Make It on Our Own

Cheesemakers and winemakers. Breweries and distilleries. Bakers and coffee roasters. A journey into the warehouses of Kensington, where artisan upstarts are breathing new life into Philadelphia’s food scene.

18 min read

On a corner in Kensington, next to a parking lot and behind a chain link fence, a white brick box of a building seems quiet from the sidewalk. Inside, though, past the pollinator garden blanketing the front yard with sage and beach plum and lavender, Perrystead Dairy hums with the production of Yoav Perry's American original cheeses. 

It's a tiny operation. Cheesemakers wearing white coats and plastic gloves fill trays with soft cubes of Intergalactic, a cow's milk cheese with a wrinkled rind and fluffy, cloud-like core. Behind them, a refrigerated shipping container is where fresh milk — straight from herds of grass-fed Guernseys grazing on family-run farms some 80 miles away — is transformed into those cubes and a handful of other signature cheeses, part of the ever-evolving parade of ideas that runs through Perry's curd-obsessed brain.


Perry opened his urban dairy — one of only a few in the US — in 2021 after relocating to Philly from Manhattan. There he had traded his career as a graphic designer for one in specialty foods and got serious about his burgeoning cheesemaking hobby. But when he started looking for spaces in New York City to launch a creamery, he didn't see a future.

"The numbers were not adding up," he says, voice raised over the beans he's grinding to make us fresh lattes. "It was just never gonna happen."

Instead, Perry moved with his family to Philadelphia's Fishtown and found both a thriving cheese community — one he says "doesn't exist anywhere else" — and a formerly industrial swath of the city ripe for building on his vision of an urban dairy, buying the best milk from nearby Pennsylvania farms and making cheeses inspired by European traditions, but in a uniquely American style. Or really, uniquely Philadelphian.

"My first thought was, 'Well, if I'm going to do this in the city, I need to do it in my backyard,'" he says. "The potential is here, I've seen this neighborhood changing even in the short time that we've been here."


Perrystead is one of a growing group of makers who have set up shop in this section of Philly. A density of hulking old warehouses and factories that once churned out things like barrels, pottery, and textiles have made plum homes for a new generation of manufacturers. The cheesemakers join Lost Bread bakery and mill, Mural City Cellars, New Liberty Distillery, Human Robot Brewery, Càphê Roasters Vietnamese coffee roastery, and dozens more that encompass a new maker's corridor, reviving a long tradition of creation and innovation, and fueling the city's exalted culinary scene along the way. 

In the first half of the 18th century, a prime stretch along the Delaware River drew shipbuilders and shad fishermen, the latter inspiring the name of the neighborhood Fishtown. More than a century later, just after the Civil War, the area boomed with manufacturers, becoming an industrial engine propelling the city’s economic growth. Around the mid-19th century, newly-built highways contributed to a suburban exodus, and by 1975, upwards of three quarters of these industrial jobs vanished. What remained, though, was the cavernous brick structures that would lay dormant for decades. 

Mural City Cellars 2

In more recent years, some of these buildings have become communal small business and maker spaces, like Globe Dye Works in Frankford, which opened in 2019. In a building where yarn was dyed and wound for nearly a century and a half, tenants like Fishtown Pickle Project make jars of habanero dill and seasonal giardiniera. Two miles south in Kensington, MaKen Studios, a former textile mill, is now home to small batch creators. Among them is New June Bakery, known for its ornate frosting-cloaked layer cakes, and Good Good Chocolates, whipping up small batch bars and bonbons infused with other local goodies like Okie Dokie donuts and Soom tahini. 

Mural City Cellars 1

These maker spaces, says Francesca Galarus, "harken back to this neighborhood being a manufacturer's neighborhood." The landscape of available old warehouses was a main draw for Galarus and her partner Nicholas Ducos to set down roots in Kensington, with both their home and new business, a winery called Mural City Cellars. 

When I meet the young couple in the winery, they're sitting amid stainless steel tanks and rows of French Oak barrels, imported from Burgundy and filled with red from Philadelphia — specifically Mural City's 2023 vintage. Ducos is eating a rushed lunch of chips and salsa while attempting to fix a broken Zambelli wine pump, the dissected bits of the machine laid out in front of him. 

"My job is half electrician, half mechanic," he says. The winemaker doesn't have prior experience fixing broken machinery, he tells me, but as part of being a small business owner "you just have to do it."

Mural City Cellars 3

Galarus and Ducos met in Miami, bonding over a passion for wine. But as they began making plans to open their own winery, not only were they priced out of Miami, but the coastal city didn't feel like a fit in other ways. 

"What we were trying to do with the locality of it just didn't really resonate with the transient residents," says Galarus. "We also realized that we'd have to source our grapes from much further away, like South America." 

And so they moved to Philly, where she grew up. 

The lack of transience in Philly — the city is one of the most homegrown of any of its big city counterparts — can also make it harder to break in. "But once you're in, it's like you can't break out," she says. "And maybe that's a good thing."

In 2021, the couple opened their urban winery, bringing in grapes from a dozen or so vineyards within 300 miles of the city. Ducos, who worked at wineries in Napa and New Zealand, makes about a dozen varieties of wine, including a skin contact Pinot Gris and a juicy Chambourcin. In just a few years since opening, they've been able to expand the business, with a tasting room and seasonal wine garden — a testament to the supportive community as much as the popular wine.

Francesca Galarus

"Philly really embraces its own, loves its own. Philadelphians are so open to exploring food and beverage, people are excited and interested. And you don't get that everywhere."

Francesca Galarus, Co-Owner, Mural City Cellars

"Philly really embraces its own, loves its own," says Galarus, noting that instead of facing skepticism for their Pennsylvania wine, they found an audience eager to sample it. "Philadelphians are so open to exploring food and beverage, people are excited and interested. And you don't get that everywhere."

Among the city's restaurants featuring Mural City is Bloomsday, a cafe and wine bar about three miles south in the Old City neighborhood. Sommelier D'Onna Stubblefield was drawn to the brand first for its locality, something co-owner Zach Morris champions. But it goes beyond a commitment to sustainability.

"It's also just embracing people who are brave enough to create wine in these areas that aren't as well-known as their classic counterparts," she says. "It's a very Philadelphia thing to say, 'Fuck you, watch this.'" 

The bar's draft line is stocked with red, white, orange and rosé — rotating but always local. Out of seven wines by the glass on the menu, Stubblefield likes to have at least two from local makers. (Mural City is the only winery in Philly, but several others operate just outside the city.) She recommends the urban winery's Pinot Gris with Bloomsday's lemon pepper wings, and says the Chambourcin Nouveau goes well with their dry-aged burger. And while most of her customers are excited to learn that these wines are crushed and aged in an industrial building right here in Kensington — instead of, say, a bucolic swath of Tuscany — she does get some doubters.

"That's where our enthusiasm for the project comes up," she says. "We have a lot of repeat customers who come back and say, 'I had that wine. It was so good, I can't believe it.'"

Besides reducing their carbon footprint and appealing to an eager hometown audience, direct access to the makers is another boon to working with a local winery. The somm has visited Mural City to taste through their catalog, tour the facility, and ask questions about their process. 

"It's a gift that you have that winemaker right in front of you," says Stubblefield, adding that it’s also easier to offer feedback and give the maker insights into what customers really want. "You don't have that with winemakers who are overseas."

The close proximity between makers and restaurants can also foster innovation, like when Brandon Thrash, general manager of Middle Child Clubhouse, was talking with Yoav Perry about whey — a protein-rich byproduct of cheesemaking that usually gets tossed. Thrash, who has spent time working in bars from Chicago to San Francisco, thought the cloudy liquid might make a good replacement for egg whites, adding body and texture but making cocktail prep easier. After testing his theory in a Bee's Knees, and finding it was " the most silky, velvety Bee's Knees cocktail I've ever had," Thrash tapped Perrystead for the magic ingredient. 

Brandon Thrash

"This is why I'm in Philadelphia — you have all of the advantages of a big metropolitan city. But it's still neighborhood-centric and community oriented."

Brandon Thrash, General Manager, Middle Child Clubhouse

"We would walk over to the creamery, they would give us a few quarts of the extra whey in their fridge, and we'd walk it back to the restaurant," he says. "This is why I'm in Philadelphia — you have all of the advantages of a big metropolitan city. But it's still neighborhood-centric and community oriented." 


In the spirit of championing another neighborhood business, the top shelf behind the bar at Middle Child is dedicated to Jacquin's, the oldest cordial producer in America, founded in 1884 and still operating from a historic building in Kensington, about a mile and a half north of the restaurant. They use the brand's crème de menthe and crème de cacao in frozen cocktails.

Using what's nearby to spur the creative process and create something new is in itself a boon to the city's food scene.

Harnessing regional ingredients, like the grapes for Mural City wine and Pennsylvania milk in Perrystead's cheese, works to combat an increasing homogeneity in the culinary space, says Alex Bois, baker and owner of Lost Bread Co. 

"I don't like that you can just call up an ingredient company and get every ingredient everywhere, always," he says one afternoon, as he's navigating me on a tour of the bakery, past massive bags of organic rolled oats and industrial ovens and racks of cooling pretzel shortbread. "It creates this stratification where every high end restaurant gets their uni all from the same big source, their yuzu. I find it depressing."


Bois started his bakery soon after moving to Philadelphia in 2017, and mills much of the grains he gets from farms in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region. Besides benefits like sustainability, and supporting the state's farms, it's a way to "celebrate differences," he says. "You'd rather just figure out how to make it work with local stuff. And in the process, you create something that's different and interesting." 

For their seasonal panettone, Bois and his team use stone-milled local flour which lends a cake-like texture, denser than the traditional Italian holiday dessert. They sell it, along with a host of baked goods like potato fougasse, spelt challah, and pretzel shortbread directly to customers at farmers markets around Philadelphia and New York City, as well as to some restaurants, like Pumpkin BYOB in Graduate Hospital. 

"Alex is the kind of person we root for," says Ian Moroney, the chef and co-owner of the restaurant, and one of Lost Bread's oldest customers. "The provenance of his ingredients, the consistency of his recipes — it's artisanal in the truest sense. We use Lost Bread because we are a better restaurant because of it."


As the area has drawn back small businesses, the inevitable influx of restaurants and developers has followed. In the three years since Mural City opened, the neighborhood, once awash in the sturdy bones of behemoth brick factories, is rapidly flipping into residential condos. And even with the city’s zoning mandate that the ground floor has to be retail business, many of these makers aren't quite a fit. 

"As development is growing, we're losing those spaces, and they're being replaced with much-needed housing," says Allison Carafa, director of operations at Lost Bread Co. "But the retail spaces that are being put into those are not at a scale that a business like us would be able to move into, and the price point that is asked for new construction is far beyond what any small business without a wealthy backer could ever afford." 

Still, there are holdouts who believe manufacturers should live on in the neighborhood. Mural City has found a landlord who wants to keep the winemakers here, as has Lost Bread, for now. It's an essential part of sustaining a food scene that's rich and diverse and innovative. 

Since opening, Perrystead has won eight international medals for its cheeses. It's sold at Whole Foods Markets from Maine to Virginia. It’s frequently on the menu at Marc Vetri's eponymous fine dining Italian restaurant in Center City, as well as at beloved neighborhood bar Martha down the street in Kensington. 

Once in a while, Perry will call Amanda Shulman, who runs the award-winning My Loup with her husband Alex Kemp, and say, "I made this tiny batch of cheese, we're testing it out, but it's going to be too expensive for me to make it on a regular basis. So it's an exclusive — you'll be the only place on the planet to have it on your menu." And of course, she takes it. 

The cheesemaker has also perfected a "Real Philly Schmear" — a local answer to the ubiquitous grocery store cream cheese that was never actually made in this city. He sells to retail markets like Riverwards Produce (a champion of local products with locations in Fishtown and Old City), and restaurants like High Street, where executive chef Christina McKeough uses it for her made-from-scratch bialys on the brunch menu. 

High Street, owned by restaurateur Ellen Yin along with Fork and, has been operating for more than a decade, championing a bounty of locally-made products both on the menu at the all day cafe and in their take-away shop. 

"It feels very exciting to support all these small producers that are right in our community, that are just really doing amazing things, and giving them a platform here," says McKeough. "Oftentimes restaurants look so far for the best things, when they're actually in your backyard."

About Secret Menu

We created Secret Menu, a print and digital magazine from DoorDash, on the belief that one restaurant's story can help or inspire another. We're proud to elevate stories that connect local restaurant communities and celebrate the craft and ingenuity that makes them so vibrant here on the Merchant Blog. Read more Secret Menu stories here.


Regan Stephens
Regan Stephens

Philadelphia-based writer

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