Before Chris Thompson ever tasted coffee, he associated it with joy and ceremony—its aroma, the sound of the percolator, and conversation around his great-grandmother’s table. “It’s not just a drink,” he says, “but all that happens around it.” Which is why, more than the five-star reviews and accolades, Thompson is proudest of a Facebook post that told newcomers to the area: “Philter is where you go to make friends.”
Thompson pours this passion for coffee and community into each white porcelain cup embossed with a P. And his caring, thoughtful commitment to excellence is evident in every detail of the Philter experience—from the shop’s design and welcoming aesthetic to its seasonal specialty coffees, single-estate teas, and fresh, locally-sourced food.
Thompson went into the restaurant business so he’d have to talk with people and overcome his shyness. And while working as a barista in a Philadelphia coffee shop, he fell in love. She was a teacher who came in to grade papers, and before she knew his name she called him her “coffee boy.” On their first date, Thompson told her about his dream of owning a coffee shop. And, he says, this teacher who is now his wife made it possible for this dream to come true. “Without Heather, there would be no Philter.”
When the Thompsons began looking for a house in walkable boroughs in 2009, they found welcoming people and a cultural richness in Kennett Square. They also liked the town’s proximity to major metropolitan areas. Thompson, who grew up in Philadelphia and enjoys its cultural diversity, never thought he’d be happy living outside the city. But, he says, “In a city you live in a neighborhood, walk to all you need, and travel out for everything else. And I still have that. Kennett Square is my neighborhood.”
I knew if I had good coffee, good food, and friendly staff in a nice-looking place, people would come.
– CHRIS THOMPSON
Finding the right spot for his shop took time, but when he walked through the old barber shop at 111 West State Street, he saw beyond the shambles. “I knew if I had good coffee, good food, and friendly staff in a nice-looking place, people would come.” And they did. Thompson even left the door open during renovations. “It took a lot longer,” he says with a smile, “but it gave me opportunities to meet people and share the story and passion behind Philter.”
Philter wasn’t yet open for business in September 2013, and Thompson had no employees, but he decided to serve coffee outside the shop during the Mushroom Festival. A host of new friends, neighbors, and family members helped hand pour 350 cups of coffee and serve 500 cups of batch-brewed iced coffee to excited new customers that weekend. “I realized we did have something special here,” he says. “And I felt better.”
Kennett Square is filled with entrepreneurs who have true vision and intent.
– CHRIS THOMPSON
Above all, Thompson is excited to be here because of the people. “Kennett Square is filled with entrepreneurs who have true vision and intent.” Why is that? It might actually be magic, he says, but there’s also a synergy between creative people. “They see others pursuing their craft, and they’re inspired to cultivate what they love to do. New businesses make an effort to complement existing ones in a smart way, to bring something new to attract even more business to town.”
Being a small business owner requires a huge and ongoing commitment of time, attention, and creativity, and it’s more likely you’ll find Thompson reading a short story than a novel these days. On his rare days off, he enjoys family time—whether that’s watching one of his son’s games or taking a day trip into the city. The Thompsons’ three young sons are soaking in those same rich associations with coffee and community, and they take pride in Philter too. As one of them told his teacher, “I own Philter, and my daddy works there.”
What`s in a Name?
Thompson says he wanted the name of his coffee shop to reflect his personal story, to communicate what a neighborhood shop means to him, and to carry the vibe of the brand. “I wanted to create a place where people would fall in love. With coffee, Kennett Square, someone they met in line, or maybe their barista.” In Philter, “a potion, charm, or drug supposed to cause the person taking it to fall in love, usually with some specific person,” he found the perfect name. The fact that he’s from Philly, where “we like to Ph everything” is a bonus. “When the word is spoken, you think of coffee, but the definition is what really makes it special.”