In an interview with Street last semester, Eastern State Penitentiary Vice President and Director of Operations Brett Bertolino spoke fondly of the vendors the Penitentiary employs for Halloween Nights—in particular, his soft admiration for the mission–based coffee shop The Monkey and The Elephant immediately piques my interest. Despite being located in Brewerytown, a sector of Philadelphia I have yet to visit in my Penn career, it registers as an immediate must–try.
The Monkey and The Elephant, which opened in 2015, is Philly’s first and only non–profit cafe aiming to provide former foster youth with the “personal and professional skills, employment, and the supportive community needed to lead a sustainable, independent life.” Every purchase contributes to their Café program, which enables these individuals to pursue paid professional development and part–time jobs as employees. The Pennsylvania State Resource Family Association reports that one in four PA youth who “age out” of the system experience homelessness and mental health challenges among other obstacles, highlighting the gravity of the cafe’s work.
At its heart is its mission, yet this hidden gem is more than the charitable spirit that its founder Lisa Miccolis exemplifies: The cumulative effort of its staff makes it an excellent choice for coffee and homemade goods. It’s a high–quality establishment, boasting a program that only adds to its appeal.
Upon my visit, I start with my go–to, and a definitive classic: hot chocolate. Made with House Chocolate, a cinnamon–y alternative to plain chocolate, it's smooth, rich, and foamy; the cinnamon adds a distinctive and delicious flair—a perfect complement to the coffee cake I order next, another item that's balanced, crumbly, and, most importantly, just plain tasty.
Coupled with a whole milk latte, I then sample their maple scone. With a taste reminiscent of warm, home–baked cookies on Christmas Day, it’s as comforting as it is flavorful. Every bite feels especially tailored to you, bringing you a tiny bit closer to the community The Monkey and The Elephant has taken so much care to build. The latte is creamy and luscious—a wonderful match for the sugary scone.
The first–rate brewed drinks and pastries are enough to almost completely neglect the picturesque room where you're seated; in fact, the coffee shop’s atmosphere is one of its best attributes. Plants are draped on the furniture, culminating in a feeling akin to relaxation despite my busy schedule. Though the weather doesn't permit me to see it for myself, their outdoor garden with a mural by self–taught artist Sophia Roach is hailed for its beauty and is one of the cafe’s proudest features. A stunning Black Lives Matter mural painted by an associate of the shop illustrates its all–inclusive values: They aren’t afraid to make a very public statement, and it’s wonderful to see an organization stick by its community.
If coffee isn’t your go–to drink, fret not: The Monkey and The Elephant still has plenty to offer. In addition to serving delectable baked goods and paninis, every month it transforms into a venue for BIPOC artists to present their work, and offers a supportive community in which these talents can flourish. And if you’re unable to make the trek to Brewerytown, they also have an online shop with merchandise varying from assorted teas to t–shirts that you can purchase in order to support the cafe.
Above all, this cozy non–profit is a slice of home, though perhaps a nontraditional one; its fresh yet familiar menu, eccentric plant decor, and, most importantly, friendly and diligent staff come together to provide a heartwarming experience. They tend to this secret garden with the utmost care—it’s beautiful and lively not only in its ambiance but in what it stands for. It’s a bit of a walk from University City, but nonetheless, the Penn community should pay a visit to Philly’s most inspirational (and perhaps, most approachable) coffee shop.
TL;DR: Philly’s first and only non–profit cafe that supports and employs former foster youth is worth the trek.
Location: 2831 W. Girard Ave.
Hours: Closed on Mondays, 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays