Try These Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurants Around the Western Suburbs

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You’ll find some of the tastiest vegetarian options and meatless cuisine at these Main Line area restaurants.

For Main Line area eaters looking to stay healthy, support family members or avoid consuming meat, these eateries offer everything from a quick snack to fine vegetarian dining at suppertime.

Azie

217 W. State St., Media, (610) 566-4750

 

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Azie offers vibrant dishes in a chic atmosphere. For an appetizer, the mushroom dumpling soup dazzles with traces of truffle essence. The Azie fried rice, drunken noodles and gourmet tempura cauliflower bowl are among the sumptuous entrée options.

The Black Cat Café

42 Berkley Rd., Devon, (610) 688-1930


Not only does Black Cat Café serve excellent vegetarian cuisine, it also took home our 2023 Best of the Main Line Award for gluten-free fare. This quaint café satisfies breakfast enthusiasts with its eggs, omelets and French toasts. Try the standout vegetarian chili, and make sure to grab a cup of coffee. Bonus: proceeds benefit P.A.L.S. Pet Adoption and Lifecare Society.

Ekta Indian Cuisine

1003 ½ W. Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr, (610) 581-7070

 

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Flavorful dishes and generous portions leave customers wanting more. Numerous vegetarian options like the well-spiced mutter paneer and the delectable malai kofta, are sure to satisfy vegetarian palates.

Greyhound Cafe

81 Lancaster Ave., Malvern, (610) 240-0222


Not only is every dish served at Greyhound Cafe vegetarian, but they are all 100-percent vegan, too. Supporting local activism and vegan charities, this eatery makes it easy to adhere to dietary restrictions and lifestyle choices. Favorites include the pesto “chicken,” Greyhound salad and vegan lovers pizza.

Nectar

1091 Lancaster Ave., Berwyn, (610) 725-9000


Sleek in design and scrumptious in taste, Nectar serves up top-notch Asian fusion cuisine. The hip spot offers vegetarian small plates and rolls, along with a standalone vegetarian menu. The vegetarian wok tofu features kung pao-style tofu, and the vegetable fried rice is a crowd favorite.

Roots Cafe

133 E Gay St., West Chester, (610) 455-0100

 

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Our vaunted Best of the Main Line winner this year for vegetarian food, this classic West Chester eatery has been serving green cuisine since 2013. Roots Cafe focuses on sourcing local ingredients and supporting farmers. The burrata is an excellent way to warm up your palate while a myriad of larger options like the mushroom hash or vegan gyro satisfy even the most voracious appetites.

Tabouli

120 Coulter Ave., Ardmore, (610) 896-3800

 

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Homemade Middle Eastern comforts are on offer at Tabouli. Placing emphasis on fresh and local produce, Tabouli caters to vegetarians, vegans and those who eat gluten- and dairy-free. Start with the bourekas (a stuffed mushroom or potato pastry), falafel pita or fresh beet salad. Tabouli is a fan of stuffed vegetables, and the entrée-sized stuffed pepper and falafel serve as dinner options.

Related: The Main Line Area Bakeries With the Sweetest Gluten-Free Treats

French Creek Racing Supports Open-Water Swimmers

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Photos courtesy Tessa Marie Images

French Creek Racing has become a year-round haven for open-water swimmers like 66-year-old Madelaine Sayko.

The first time Madelaine Sayko broke the 30-second mark for swimming 25 meters, it was a watershed moment for her. High-fives, jubilance and celebration followed from her cohorts at French Creek Racing. “It was just one second better than my previous best, but I earned that second,” says the 66-year-old Radnor resident. “After that, I started thinking about all the other seconds—and second chances—in my life that I’d had but maybe didn’t appreciate.”

One of them was surviving 9/11. Sayko was standing on the concourse on her way into work at the World Trade Center that fateful day when the second plane hit the opposite side of the building. Then there was surviving her first open-water swim in what the uninitiated would figure is a nasty Schuylkill River. Muddy, murky … She was terrified. “I thought evil dead people were going to reach up and pull me under,” says the self-described “adult onset swimmer.” “Now, I don’t think that at all. No limits. One guy here is 82; one woman’s 73. They’re fantastic swimmers.”

Sayko is among the many French Creek Racing devotees. She’s also a volunteer and club ambassador. Spending her career in organizational management, she now works for Main Line Unitarian Church in Devon. She came to French Creek Racing during the pandemic, and it’s changed her life. She recently gave a guest sermon at her church. She titled it, “Everything Is Different: Eight Lessons I Learned from Swimming.”

An open-water competitive organization based in Bridgeport, French Creek Racing was founded in 2012 by John Kenny, a professional triathlete, a five-time U.S. national open-water champion and a seven-time national team member. Its members compete in triathlons and other major events. FCR races draw up to 300 participants. The organization has about 20–30 regulars, and it also offers lessons and regimented practices.

Madelaine Sayko
Madelaine Sayko

Warmer weather expands swimming options. Beginning April 1, members hit the Schuylkill on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, entering near Valley Forge National Historical Park in the shadow of Route 422. Members also swim at Upper Merion Township’s outdoor pool in King of Prussia, at Wynnewood’s Kaiserman JCC, in Delaware’s Newark Reservoir, indoors at Villanova University and in the heated outdoor pool at Broomall’s Lawrence Park Swim Club. “Everyone can find somewhere close to home,” says Kenny.

“We get all walks of life. Experiencing it is the biggest thing. We try to make it fun—in a fun environment with lively people. If you enjoy yourself, you’re more likely to come back.”
—French Creek Racing’s John Kenny

The only constraints are pool and lifeguard availability. As a remedy, many members are already certified in lifesaving. Sayko is getting certified—“as a lifeguard, not for insanity,” she says.

Initially, swimming outdoors in the winter at Lawrence Park sounded insane to Sayko. But she’s come to love it. Her first time swimming in Broomall, there was a huge snowstorm. Members shoveled off the deck and hopped in. “Nothing’s more fun than swimming in the middle of a snowstorm,” Sayko says. “It’s the oddity and uniqueness. We took a break and made snow angels.”

FCR also hosts races in Hopewell Lake at French Creek. Running May–August, its six-race open-water series covers distances of up to 1,600 meters. “There are a lot of options for someone to get involved, and anyone can do it. Some shy away, or say, ‘I’m too old. I’m too overweight.’ Or they say they have no motivation or no time,” says Kenny, who’s 42. “But we get all walks of life. Experiencing it is the biggest thing. We try to make it fun—in a fun environment with lively people. If you enjoy yourself, you’re more likely to come back.”

A Pennsylvania state high school champion in the pool, Kenny swam at Cornell University and spent 10 years on Atlantic City’s beach patrol. He’s competed in open-water swimming at the Olympic Trials, the Pan American Games, the Pacific Championships, various World Cups and more. “I’ve been doing it forever,” he admits.

Kenny is a Type A personality. Perhaps open-water swimming requires it? “Partly true,” Sayko says. “But you’re also more childlike in the water. It brings out the kid in everyone.”

Sayko was a frequent runner and cyclist whose knees began to give out. At the time, she was largely a loner in her recreational pursuits. She learned she couldn’t survive alone, and her identity and self-esteem have gained significant traction with FCR. “I’ve done triathlons wearing FCR outfits, and people stop me and say, ‘Oh, John Kenny and FCR,’” she says. “At pools everywhere, people stop me and say, ‘Oh, you’re that lady who swims outdoors.’”

Madelaine Sayko swimming

“It’s a holy moment to swim outdoors when the sun’s coming up, OR in the middle of a snowstorm—or to see the sun light up the river’s stream.”
— Madelaine Sayko

Kenny acknowledges the social component, which took a hit during the pandemic. “At first, a lot of people were doing it by themselves—the return was gradual,” Kenny says. “It built in 2022, and we’ve continued to build it back from there.”

Since the pandemic, anecdotal evidence suggests that outdoor swimming and participation in triathlons have grown. “I do a lot of reading about outdoor swimming around the world,” Sayko says. “Europe opened a lot of outdoor pools. With COVID, it was hard to get into gyms, and you couldn’t have contact with others. Outdoors, athletes could still be engaged.”

For Sayko, there’s something about water that’s comforting, peaceful, rhythmic—especially the river, though it provides a different experience than a pool. “There’s a muddy river floor below—and critters,” she says. “But I think of the river as even more peaceful, though you also have to be conscious of how strong the water can be.”

Despite her job at the church, Sayko doesn’t describe herself as religious. “But it is a holy moment to swim outdoors when the sun’s coming up, or in the middle of a snowstorm—or to see the sun light up the river’s steam, or someone else’s bubbles in front of you,” she says. “When you watch the seasons changing from the water, it’s an incredible experience every time.”

Visit frenchcreekracing.com.

Related: Health Center Founder Arianne Missimer Shares Her Wellness Tips

Read up on These Foodie Updates Around the Main Line in August

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An eco-friendly dining experience in Chester County, a new American hotspot in Kennett Square and more make the month delicious.

James Beard finalists Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby continue to advance their plant-based philosophy at a new Chester County complement to their successful 12-year-old Center City eatery, Vedge. Bringing new life to the former Inn Keeper’s Kitchen across from the Dilworthtown Inn outside West Chester, the rustically elegant Ground Provisions market and dining destination offers a sustainable, enviro-friendly experience.

The market is stocked with homemade wraps, kombuchas, teas, and fair-trade, local and small-batch dry goods. Its coolers are well stocked with quality wines, beers, ciders and spirits.

The rustic Ground Provisions store and restaurant just outside West Chester.
The rustic Ground Provisions store and restaurant just outside West Chester. Photo by Ed Williams.

Full-service dining is available at Ground Provisions Thursday-Saturday starting at 5 p.m. The curated five-course seasonal menus are inventive, with options like tomato fennel pie, lasagna verde, and maitake with a black-garlic glaze. There’s a full bar, or you can BYOB ($25 corkage fee). And while there’s no table service during the day, the front porch is perfect for kicking back with some food from the market. 1388 Old Wilmington Pike, West Chester, (610) 355-4411, groundprovisionspa.com.

More Nibbles: Taking over the former Verbena BYOB space in downtown Kennett Square, Sweet Amelia’s certainly looks promising. Naming the spot after their daughter, Karessa and Zack Hathaway have crafted a new American menu with highlights like spring lamb rack, tandoori-spiced tofu and steamed clams. 102 E. State St., Kennett Square. sweetameliasksq.com. Stove and Co. Restaurant Group’s Justin Weathers and Joseph Monnich are opening a second, more bar-focused Al Pastor location at the former Delaware County home of Town Tap. 13 W. Benedict Ave., Havertown, eatalpastor.com. … Lentil & Co. brings a traditional twist on Mediterranean fare to Ardmore’s impressive lineup of international eateries. At press time, it was slated to open at 44 Rittenhouse Place by the end of June.

10 Independent Bookstores for Readers Around the Main Line

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These Main Line area bookstores have something for every reader, from well-known page-turners to brand-new titles.

The Main Line region is full of bookstores stocked with a variety of exciting and informative reads. In addition to books, some of these stores offer workshops and unique collectible items for sale. Ready to embrace your inner bookworm? Here are a few top shops to check out for your next great read.

 

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The Archive

Along with secondhand books, The Archive has plenty of magazines, newspapers, postcards, records, coins and other antiques, making it perfect for browsing on a rainy Saturday afternoon. The dainty glassware, intriguing records and antiquarian novels make for perfect one-of-a-kind gifts.

725 W. 2nd St., Lansdale

Baldwin’s Book Barn

This historic four-story building is chock-full of nooks and secondhand books. Inside, you’ll find an array of New World literature, maps and prints. A wood-burning stove gives the space a warm, erudite atmosphere—though some still think it’s haunted.

865 Lenape Rd., West Chester

 

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Cathy’s Half Price Books

From signed first editions to out-of-print titles, Cathy’s is sure to be among your favorite bookstores to explore. It recently expanded to include both new and used books, as well as literary gifts and accessories. This snug shop is ideal for uninterrupted reading while sipping a hot coffee.

1305 West Chester Pke., Havertown

 

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Main Point Books

A popular location for poetry and author readings, Main Point Books curates a selection of titles that are both aesthetically and literarily beautiful. The cozy spot also offers book groups, from SciFi to Girls in Capes, which celebrates literature written by and focusing on individuals from diverse backgrounds.

116 N. Wayne Ave., Wayne

 

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Narberth Bookshop

This quaint indie bookstore fills its shelves with stories that the staff believes are valuable to locals. The Narberth Bookshop offers home delivery as well as memberships and discounts for the dedicated bookworm.

221 Haverford Ave., Narberth

 

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Open Book Bookstore

Open Book helps readers discover their next favorite story and is the perfect place to enjoy local talent or partake in a monthly book discussion. This community staple fosters its reading community with writing classes for children, book launch parties, author cabarets and literary soirees.

7900 High School Rd., Elkins Park

 

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The Spiral Bookcase

The Spiral Bookcase has become a staple in Manayunk by providing resources for local artist groups, book launches and poetry zines. Tales of magic, mythology and folklore have a special place in the shop’s heart, but its carefully curated selection offers something for everyone.

4257 Main St., Philadelphia

 

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The Title Page

Stocked with used books, antiquarian volumes and out-of-print novels, The Title Page is a book collector’s dream. Along with its wide selection of literature, The Title Page specializes in tomes relating to sporting, fine bindings and architecture.

1 Franklin St., Bryn Mawr

The Towne Book Center and Wine Bar

From its curated book guides to help you find your next great read to its wine bar stocked by a local winery, Towne Book Center approaches reading in exciting and innovative ways. With the Reading Olympics, 13 separate book clubs and multiple author readings a month, there’s always something going on at Towne Book Center for all ages. Be sure to check out the 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die book club, or simply stop by for a glass of vino and a book suggestion.

160 Market St., Ste C-6, Collegeville

Wellington Square Bookshop

Order a specialty coffee and cozy up with a good book at Wellington Square Bookshop, whose owner interviews authors on his radio show, “The Avid Reader.” With children’s story time, journaling workshops and a variety of book clubs, Wellington provides book-related activities for the whole family.

549 Wellington Sq., Exton

Related: Meet Delaware County Native and YA Novelist Diana Rodriguez Wallach

A Look at Martin Luther King Jr.’s Impact on the Main Line Region

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Sixty years ago this month, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic speech at Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial. Its repercussions on our region were far-reaching, and a Main Line university has a surprising role in its legacy.

Fresh from his playing days at Villanova University and on the brink of an assistant coaching job with the Wildcats, George Raveling made the journey to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It was Aug. 27, 1963, the day before some 250,000 activists were expected to march and demonstrate for jobs and freedom. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be the next day’s 16th speaker.

Once at the Lincoln Memorial, Raveling was asked to volunteer as a security guard. At 8 a.m. on Aug. 28, he was assigned to the speaker’s podium area, where he’d guard King, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph and march organizer Bayard Rustin. (In press photos and footage, Raveling can be seen standing to the lower left of King.)

Now in his 80s, Raveling is no longer giving interviews. “People were electrified by his words,” he once recounted. “It was one of the most emotional times I can ever recall in my lifetime.”

As King’s “I Have a Dream” speech ended, Raveling acted on impulse. “I said, ‘Dr. King, can I have that copy?’ And without saying anything, he just turned and handed it to me,” Raveling recalled. “As he did, someone came up to him and said something to him, and I stuck it in my pocket.”

George Raveling speaks at Villanova University’s 2016 commencement.
George Raveling speaks at Villanova University’s 2016 commencement. Courtesy of Villanova University.

From the early 1970s through the ’90s, Raveling would go on to become a Division I basketball coach at Maryland, Washington State, Iowa and the University of Southern California. There were also jobs as a TV analyst, positions with Nike and induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Throughout Raveling’s coaching career, his framed copy of King’s speech—1,740 typed words on three pages—hung on the walls of various campus offices.

As King’s “I Have a Dream” speech ended, raveling acted on impulse: “I said, ‘Dr. King, can I have that copy?’ And without saying anything, he just turned and handed it to me. As he did, someone came up to him and said something to him, and I stuck it in my pocket.”

In 2016, Raveling gave the commencement speech at Villanova University, where he’d graduated in 1960. Three years before that commencement appearance, he was offered more than $3 million for the speech. He declined. In 2021, Raveling gifted one of this nation’s most historic scripts to Villanova.

For its part, the university has ensured access to the speech by collaborating with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., where it’s displayed on a rotating basis. “We’re humbled and honored by this extraordinary responsibility,” said Villanova’s president, the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, in a statement released the day before the speech’s 58th anniversary in 2021. “Thanks to a group of dedicated alumni who were instrumental in ensuring George’s wishes were met, and who were committed to fulfilling a shared vision of the landmark speech’s importance, Villanova has been entrusted to provide broad access to all those who seek to learn from, and be inspired by, Dr. King’s words.”

That was the university’s final say on the matter. When not on loan, the plan is for the speech to reside in a secure location somewhere on the Villanova campus.

“Seeing the speech in person only reinforces the ways King was a brilliant rhetorician and inspiring leader,” says Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which has welcomed more than 7 million visitors since opening on the National Mall in 2016. “His words not only resonate today, but we can see how this version of his remarks was just a starting point for him to transform the podium into a pulpit, the speech into a sermon on history and hope, and the occasion into one for the ages.”

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
ABOUT THIS IMAGE: To generate this portrait of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., special AI software required multiple photos of MLK as a starting point. Once those were collected, our design team went to work on the position of the body, the level of realism, the clothing, the lighting and background, and even the specific camera lens they wanted to mimic. In this case, the process involved 104 initial images. The team polished and perfected as they went along to achieve the final version’s look and style. It’s difficult work, but the results are stunning.

According to museum curator Kevin Strait, Raveling’s copy was one of several drafts written by King and his advisers hours before the march began. “Slotted to be a four-minute closing to the march, it became a powerful 16-minute rallying cry for the entire civil rights movement,” he says.

Born in 1937 and raised in Washington, D.C., George Raveling didn’t play basketball until ninth grade at St. Michael’s, a Catholic boarding school founded in 1916 as an orphanage near Scranton, Pennsylvania. His father died when he was 9, and his mother was institutionalized when he was 13. His grandmother’s employer helped get him enrolled at St. Michael’s.

Raveling has contended that he experienced no instances of bigotry until his sophomore year at Villanova. During a trip south for a game, a hotel wouldn’t allow Raveling and another Black teammate to stay there. “I remember him saying to our coach, ‘If we let n—–s stay in this hotel, white people will never stay here again,’” he’s said. “In all of my life, that was the most blatant racial situation I ever dealt with. I didn’t understand that people were dealing with these horrors on a day-to-day basis. This was the start of an awakening for me.”

Raveling found his peace on and near the basketball court. An outstanding rebounder, he set Villanova’s single-game and season rebounding records in his time. The Wildcats’ captain his senior season, Raveling was featured on the cover of the 1960 media guide. He led the team to consecutive appearances in the National Invitation Tournament in 1959 and 1960. The Philadelphia Warriors took note, selecting him in the eighth round of the 1960 NBA draft. Later, he’d author two books on rebounding drills.

But coaching became Raveling’s true passion. After his years as an assistant at his alma mater, he moved on to the University of Maryland, where, in 1969, he became the first Black coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference. At Washington State from 1972 to 1983, he was the first Black basketball coach in the Pacific-8 Conference (now the Pac-12), guiding the Cougars to two NCAA tournament appearances. At Iowa, he led the Hawkeyes to consecutive 20-win seasons and NCAA tournament berths in 1985 and 1986. He was the assistant coach for the men’s basketball team at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

In 1991 and ’92, his USC Trojans advanced to the NCAA tournament, and the NIT in the two years after that. A serious car accident in 1994 led to his retirement. He now lives a private life in Los Angeles.

In his analysis of the typed version of the speech he witnessed 60 years ago, Raveling has pointed out many instances where King shortened sentences and changed words. But he stayed true to the basic content—until deviating on page three with the “I Have a Dream” part. “Once you have that dream, you have to work diligently to make that dream a reality,” Raveling has noted. “It made me realize that each of us, in our own manner, has a responsibility to fight injustice at any level of society.”

An Unlikely Pioneer for Fair Housing

Two days after MLK galvanized a quarter-million people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with his “I Have a Dream” speech, a neighborhood in Delaware County became the steamy summer setting for the Folcroft Riots of 1963. Delmar Village erupted in three days of protest in an attempt to keep a Black couple from moving into the all-white working-class enclave. A crowd of some 1,500—including children and teens—threw rocks, eggs and fireworks at Sara and Horace Baker. Police, clergy and NAACP representatives were also targeted.

Young participants in the Folcroft Riots.
Young participants in the Folcroft Riots. Courtesy of the housing equality center of Pennsylvania.

The Bakers had found their Folcroft home thanks to Margaret Hill Collins and what eventually came to be known as Suburban Fair Housing. Established by Collins with Clarence “Mike” Yarrow and Thomas B. Harvey, the nondiscriminatory real estate brokerage firm helped integrate 100 neighborhoods in suburban Philadelphia over a 20-year span beginning in 1956. In the process, Collins’ work helped inspire the passage of Pennsylvania fair housing legislation in 1961 and the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Though she came from money, Collins certainly didn’t advertise it. She drove a dilapidated station wagon (never faster than 30 miles an hour) and lived in a converted stable in the shadow of Bryn Mawr College, where she’d earned a master’s degree in social work. For one of her many housing projects, she sodded a rowhome’s lawn with turf the college gave her. As it happened, the Black owner of that home was also named Collins. It was a coincidence not lost on the woman who spent decades paving the way for local, state and federal fair-housing initiatives.

As for the Bakers, they ultimately completed their move to Folcroft. But they were harassed so regularly that they relocated to West Mount Airy three years later. “You can’t believe something like that can happen in America,” Sara’s father told a hometown newspaper.

Sixteen years after the riots, his daughter spoke to the Wilmington Morning News. “I’m still bearing the scars of that situation,” said Sara. “You just don’t erase that.”

So as not to cause a stir, Collins frequently showed homes to black clients at night. Some prospective buyers were self-declared “no pioneer” clients uninterested moving anyplace where a hostile reaction might follow.

Sara later divorced Horace, who died in 2021. She passed in 2000, keeping her Folcroft days a secret even from her son, who found out only when he came across a box of newspaper clippings in the family’s West Mount Airy attic.

Collins died in 2006 at the age of 98. “She told me about the Bakers and the horrible time they had—broken windows, sugar in gas tanks, ghastly stuff,” says Collins’ niece Polly Aird. “She felt terrible about that, but it was also her mission in life—and nothing was going to stop her.”

From the 1950s through the ’70s, there were other, less publicized incidents in our region, including several in Upper Darby and one in Drexel Hill. In Rutledge, Delaware County, a house was burned the night before its new owner—the president of the NAACP in Chester—was to move in. In Wayne, neighbors flooded a home’s basement as a message to a Black buyer. Rachel Wentworth, executive director of the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania, has fielded recent inquiries about at least one of these incidents. A successor to Collins’ Suburban Fair Housing, the center is based in Fort Washington. Its vast service area includes Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Lehigh and Northampton counties.

Today, there are fewer than 100 private nonprofit fair-housing organizations doing similar work, which entails education, investigation and enforcement. Four of them are in Pennsylvania. In essence, they’re all a product of Collins’ ingenuity. “Margaret Collins was ahead of her time,” says Wentworth. “There was a lot of opposition, so for her to make concrete changes in who lived in Philadelphia’s suburbs, I don’t think she gets the credit she’s due.”

According to the self-published chronicle 20 Years of Suburban Fair Housing by George and Eunice Grier, Collins’ organization sold 342 properties in 57 different suburban communities, with help from the Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia. Of those, 232 were “integration sales” to Blacks in white neighborhoods. A hundred of the integration sales had “pioneer” status, indicating the first Black buyer in the area. In all, 28 of the 100 pioneer sales were made on the Main Line, with another 40 in Delaware County.

So as not to cause a stir, Collins frequently showed homes to Black clients at night. Some prospective buyers were self-declared “no pioneer” clients not interested in moving anyplace where a hostile reaction might follow. Often, the hassles for Black buyers began when trying to secure mortgage loans and homeowners insurance.

A newspaper clipping shows Margaret Collins (right) with her first clients, sisters Clayda and Lucile Williams, both retired teachers.
A newspaper clipping shows Margaret Collins (right) with her first clients, sisters Clayda and Lucile Williams, both retired teachers. Courtesy of The Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania.

Then there was the problem of tracking down listings from white owners willing to sell to Black families. The Grier book tells the story of a vacant house in King of Prussia where the son of the broker posed as a gardener so the house appeared occupied to deter a Black prospect. The broker was reprimanded, and a letter of apology went out. The house was sold to a white buyer anyway.

Among Suburban Fair Housing’s biggest successes: defeating the Main Line Board of Realtors, which had barred SFH from membership and denied it access to the Multiple Listing Service. After an eight-year legal battle, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that holding a monopoly over the MLS constituted “an unreasonable restraint of trade.”

By July 1973, Collins and her organization had MLS access. Three years later, Suburban Fair Housing was dissolved, and Collins went on to acquire and renovate abandoned houses. She hired Black contractors for repairs, then structured affordable rent-to-own arrangements with families who’d encountered difficulties purchasing a home.

The impetus for Margaret Collins’ keen interest in fair housing stemmed from her friendship with Mazie B. Hall, a Black educator and civil rights advocate who lived in the Mount Pleasant section of Wayne. In the early 1950s, the two organized Quaker-sponsored fellowship weekends, inviting Black families from the city to spend time with their white counterparts in the suburbs. “If you look at the Main Line and the entire Philadelphia area, you have a juxtaposition of vast disparities in wealth—racial and economic segregation,” says the Housing Equality Center’s Wentworth. “You also have a tradition of Quaker abolitionism—a commitment to a moral, ethical interest in advancing equality.”

Collins became a Quaker in 1945 and attended Haverford Friends Meeting. She was a descendant of Isaac Collins, an esteemed Colonial-era printer, and two founders of Haverford College. “There was a long family tradition of using your wealth to do well—and not just to live well,” says Aird, whose mother was Margaret’s younger sister. “My aunt carried it on, but she was very modest about taking credit. She claimed it was the Blacks who needed credit because they stood up and tried to move into a neighborhood.”

Margaret’s father was the third-generation president of a Philadelphia coated-paper manufacturing company. Henry Hill Collins’ 500 or so factory employees were recipients of early labor benefits and perks that included breaks for milk and cookies. He lost the family business in the Depression. After her mother died a year later, Collins and her father remodeled the big house in Bryn Mawr into 10 apartments. It was her first real estate venture.

She then moved on to her grandfather’s place, also turning that into apartments. An uncle’s pony stable became her third project and future home. “She loved architecture,” says Aird. “That interest survived in my daughter, Mary, who’s an architect. She has her great-aunt’s genes.”

Now 82, living in Washington State and working as a historian, Aird never heard her aunt discuss her work, finding out about it through her parents. “She kept remodeling house after house,” notes Aird. “The worse they were, the better she liked them. She had a heart of gold, and her work was her life. She devoted everything to it.”

Nowadays, the Housing Equality Center has shifted its focus to providing services and representation to consumers. If a caller alleges housing discrimination, white and Black testers are sent to inquire about the listing, then report back on the experience. The center also trains landlords, real estate agents, local governments and social service agencies in compliance.

“We see less blatant discriminatory behavior, and few examples of outright, explicit discrimination,” Wentworth reports. “But in terms of those claiming violations, I can’t say there’s been a decrease. Most likely there’s more knowledge of—and access to—learning about your rights.”

Visit equalhousing.org.

Chester County’s MLK Connection

Actor Colman Domingo describes a telling moment in the upcoming Netflix film Rustin. Sen. Strom Thurmond, a Southern segregationist, has just spoken on the Senate floor, labeling Domingo’s character, Bayard Rustin, a communist and a pervert in a desperate attempt to derail the March on Washington. “They’re going to have to fire me, because I will not resign,” Rustin tells MLK (played by Aml Ameen) in the film. “On the day I was born Black, I was also born a homosexual. They either believe in freedom and justice for all—or they do not.”

Colman Domingo in Rustin.
Colman Domingo in Rustin. Courtesy of Netflix.

Hours later, when King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, Rustin, his trusted adviser, looked on. To this day, King’s mammoth presence in modern history continues to loom large, while Rustin’s crucial role has been largely unheralded. A West Chester native, Rustin was a Black, openly gay, war-resisting Quaker and a member of the Young Communist League. As a result, he was among American history’s most persecuted figures.

Domingo sees that as an injustice, and he cherishes his lead role in Rustin. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime [opportunity],” he says. “I’ve been such an ardent admirer of Bayard and his legacy. Everything in my own story is in his story. I know I’m the one to bring his humanity to light. I wanted to be part of making this happen.”

An even more telling moment comes at the end of Rustin. As the rest of the movement’s leaders—King, A. Philip Randolph, John Lewis, Roy Wilkins and others—head to the White House after the march, Bayard is left behind. “Think about that,” says Walter Naegle, Rustin’s executor and surviving life partner, who’s worked tirelessly to shine a light on his significant role in history.

Rustin is the first lead movie role for Domingo, a Philadelphia native and Temple University alum. He’s had previous supporting roles in Lincoln and Selma. The similarities between him and Rustin are uncanny. Not only is Domingo Black, left-handed and gay, as Rustin was, but he also shares some of the civil rights leader’s key personality traits. “People speak of me the same way, as a community builder who lifts others up, someone who’s caring, generous, flirtatious, gregarious and genial—that’s me,” says Domingo. “I feel like he laid his hands on my shoulders. Bayard still lives in people, and he lives in me. He’s been like a North Star for me, really.”

Domingo began researching Rustin after learning about him in the late-’90s play Civil Sex. “I was like, ‘Who is this figure that I didn’t hear of?’” Domingo recalls. “I felt like I was duped by my education. Why didn’t I know this?”

Domingo identifies with Rustin’s unselfish interest in doing the work of the movement without glorification. “He was a worker bee, and we made sure [in the film] that his sleeves were always rolled up and his necktie undone,” says Domingo.

Directed by George C. Wolfe, Rustin is the work of Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions. As president, Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. The film begins with dramatic images of racial turmoil from the late 1950s and early ’60s before segueing into Rustin’s plan for protests at the 1964 presidential conventions. Naegle was on set in Washington, D.C., for one scene shot on the mall to capture the morning of the march. He later attended a special screening in New York with Rachelle Horowitz, Rustin’s longtime assistant and a character in the film. “It’s fast-moving, gripping, uplifting at times,” Naegle says. “There are also moments when it’s heart-rending and difficult.”

For good reason, Naegle and Horowitz were nervous before seeing Rustin. Rustin was plagued with image problems throughout his adult life. There was his 1953 arrest on moral charges (posthumously pardoned in 2020), his communist affiliations and his two-year imprisonment as a draft-dodger. “It’s all part of the story, and we thought none of it should be dominant [in the film],” says Naegle. “There are lots of gay people, but all of that was used as obstacles to throw in his path to slow him and the movement—especially around the time of the march.

We wanted the film to be balanced appropriately. And it is, without shying away or dwelling on any one thing. It’s a blessing and preserves Bayard’s integrity. Colman gives a fine performance.”

Bayard Rustin at a press conference in 1963 relating to Martin Luther King Jr.
Bayard Rustin at a press conference in 1963. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Naegle and others continue to do everything they can to throw the spotlight on Rustin’s contributions to history. The award-winning documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin is 20 years old this year, and a British documentarian is shopping around a new proposal. The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, has a major Rustin exhibit planned for June of next year.

Longtime Rustin champion Michael G. Long has authored three new books. Unstoppable: How Bayard Rustin Organized the 1963 March and More Than a Dream: The Radical March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom are geared toward younger students. The third, Bayard Rustin: A Legacy of Protest and Politics, is a collection of essays that will be available in September through New York University Press. Naegle contributed a chapter on Bayard’s grandmother Julia Davis Rustin, who raised him in West Chester.

In Rustin’s hometown, you’ll find a state historical marker on the grounds of his alma mater, Henderson High School, and Bayard Rustin High School opened in 2006. That same year, with permission from Rustin’s estate, Black LGBT community leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area founded the Bayard Rustin Coalition to foster greater Black participation in the electoral process, advance civil and human rights issues, and promote Rustin’s legacy.

Naegle continues to battle the general public’s indifference toward Rustin, who died in 1987 of a perforated appendix at age 75. “The stuff most see is Dr. King and the speech—the stuff covered in the schools—but people were doing what Rosa Parks did 10 years earlier,” he says. “I’m not knocking her part, but it’s the way history happens.”

Ever resourceful, Rustin made his own history. “He created himself in every respect,” says Domingo. “He could sing Elizabethan songs and play the lute—and football. He went against all convention. As a Black, queer man, he forged his own path, even when so many systems were against him being what he was. And it wasn’t just outsiders in white institutions, but Black folks, too. Yet he remained smartly committed to the movement.”

“Bayard still lives in people, and he lives in me. He’s been like a north star for me, really.”
—Colman Domingo, Star of Rustin

Like Naegle, Domingo hopes Rustin will do something to inspire the next generation. “The march was the doing of ordinary people—no one was a superhero,” Domingo says. “They were human beings saying, ‘We have to do this. We have to make it happen.’ This should be an inspiration to all to have a voice and use it to galvanize.”

Ultimately, it’s about fighting the systems that “keep us apart rather than bring us together,” says Domingo. “The film calls upon our higher selves to be better angels—to see how more alike we are than unalike. It’s not a gentle reminder but a wakeup call. Take a look—politically, nationally and locally—at what’s designed to keep you out and isolated. But do it like Bayard, with grace, love, joy, and that galvanizing spirit of marching and attaching yourself to your convictions.”

Related: Celebrate Black History Month Around The Main Line

Exit 13 Gastrobar Is a Must for Pizza and Cocktails in Bryn Mawr

Photos by Ed Williams

Formerly a pizzeria, Exit 13 Gastrobar specializes in generous happy hours, loaded pizzas and good vibes all around.

Perhaps more than anything, Luciano Di Felice wants Exit 13 Gastrobar to be a fun destination. So he’s put his money where his mouth is (so to speak), offering one of the most generous happy hours in the area—a three-hour Tuesday-Friday affair with half-price drinks and ample food specials. The eldest son of Garrett Hill Pizza’s original owner, Di Felice spent three years and $2 million tricking out his pizzeria into a sleek and shiny gastropub. He gutted the entire brick structure, including the upstairs apartments, adding a vaulted ceiling, a second-floor dining area and retractable garage-style glass doors.

Potato gnocchi with pesto
Potato gnocchi with pesto
Loaded pizzas are a definite highlight of Exit 13’s repertoire.
Loaded pizzas are a definite highlight of Exit 13’s repertoire.

Di Felice named his freshly minted Italian bistro after the nearby Blue Route exit. The décor is playful, with local license plates, street signs and motorized European scooters hanging on the walls. “I’ve enjoyed that sense of freedom and fun riding small sports cars and bikes in Italy,” says Di Felice. “I wanted to give Exit 13 that feeling.”

Salmon with cabbage salad.
Salmon with cabbage salad.

In that spirit, the bar stools are actually vintage Vespa seats, complete with license plates, chrome backrests and brake lights. To be honest, they’re a bit awkward to mount at first, but they certainly are unique—much like the signature cocktails. A blend of vodka, pink lemonade and muddled lemon basil, the Summer Vespa is a drink you could ride all summer. For a bit of adventure, try the jalapeño-laced Spicy Ti-Amo Margarita.

Owner Luciano Di Felice
Owner Luciano Di Felice
Ride your way through happy hour at the bar
Ride your way through happy hour at the bar
The Old Philadelphian, Exit 13’s take on a Manhattan.
The Old Philadelphian, Exit 13’s take on a Manhattan.
Prepping wings
Prepping wings

Befitting its pizzeria roots, Exit 13’s menu is heavy on Italian specialties, and the hand-pressed pies are an obvious highlight. More oval than round, the fire-roasted crusts come loaded with fresh cheeses, imported meats and other toppings. We savored the signature Exit 13, with broccoli rabe, guanciale, pecorino, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. The Potato and ’Nduja (roasted potatoes, spreadable ’Nduja Calabrese salami, rosemary and mozzarella) was also exceptional. Pinsa-style pizza is available upon request. Its healthier, more digestible crust is crispy outside and soft inside.

Short-rib rigatoni
Short-rib rigatoni

Starters include the G.Hill Special—fried dough, shaved prosciutto, burrata, and cherry tomatoes with a balsamic glaze. The traditional bone-in wings were executed well, and the salmon and cabbage salad is a meal on its own. Among the larger plates, the chicken Parmesan, gnocchi and lasagna were all on point, though the short rib in our rigatoni dish could’ve been more tender. The dessert menu also plays it safe with traditional options. Think tiramisu, creme brûlée cake and key lime pie.

Garrett Hill Pizza founder Antonio Di Felice; Exit 13’s exterior refresh.
Garrett Hill Pizza founder Antonio Di Felice; Exit 13’s exterior refresh.

Cost: $10-$25.
Atmosphere: Vibrant yet relaxing.
Hours: Noon–9 p.m. Tuesday–Thursday, noon–10:30 p.m. Friday–Saturday, 4–9 p.m. Sunday.
Attire: Casual.
Extras: Happy hour 3–6 p.m. Tuesday–Friday, with half-price drinks and food specials. Kiosks for to-go ordering.

Exit 13’s exterior refresh.
Exit 13’s exterior refresh.

Exit 13 Gastrobar
910 Conestoga Road, Bryn Mawr
(610) 525-3842, exit13gastrobar.com

Related: Main Line Favorite Pizzeria Vetri Thrives at Its Devon Yard Location

These Hoagies Make for Top-Notch Lunches Around the Main Line

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Warning: These sandwiches will require two hands to eat. Here’s where to find the tastiest hoagies around the Main Line area.

When the lunch hour rolls around, few things satisfy quite as well as a hoagie. After all, what’s not to love about the handheld? When packed with fixings like salami, fresh mozzarella, lettuce and a drizzle of olive oil, the perfect easy meal is only a deli order away. Here’s where to go to find hoagies galore around the Main Line region.

A Cut Above

 

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Our best sandwiches of the Main Line winner for 2023, this small eatery is the perfect place to find an authentic Italian hoagie. Order the namesake hoagie, filled with prosciutto, Genoa salami, ham capocollo and provolone. For a savory bite, dig into the New Calabria, made with sweet and hot soppressata, prosciutto, dry cured capocollo, chopped olives, fresh mozzarella and a balsamic drizzle on top.

3523 W. Chester Pke., Newtown Square

Antonella’s Italian Kitchen

This casual joint has a hoagie for your every craving. The Roy is a creative take on chicken marsala, topped with spinach and provolone. Or try the Padre, a breaded chicken cutlet paired with rosemary, sweet peppers, lettuce, tomato, melted mozzarella and Russian dressing.

841 Conestoga Rd., Bryn Mawr

Bella Cucina

Bella Cucina’s Old Timer hoagie is layered with soppressata, mortadella and mozzarella. For a hot option, peruse the array of chicken cutlet sandwiches or try the roasted porchetta, meatball parm or chicken scallopini versions.

3 North Five Points Rd., West Chester

Bridgeside Deli & Grille


This Phoenixville favorite serves savory eats like homemade roast pork with broccoli rabe and provolone and a killer chicken parm. If something on the menu doesn’t strike your fancy, make your own hoagie with any number of satisfying toppings.

402 W. High St., Phoenixville

Carlino’s Specialty Foods

 

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With its artisanal cheeses and homemade fresh bread, Carlino’s hoagies will make your mouth water. For a classic, try Angela’s Choice, made with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and pesto. The Spicy Italian bursts with flavor thanks to the hot soppressata, hot capocollo and roasted red peppers. It’s perfect for a hearty lunch.

2616 E. County Line Road, Ardmore; 128 W. Market St., West Chester

Capp’s Deli

 

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Capp’s savory hoagies will keep you coming back for more. Get started with the homemade chicken salad hoagie, the hot roast beef hoagie or the tongue-in-cheek Hit the Road Jack, a grilled chicken hoagie with Montreal seasoning and chipotle mayo that’s enveloped in pepper jack cheese.

1071 Colwell Ln., Conshohocken

Jeannie’s Deli

This laid-back eatery specializes in handheld sandwiches. Flavorful chicken salad hoagies topped with bacon or avocado, plus daily specials like flounder wraps topped with pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, hot pepper and mayo are among the standouts.

2 E. Athens Ave., Ardmore

John’s Village Market


One of the oldest storefronts in Radnor Township, John’s has had plenty of time to perfect classic hoagies. Dig into options like buffalo chicken or corned beef. The homemade chicken salad is delicious thanks to a mixture of white meat chicken breast, mayonnaise and celery.

1 Pennsylvania Ave., Wayne

MasterPeace Grill

Create your own hoagie at MasterPeace or dig into menu staples like the turkey BLT or chicken tender hoagies. Hot sandwiches are also impressive, like the Cuban grinder—pulled pork topped with Swiss cheese, pickles, ham and mustard.

523 Fayette St., Conshohocken

Tredici

 

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This Italian market stocks fine cheeses, olive oils, cured meats and an array of antipasti. Try Tredici’s old-school hoagies, which pay homage to the region through options like the South Wayne, made with ham, Swiss cheese and mustard. Or try the Radnor, which is layered with salami, capocollo, pepper ham, pepperoni, provolone and red wine vinaigrette. Louella Court puts a spin on the classic roast beef hoagie, topped with cheddar, red onion and horseradish mayo.

185 E. Lancaster Ave., Wayne

Related: 10 Main Line Ice Cream Shops to Try This Summer

These Spots Serve Açai and Smoothie Bowls Around the Main Line

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These Main Line area eateries serve açai and smoothie bowls, both of which are fantastic ways to start your day with a boost of energy.

Offering a unique and decidedly Instagrammable twist to the traditional smoothie, smoothie bowls are the perfect option to add energy to your day. Açai bowls, an offshoot of the smoothie bowl, consist of blended fruit and are typically served with an array of toppings. Jazzed up with everything from coconut shavings to drizzles of honey, these concoctions are a health food staple. The açai berry specifically has energy-boosting and immune-stimulating properties.

Here are some spots around the Main Line to give the nutrient-filled bowls a try.

Goodness Bowls

775 E Lancaster Ave., Villanova

 

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Founded by a mother-daughter team in 2019, Goodness Bowls has two locations, one in Villanova and another in Avalon, NJ. Beloved in the health food community, Goodness offers eight different açai bowl options, from nutty-Nutella to chi-chi-chi chia. The menu also features pitaya bowls, banana bowls, green bowls, coconut bowls and smoothies.

Mangos & More

30 Brookline Blvd., Havertown

 

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This former Best of the Main Line health food restaurant winner in 2021 is led by a local Temple graduate. Offering health tips, catering and a host of refreshing breakfast options, Mangos & More even dishes up a locally-themed bowl dubbed “The Brookline.” It features an açai base topped with bananas, strawberries, blueberries, granola and a Nutella drizzle.

The Juice Pod

Newtown Square, Bryn Mawr, Exton, Downingtown, Malvern, West Chester

 

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With a slew of locations across the Main Line area from West Chester to Bryn Mawr, there’s probably a Juice Pod location near you. Started at the Jersey Shore and expanded to the Main Line by a sibling duo, The Juice Pod’s menu features 47 different açai, pitaya, green oatmeal, chia and specialty bowls. Don’t be intimidated by the breadth of offerings, since there’s almost certainly something for everybody here.

Clean Juice

571 Wilmington Pke., Glen Mills; 50 East Wynnewood Rd., Wynewood; 20 Liberty Boulevard Blvd., Malvern

 

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Clean Juice has a far more focused menu than many other açai specialty locations. Its limited options lead to a more distinct identity and it shows. Since the brand started in Birkdale, NC in 2015, there have been nearly 200 franchised storefronts opened in just the past six years alone. Its signature peanut butter, almond butter and/or honey drizzle atop all of its offerings provides a twist to the traditional açai bowl.

Playa Bowls

150 E Lancaster Ave., Villanova; 22 S High St, West Chester


After getting its start with a pair of blenders and a patio table on the Jersey Shore in Belmar, this brand has gone national, expanding to nearly 200 locations nationwide. Playa Bowls focuses heavily on pineapple, as indicated by its branding. Mirroring its expansive growth, the chain offers a wide variety of bowls and smoothies from which to choose. With 40 different bowls and over a dozen smoothie options, Playa Bowls ensures every visitor finds something to their liking.

Vitality Bowls

230 Village Dr., King Of Prussia


Like most other eateries serving açai bowls, Vitality was founded in the 2010s, but they were one of the earlier adopters to the trend. Opened for the first time in 2011 out of San Ramon, CA, Vitality Bowls has expanded to over 100 locations, with a storefront in King of Prussia serving the Main Line. Offering wraps, salads, juices, smoothies and of course, açai bowls, Vitality Bowls serves all-organic, made fresh items built with so many different powerhouse foods like açai, graviola and pitaya.

Stephen Powell Is a Star Opera Singer in Kennett Square

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Stephen Powell. Courtesy Tessa Marie Images

Kennett Square’s Stephen Powell quietly goes about his business as one of opera’s finest voices.

The thoroughfare between the kitchen and living room is elevated. Here, a dividing wall was removed to create space for what passes for a tiny performance area in the Kennett Square home of opera singer Stephen Powell. “All the world’s a stage,” he jests, quoting Shakespeare.

A two-time Grammy nominee, Powell is set to release Archetype: Arias for Baritone, his third solo album and first with a full orchestra. He’s now in his fourth decade on national and global stages as a leading baritone with opera companies and orchestras.

The make-do home stage is reserved for family members. His wife, Barbara Shirvis, is a soprano who had her own singing career. She now teaches from home—both music lessons and wellness classes for singers and artists. Their college-aged sons, Benjamin and Zachary, are singers and jazz musicians.

A West Chester native, Powell began performing for a living full time in the mid-1990s. His goal was never to be a household name, and he wasn’t interested in spending a ton of time in Europe to advance his career. “It wasn’t worth it to me—I had a family,” he says. “I couldn’t just think of myself. For me, it’s always been what I did for a living, and not who I am. I could’ve had a huge, gigantic career. But who knows if I could have?”

Wearing a blue pullover, jeans, socks and no shoes, Powell is staying put at home today. His speaking voice is appropriately baritone deep—but like his buddies who work in IT and home improvement, he’s a regular guy. He’s never missed one of his boys’ high school music performances.

Once Powell returned to West Chester from Chicago and New York in 1998, he and his wife spent 10 years in the borough before moving to a property in the shadow of Longwood Gardens. Powell doesn’t do much locally, though there have been appearances with Opera Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Orchestra. “I came back here to live, not perform,” he says.

Opera is hard work—long road trips, weeks of rehearsal, then maybe four performances. “(Former Metropolitan Opera GM) Rudolf Bing always said a singer’s career is at stake every time the curtain goes up. That’s dramatic but true,” says Powell. “The challenge to meet that expectation every time has driven me. It’s always fed me, but I also needed to make a living, so it’s had to be a continuous feeding.”

Among Powell’s favorite opera characters is Rigoletto, the Italian hunchback. In musical theater, he’s enjoyed performing in Sweeney Todd. In concert, it’s been Carmina Burana and, of course, Handel’s Messiah during the holidays. Powell can sing in English, French, Italian and German. There’s a certain high that comes with performing. With an orchestra, the vibrations on stage rise through your feet, offering “a particularly religious and spiritual feeling,” Powell notes.

But at 58, Powell knows he must slow down. “I’d like to leave town with another purpose—to get to a place Barbara and I both want to be and not have to work when I get there,” he says.

Stephen Powell at home in Kennett Square.
Stephen Powell at home in Kennett Square. Courtesy Tessa Marie Images.

He hopes to reduce his long-stay opera productions to one or two a year, instead of five or six, opting for shorter-stay symphonic works—mostly oratorios. “He’s choosey,” says his longtime agent, Kathy Olsen, of New York City’s Encompass Arts, which represents a diverse roster of 200 artists. “He’s been there and done that. He doesn’t need to do anything for the experience, so he’s more selective. I don’t blame him.”

Olsen recalls the first time she heard Powell sing. “My jaw dropped. I thought, ‘They do really produce talent like this?’” she says. “He’s a brilliant artist, an incredible musician and crazy talented. He’s also a great human being, and his humanity and warmth come out in his wonderful singing. What you see is what you get. There’s no pretense.”

A “journeyman baritone,” Powell’s sense of balance and his adherence to family life have kept him grounded. “In many ways, that’s made him a better artist,” Olsen says. “He just wants to work—to do good work, to feel musically fulfilled and to end each day around nice people.”

During his youth, Powell’s father played saxophone and clarinet in big bands. A lover of classical music, his mother played piano—and her parents had season tickets to the Academy of Music. Powell’s older brother and sister had the full complement of ’60s and ’70s rock. The home buzzed with a “fantastic swarm of musical influences,” says Powell. “And good music is still good music.”

Powell began on the piano at age 6, learning the music of Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Schumann, Mozart and Brahms. He sang in church and school choirs. He had roles in musicals at Stetson Middle School and Henderson High School. He was also in a rock band, singing and playing saxophone and piano. “I wanted to be Billy Joel,” he admits, also mentioning Elton John and Barry Manilow. “We had the same trajectory, but I certainly couldn’t write songs like they could.”

As a student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Powell discovered he didn’t have the temperament to practice piano eight hours a day. Other students were already better pianists who didn’t mind the grind. Voice teacher Norman Gulbrandsen was the one who convinced him that singing could be a vocation. He graduated in 1986 with a degree in music theory and composition, then spent four years gigging, recording, coaching, launching a Christmas caroling business and basically “staying in music,” he says.

At 25, he enrolled at Chicago’s DePaul University, where he earned a master’s degree in music and later a certificate of performance. He eventually headed to New York and found an agent. He met Barbara when both were singing at the New York City Opera in 1995.

Arthur Levy was Powell’s second voice teacher and a teaching colleague at the New School’s Mannes School of Music in New York City. He describes Powell’s voice as “naturally magnificent”—one that’s found its balance, brightness, warmth, depth and height. “When the quality of a voice reflects the human being, the audience falls in love with that voice and that persona,” Levy says. “The warmth and golden glow of Stephen has always reflected who he is as a person. I’ve seen his own boys cry they’ve been so moved by his singing.”

Powell’s new album was recorded in Nashville. It features 13 arias—two new for him. “It turned out beautifully,” he says. “I couldn’t be happier. I’m excited. The orchestra sounds fantastic.”

Powell’s debut solo album, American Composers at Play, was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Classical Vocal Soloist category in 2020. His second nomination came that same year for Best Opera Recording—Norman Dello Joio’s The Trial at Rouen, in collaboration with Odyssey Opera and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. “Neither won, and I didn’t win,” he says. “That’s too bad, but it’s all right. Getting a Grammy nomination is a cherry on top, but winning a Grammy isn’t on my bucket list.”

Why isn’t Powell more well-known? Levy partially blames his start in the 1990s, which predated social media. “His name was never bounced around the way others are now,” Levy says. “People are told who they should like based on social media. Today, the audience decides who the star will be, but maybe Stephen will have the last laugh. He’s still singing—and singing better than ever. Someone might hear him and say, ‘We have a 35-year-old who can’t do that. How could I have missed this guy?’”

Powell’s next album will focus on musical theater. It’ll be recorded with Barbara and the boys, maybe by next spring. Perhaps they’ll even practice at home on that makeshift stage. “We experiment,” Powell says. “But they’re in tune—and you’d want to hear it.”

To learn more about Stephen Powell and his music, visit stephenpowell.us.

Related: Stove and Co.’s Monnich & Weathers Build a Main Line Restaurant Empire

Molly Martin Carves a Niche for Herself as an Indie-Rock Artist

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Molly Martin. Photo by Kyle Neach

The former School of Rock student and Main Line resident moved to Nashville to find her pathway in the music industry.

It’s hardly unusual for a young musician to leave her hometown to find validation as an artist. Interesting thing is, Molly Martin wasn’t at all sure music was her calling when she headed to New Orleans for her first year of college at Tulane University. But it wasn’t long before the 2014 Conestoga High School grad started falling back on the performance chops she’d picked up as a student at School of Rock Main Line, transferring to Nashville’s Belmont University her sophomore year. Now, our critics’ pick for Best Breakout Artist is busy carving out a flamboyant indie-rock niche for herself in a city known worldwide for country music. Her debut album, Mary, came out earlier this year.

MLT: What was it like for you growing up on the Main Line?

MM: I certainly knew I was different, but it took me awhile to realize that music was the outlet for me. I grew up doing sports and everything, just like everybody else. But I remember seeing my brother doing a Black Sabbath tribute show at School of Rock in seventh grade and thinking that was the thing I’d been waiting for. It lit me up. I always knew I was very expressive and creative, but I didn’t know what the medium looked like until I saw my brother playing music. Then I started, and it felt like a completely natural fit for me.

MLT: So you joined School of Rock?

MM: Yeah, when I was 15. I was never going to be the one sitting alone in my bedroom tinkering away. I needed to be out there performing. Having to learn music so I could play a show was very motivating to me. Getting to be on stage was this deeply affirming thing that was always waiting for me to find it.

Molly Martin
Molly Martin. Photo by Kyle Neach

MLT: What prompted your shift to music in college?

MM: I felt that emptiness of not knowing what to commit to. I realized that I had to commit to doing music for real. Belmont just felt like the right place for me. Nashville’s such a songwriter town. It just had what I was looking for in terms of a small community and a maximum saturation of musicians and writers.

MLT: When did you start composing original music?

MM: That really came for me at the end of high school. It was really daunting, because I didn’t really know what I was capable of.

MLT: Getting involved in the Nashville scene must have helped.

MM: It took years for me to really trust myself as the person at the helm of my own career and developing my own voice. All of that happened while I was here. Because I was a transfer student and a little bit older, I ended up making connections in the city more than in school. I also had this friend in Philly named Scot Sax who helped me get shows outside my college bubble. It made my transition from college easier, because I already had a whole life outside of it.

MLT: How’s your edgy rock sound going over in Nashville?

MM: I feel there’s a lane for me here, but I’ve definitely had to carve it out. Obviously that lane is much different from the country lane. But that’s been me my whole life. It’s always been sort of DYI.

Visit facebook.com/mollymartinsongs.

Related: Black Moss Meredith on Modern Music-Making for Its New Album

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!