Every morning at 4:30 a.m., Vagrant Coffee Founder Josh Dew starts his day with—you guessed it—a cup of Vagrant coffee.
Dew’s daily fix? A cortado with a little bit of simple syrup.
He describes himself as “permanently nomadic," a living, breathing manifestation of Vagrant’s philosophy. He divides his time between the shop’s four brick–and–mortar stores and events that Vagrant hosts across the country, everywhere from Palm Springs to New York and Las Vegas. Three of Vagrant’s four stores are located in Baltimore—the fourth is our neighbor in West Philadelphia.
Vagrant’s mission is in the name: to be a specialty coffee company that can take everything that's in the café outside of the café and to any desired location.
“It’s something that’s super unique in the specialty coffee world,” Dew says. “Whether it’s an event, a party, something at school, church, whatever or wherever, we can do the same thing [there] that we do in the café. Being mobile and on demand in that way is very uncommon, especially to scale and on short notice without lots of scheduling and planning.”
The ability to be flexible is the principle on which Dew founded Vagrant in 2017. In fact, the shop didn’t even enter the brick–and–mortar space until 2019. They exclusively catered special events for two years before opening their three Baltimore stores in 2019 and 2020.
Vagrant has hosted every variety of special event, from kids' birthday parties, to funerals, to receptions on private yachts. Before chatting with me on Zoom, Dew catered Vagrant for an event that convened all the principals in the School District of Philadelphia. “If you name it, we’ve done it,” he laughs.
The West Philly location opened in November 2020, and it grew exponentially in popularity throughout the 2021 spring semester. By the time finals rolled around, you couldn’t find a seat in the shop if you didn’t show up early enough in the day.
Caleb McCurley, the manager of the West Philly location, started working there in April 2021.
His coffee order? An Americano—iced in the summer, hot in the winter.
One of the first things McCurley noticed on his arrival was how diverse and bubbly Vagrant's Philly patrons are. “There are definitely lots of college students that come from all over West Philly,” he says. “One of the things that’s great about college is that people are excited about life. They have lots of dreams and ways they want to help change the world, which helps keep the energy up in the café.”
His favorite part of the job is interacting with customers, whether it be chatting with regulars about their day or meeting new patrons who have never heard of Vagrant before.
Vagrant’s West Philly location is across the street from Clark Park, the perfect place to camp out and grind if you have time to make the walk. From the natural light streaming in from the floor–to–ceiling windows to the assortment of house plants scattered around the shop, Vagrant's ambiance makes the space feel homey and inviting.
But most importantly, Vagrant's coffee is absolutely delicious. This is true not only of their classic Americano, but also of their various unique flavors like vanilla mint mocha, caramel, and honey graham. And for all the lactose intolerant or dairy–averse people, fear not—oat and almond milk are also available. What's more, if coffee isn’t your fancy, Vagrant has a variety of teas, as well as a blueberry syrup sweetener made in house. The menu is complete with delicious homemade smoothies, pastries, and sandwiches. (My favorites are the turkey apple & brie and the jalapeño grilled cheese.)
To Dew, Vagrant isn't just a realization of his love for coffee. “I definitely love coffee, but more than coffee, I love people," he says. "I love to see people come together, and I like to create opportunities for that to happen. And coffee is a really great vehicle to make that happen.”
As the pandemic's hold on socializing loosens, safe coffee dates are a great way to reconnect with old classmates and get to know new ones. For those who are back on campus this fall, consider grabbing a cup of joe from Vagrant—and maybe bring a friend or two with you.