m not going to watch this. I don’t get it. I don’t need to watch a makeover show.” Drew shakes his head. “And it’s so awesome.”
Still, nothing compares to what happened to him earlier this year. “I was walking back to work after I got a coffee,” Drew describes, “and he was getting in his car ‘cause he lives in the building next to where I work. There was no on else in the street at all!”
The ‘he’ in question? Only “the hero of my life,” Philadelphia 76ers’ center Joel Embiid.
“I named my dog after him,” Drew admits, which is crazy because the goldendoodle that basketball star Joel got last month looks nearly identical to Drew's dog. Embiid's dog is unfortunately not named Drew—“that would be really weird; also Drew is kind of a weird dog name, it’s almost like too much of a person.”
Coffee and bagged croissant in his left hand, we stroll onto Chestnut Street.
“I don’t know if he reads 34th Street, but if he does—”, Drew lifts the voice recorder closer to his mouth; he clearly has something important to impart. He addresses Embiid directly: “we should be dog best friends. I know I’m leaving soon, but any time you’re in Austin, you have a place to stay.”