During the late 19th century and early 20th century, there were many breweries located along the Schuylkill River. While that North Philadelphia area, known as Brewerytown, lost its thriving businesses for quite sometime, mostly due to Prohibition, it recently has been going through an impressive rebirth. Meet Aaron Smith, co-owner of Sarah’s Place, a new, hip bar, which prides itself on hosting all Brewerytown residents, whether they are longtime locals or relatively new to the neighborhood. Entering Sarah’s Place, you’ll see old-timers drinking domestic can beer right next to young professionals playing board games and sipping craft beer bottles. Open since the fall of 2014, Sarah’s Place is already being proclaimed the “local bar” by most of my Brewerytown musician friends who start and/or finish there most every night out. Whether you want to drink a beer out of a firkin from a local brewery (like Crime & Punishment, Saucony Creek & St. Benjamin’s), sing some karaoke or groove to some jams from a hip local DJ, Sarah’s Place offers something for everyone. Recently, we visited Sarah’s Place — yes, it’s “Sarah’s” with an “h” (as one of the partner’s wives’ spells her name that way) even though the original, old-school “Sara’s” sign hangs above the front door humorously “searching” for one more letter — to sip some local beers with some musician friends, and co-owner Aaron Smith was happy to chat (via email) about beers, bars, foods, family, neighborhood traditions, and his (Chocolate Covered) Memories …
How did you find yourself in this niche of the restaurant/bar industry?
My partners and I run a development firm in the Brewerytown section of Philadelphia, and we focus primarily on the redevelopment of West Girard Avenue. One of our main goals has been trying to provide local quality establishments for the neighbors who have lived here for their entire lives. Recently, we’ve seen an influx of new Brewerytown residents, and it’s very important that everyone feels comfortable sitting at the bar at Sarah’s Place. I get a very large smile on my face when I see our regulars sitting at the bar early in the afternoon listening to Redd Foxx albums on our turntable.
Any child/teenage food industry jobs?
I was, in my opinion, one of the worst bartenders Philadelphia has ever seen.
What are your earliest childhood memories of food?
There used to be an old diner, the kind that doesn’t exist in Philadelphia anymore, at the corner of 19th and Spruce (now Marathon Grill). I remember walking there as a kid every weekend for the largest stack of pancakes and scrambled eggs that I had ever seen.
Where does your love of food/beer stem from?
I think of food and beer as the classic way to get people, family and friends together for a good time. If you’re hosting a party, you better have a good selection of both!
What foods remind you of childhood? What were your favorite foods growing up?
All breakfast, all the time, and not much has changed since then! I would order waffles, home fries and eggs … and stack them on top of each other. It was essentially the All-Star meal from Waffle House, before I even knew what Waffle House was.
Favorite beers when you started drinking?
Growing up in Philadelphia, I was introduced to Yuengling at a very early age.
Favorite beers now?
Over the last few months, I’ve found myself enjoying Yards Brawler, Magic Hat #9 and Delirium Tremens. There are also some great local breweries that I’ve gotten into — like Crime & Punishment Brewery — that are always switching it up and keeping things fresh.
Any specific food memories/stories that you want to share?
The first time I tried a Beiler’s donut. Wow.
Any stuff you loved eating as a child that you would never eat now?
Growing up, I would eat pizza (what seemed to be) every day. Now, it’s VERY hard to get me to go out for a slice.
Any childhood cooking accidents in the kitchen? Any as an adult in the kitchen/brewery?
Letting me step anywhere near a stove or an oven is a BIG mistake. I do, however, love making burgers, steaks and fish on the grill.
Growing up, what was your favorite meal/food/snack to eat outside? Did you enjoy eating outside anywhere in particular? How about now as an adult? Any benches you love to eat on?
My favorite meal outside … I’d have to say a hot dog at Veteran’s Stadium. The food was usually as good as the team on the field, but I still enjoyed getting there almost every week with my dad.
What do you think of the modern food world?
It’s great that there are so many good food options in Philadelphia right now. For the longest time, every Monday Night Football game in Philly would show footage of cheesesteaks, and it was getting old. The last Monday Night game, they showed footage from the Reading Terminal, which is, in my opinion, the greatest place in Philadelphia. That really made my night.
What do you think of big industry franchise bars (like Hooters, TGI Friday’s, etc.)? Do you ever eat/drink at such places? Why/why not?
I don’t think I’ve stepped foot in a TGI Fridays since high school. But, I appreciate what they do and recognize that there’s a large percentage of the country that enjoys eating at those bars and restaurants. If people enjoy it, they must be doing something right.
What family recipe do you want to share with us?
I grew up in a family that wasn’t quite sure what to do with the stove or oven. For all I knew, it was a B-level microwave. As I’ve gotten older — and married an Italian woman from North Jersey, my entire view of cooking has changed for the better. However, my childhood recipes really do consist of pancakes, eggs and PB&J’s! Enjoy my childhood peanut butter and jelly sandwich!
Aaron Smith, Jacob Roller and David Waxman are the founders of MMPartners and the owners of Sarah’s Place in the Brewerytown section of Philadelphia. While they are not bar experts, by any means, when it came to opening Sarah’s Place, it was very important for them to create a warm and inviting atmosphere, which lends itself to anyone who lives in Brewerytown, be that for 40 years or even four months.