In January 1983, social activist Judy Wicks opened up the first floor of her Philadelphia home to sell muffins to the community. Right there on Sansom Street, the Main Line’s beloved White Dog Cafe was born. This week, the restaurant celebrates its 40th anniversary.
Wicks’ muffin shop quickly became a 200-seat restaurant and was one of the early adopters of the farm-to-table movement. “She was very ahead of her time,” Fearless Restaurants direct of development Sydney Grims says of the restaurant founder’s special attention to sourcing local ingredients. “She really committed herself to supporting local farmers and brewers. That was really her main mission: to support the local economy through buying their products.”
White Dog Cafe quickly became a staple in the community and, through this dedication to the area’s purveyors, became a hub for local businesses. One of Grims’ favorite stories involving the restaurant is about Stoudts Brewing Company. Founder Carol Stoudt, who was the first female brewmaster since prohibition, drove her first keg of beer down to Wicks at White Dog Cafe in the front seat of her Volkswagen. “Judy really did an incredible job establishing relationships with local artisans, brewers and farmers, and we’ve continued that tradition,” says Grims.
When Grims’ father Marty bought the White Dog brand in 2009, a strict contract was drawn up. “It allowed us to honor her original request of how we source products, where we source products from, how far the products could come from our restaurants, where we got our coffee beans, how we deal with plastic, how we compost, how we source energy for our buildings, etc.,” Grims tells.
Now 40 years later with four different locations in University City, Wayne, Haverford and Glen Mills and a fifth set to open in Chester Springs this year, White Dog Cafe is still committed to Wicks’ original vision. “All of the ingredients and how we source products is based on a certain radius from each particular location,” says Grims. “A lot of people come into our restaurant and are aggravated when they can’t find Coors Light or something like that, but the whole premise behind the restaurant is that we only source within 300 miles out for our beer in particular.”
You may not find large brand-name brews at any of the White Dog dining rooms, but you will find delicious organic cuisine in a setting full of warmth and personality. Each location looks a little different from its sisters to honor the unique surrounding neighborhoods, but the mission is still the same: inspired cuisine that supports the local economy through offerings from the area’s farmers, cheese mongers, fishermen, brewers, artisans and bakers.
After 40 years, Wicks’ original vision still shines throughout all locations, and the brand continues to positively impact the neighborhoods in which it expands. In the years to come, White Dog will continue to focus on the “feel-good parts of life,” as Grims puts it, “which are supporting your neighbors and sourcing things sustainably.”