It was the winter of 2011. Christina Rubeo (now Swartzentruber) was about to turn 20 years old and attending Montgomery County Community College in the Restaurant Management program. Her dad Ray asked her if she “wanted to get the best education she could get,” and they took a leap, deciding to open the Nook & Kranny Kafé in Phoenixville.
“The beginning was scary, to say the least,” Boss Lady Christina notes. “Despite our years of experience in the food business prior with me washing dishes in a catering kitchen at 12 and my Dad was 14 when he started dishes at Par 1 restaurant in Audubon, PA, there was a lot we had to learn. We made some mistakes in the beginning, but we learned from them, and they helped us make better decisions in the future.”
Ray, Christina, and her mother Cheryl decided on the Phoenixville location because Phoenixville was really beginning to take off. “We liked the fact that it wasn’t on Bridge Street and had a parking lot. We had competition but it wasn’t right next door,” Christina says. “I honestly hadn’t ventured into Phoenixville much before we opened Nook. I graduated from Methacton, and I was always hanging around the Blue Bell, Plymouth Meeting, Collegeville areas. Phoenixville wasn’t really on my radar yet. Funny enough, I met my husband at our Phoenixville location. He had been a customer for some time. So much for not dating customers!”
The Nook presence went over well in Phoenixville, as the people that came in really seemed to enjoy their food and our service. “I’d say our biggest hurdle at that time was getting food out quickly. We were still trying to figure out the flow of things,” Christina explains. “We had some menu items that needed to be added or removed through the first few years. It took us a while to break through with sales though.”
They wanted to serve breakfast and lunch, but the breakfast business was pretty much nonexistent for the Nook in the beginning. “I remember saying to my Dad: ‘Breakfast is a habit for a lot of people, we have to become the habit!”
Luckily, Christina and her team of “Nooklets” have been a habit for a lot of people, with their clientele (the Bookends) growing daily, as they head into their 10th year in Chester County.
“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years already!” she says. “Thankfully the Nook didn’t need all that much work for us to open up. We started right before Christmas in 2011 and opened on February 13th, 2012. Our first day was great! We had a lot of family and friends come out and support us; we were so excited.”
Christina and Ray and their team did everything they could to keep things fresh and local. “We use almost all fresh vegetables, meats, and fruits for our menu, and we get our coffee from Cafe Excellence/Valerio Coffee Roasters in Audubon and our bread/bagels from LeBus Bakery in King of Prussia,” she explains.
From there, Christina and her team knew they wanted to branch out, looking near her hometown in Montgomery County. They focused on opening Nook 2 in August 2017 in Eagleville.
“Nook 2 was a whole different ball game,” Christina exclaims. “We had to gut the entire building and completely re-build the whole restaurant. It was expensive, but worth it. Nook 2 didn’t take nearly as long to take off as the OG Nook. We had a lot of customers who lived close to Eagleville, so they ventured to Nook 2 which made room for new customers at Nook 1. At that point we were turning customers away on the regular because we just didn’t have the space, people were coming out of the woodwork!”
Christina says opening Nook 2 gave them the ability to spread their clientele out. “Nook 2 definitely has a more modern feel to it think more “clean Waffle House” and less “grandma’s house.”
Of course, the Nook journey was not without its challenges. They learned to be careful with contracts and which companies to sign up with. “For those of you who own a small business or are planning on opening one, be careful with contracts,” Christina says.
In 2015 PA Route 23 closed to work on the bridge over the Phoenixville dam from April to October. “That was devastating for us, but we had loyal customers who kept us in business. The first few years were really hard, but we got through it,” she notes.
Then came the pandemic in 2020.
“It felt like the beginning all over again. It was terrifying. In the beginning, we had no control over our own destiny. We went into business for ourselves for a lot of reasons – one of the main ones being if we were going to fail, it was going to be on our own terms, not someone else’s,” Christina points out.
The pandemic took that option out of their hands.
They followed the PA mandates until the Fall of 2020. “Then we took matters into our own hands. When they called for the holiday shutdown of businesses in winter of 2020, we decided to stay open, because if we shut down dine-in service again, we would have lost everything,” Christina explains. “We worked too hard for too long to lose it all. We upset a lot of people, and I understand why, but we had to do what we needed to.”
Some of Christina’s favorite dishes to serve are the quiche, and her employees say the Corned Beef Special, the Monte Cristo with brown sugar grits, or the Veggie Delight.
To celebrate their 10th birthday, the Nook & Kranny Kafe is doing a raffle: From February 7th to February 13th customers will receive a ticket for every $10 spent at their Phoenixville location. They’ll be raffling off the following items: $25 gift card, a mug with logo and coffee, a teapot with logo and tea, a travel mug with logo and coffee, or a quart of soup.
Come and celebrate with Christina and her family and her team to mark the 10th birthday of this Phoenixville ‘kafe,’ and send a big THANK YOU to all their customers, both new and old, for their love and support!
The Nook & Kranny Kafé is located at 847 Valley Forge Rd, Phoenixville.
Visit the Montco location at 3140 Ridge Pike, Eagleville.