At the shiny penny of a sandwich shop in Fairmount called Rybread (the "Ry" is for Ryan), the creation myth begins with the Road Trip '09.

Ryan Pollock and his girlfriend Stephanie Mertz, now 26 and 27, had been among the last hired at their suburban Washington, D.C., architectural office.

So it was no mystery who'd be the first fired a couple of years ago when the recession dried up credit to finance the multifamily projects they'd been employed to design.

They packed up their 2001 Hyundai Elantra, picked out stops from North Carolina's Outer Banks (a friend's wedding) to Charleston to New Orleans to Texas to California, and did the camping equivalent of the Grand Tour - their thoughts of opening a deli back home in Philadelphia vague, but growing.

They clocked 11,300 miles, and had the usual setbacks (their bag of roasting marshmallows melted into one giant blob at a campsite in Utah), and triumphs (they were awed by the transcendent fast food at In-N-Out Burger, the anti-McDonald's, on the way to Lake Tahoe).

You can see black-and-white photos of the tour on the walls of the new storefront, a few doors down from London Grill. And the fresh, clean (if hardly daring) menu sandwiches are named for stops: The Santa Monica is bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and avocado on multigrain bread; the Denver is homemade chicken salad with walnuts, grapes, and greens on a croissant, or whatever.

There's a fuller, more didactic story, of course, of the origins of Rybread cafe. And while it's not quite as romantic, it has its own logic - and connects a few more dots.

In the unabridged version, Ryan's father, Dennis, is a major player. He'd spent his career on the corporate side of Wawa, eventually as part of the team that developed its line of Shorti, Junior, and Classic hoagies, which are on the corporate side of hoagies.

But he'd always had an itch, himself. Ryan recalls him musing about opening a bed-and-breakfast. Dennis and his wife, Roseanne (and Ryan's sister Meghann) also dabbled in mom-and-pop catering: the homey chicken salad at Rybread is Roseanne's recipe; the crab cake - more of a crab salad, almost - is Dennis'.

And so it came to pass, on this stretch of Fairmount Avenue near 23d, that the new coffee-sandwich shop opened eight weeks ago in a former hair salon - a partnership between father and son, housing the deferred dreams and fresh ambitions of the family Pollock.

Ryan and Stephanie put their design skills to work, creating a cozy, efficient space faced here and there with reused wood shipping pallets and hefty old church joists. A few cafe tables landed on the sidewalk, a few in a nook down from the counter, a handful more on a back patio next to the unending hum of the air-conditioning condenser.

The hearty sandwich bread is from Le Bus, repudiating the gummier Amoroso rolls favored by Wawa. Roma tomatoes are roasted for the Hampton salad. The tuna salad and shrimp salad are made in-house. Dennis knocks out a moist carrot cake; Roseanne oversees the buttery-tender chocolate chip scones. (Which are better than Le Bus'.)

It is a welcoming, fresh-faced spot, the big-paned front window innocent and inviting, the counter staff, during my visits, at least, abidingly happy for the business.

The menu is more a memory, frankly, of the Road Trip, than a deeply felt re-creation of the treasures of the blue highways. (How "golden turkey breast and Swiss" came to define the Tucson is a bit of a stretch.)

But the image of two kids on the road, picking themselves up and dusting themselves off and starting over again - that's an immensely appealing brand.

If Rybread was just another of what Philadelphia has too much of - a generic steak shop, or spiritless Quiznos, or pizza stand - I'd have walked on by. But it is a quiet retort to the recession, in the land beyond Wawa, an oasis of original on an avenue where every new sidewalk table stands against the impatient grasp of the next insurance office.

So God bless little Rybread. May it live long and prosper.


2319 Fairmount Ave.



Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or Read his recent work at