by Sue Ann Rybak
Swarthmore College stuffed mushrooms, Chestnut Hill College roasted vegetable salad and Central High wings are just a few of the appetizers on the menu at Alma Mater, a collegiate-themed restaurant and bar that opened at the site of the former 7165 Lounge, 7165 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy.
Alma Mater is Mt. Airy resident Jake Sudderth’s fourth business venture in 13 months. He also owns the used bookstore Mt. Airy Read & Eat, Bee Burger and the Mt. Airy Noodle House, all of which are situated on the 7100 block of Germantown Avenue.
When the Local mentioned that some residents thought he was taking on too much, the former history teacher and journalist replied that his intention for renovating and renting several properties on the same block is not to create a monopoly but to create businesses that will provide services for the community. He added that he is trying to build something “for the long term in Mt. Airy.”
“Years ago, as part of my history research, I interviewed a bunch of people about the model city programs,” Sudderth said. “They were programs of urban investment in the ’70s that focused on distressed neighborhoods, and what I came away with was that the most successful people in the program tended not to build something for themselves in the neighborhood but services that would be consumed by the community.
“It’s really not about me, It’s not a money-making scheme. It’s about building up Mt. Airy. My model for success in Mt. Airy is to create something like Weavers Way, where you have a large cooperative of people for many years – over several generations.”
He said the bookstore is a good example of a resource for the community that needed to be saved.
“Here was a bookstore that had been around for almost 20 years that needed to be continued,” he said.. “I wanted it to continue to be a resource for the community. So five years from now or even 13 months from now, it’s not particularly important to me if I am the one heading it up. What’s important to me is that the neighborhood has a vibrant center. It’s really critical if there is going to be a vibrant commercial corridor in Mt. Airy that people, who are asking for services, start spending their money locally.”
Pointing out that the businesses are not designed to make a lot of money, he said he recently overheard someone saying, “Can you believe this is all for a tax write-off?”
“I almost fell down,” said Sudderth, who has also worked in Information Technology. “We don’t have enough money to make this a tax write-off. Honestly, I don’t think it’s any different than what David and Betty Ann Fellner did in the 90s. He brought distressed properties and tried to prop them up.”
He added that there are several developers with larger properties than he has in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill.
“The idea that people like us would be trying to monopolize Mt. Airy is comical,” said Sudderth, who has invested more than a quarter of a million dollars in renovations, which include refinishing the original maple floor, installing all new kitchen equipment, new beer lines, lighting, and furniture.
The main floor features a 96-inch, 1940s Chicago-style bar and a stage for live entertainment. Customers can order signature drinks named after their Alma Mater such as the Temple, a mix of Campari, sweet vermouth and soda over ice with an orange slice, or the La Salle University, a combination of whiskey and soda, for $6.
The walls of the restaurant are covered with large images of local campuses including Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania and Chestnut Hill College. A wall in the main room is covered with university, college, and high school pennants.
The restaurant has seating for 120 customers, plus the main bar. Downstairs is a sports lounge area with several large screen TVs for watching sports and other live events.
The restaurant also features an outdoor beer garden with a deck and boardwalk leading to a large parking lot. The beer garden is furnished with Amish-style wooden benches and wooden tables that are perfect for downing a cold one or having lunch with a friend on a crisp autumn day.
The collegiate theme can be seen everywhere. Students can even order a Beer Pong for $14, which includes a pitcher of domestic beer, 12 cups and four ping-pong balls.
Sudderth said he decided on the theme because “two of the largest elements in the local economy are craft beer and education.”
“Pennsylvania is the largest producer of craft beer in the nation,” he said. “It also has the largest number of per capita universities and colleges in the nation. And because of that, you have people from New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Ohio moving to Pennsylvania to go to school or take jobs in education.”
He added that several of the area’s best universities are just a short drive away from Mt. Airy.
“Mt. Airy is the college town without the college,” Sudderth said.
For craft beer lovers, Alma Mater has several, including Lancaster Brewing Co. Strawberry Wheat, an American wheat lager with a hint of natural strawberry; Bullfrog Green Fuzz IPA, a light bodied, citrusy IPA hopped with amarillo, citra and and crystal hops; Monk’s Café Flemish Sour Ale – mildly tart, sour ale; and Penn Brewing Co. Chocolate Meltdown Stout, a real chocolate, dark, full-bodied brew with a rich milk chocolate flavor.
Residents might want to make a note of Happy Hour, which runs Monday to Friday from 4 p.m.to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. All draft beers are $1.
“Hopefully, this restaurant and bar will provide one more place for people in the Northwest to dine, host events and attend concerts in a comfortable setting,” he said.
Sudderth hopes Alma Mater, which is open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day, will be a community gathering place for Mt. Airy residents of all ages for generations to come.
For more information about Alma Mater go to almamaterphiladelphia.com or call 267-335-4909.