Q&A: Milkboy Philly’s Tommy Joyner

On Philly union woes, swinging a hammer and why this town needs another music venue

After months of construction delays and union woes, Ardmore’s popular Milkboy Coffee got its alcohol-enabled sister venue in Center City on Monday. I checked in with its co-owner this morning.

Congrats on finally getting this thing opened. How long was the delay exactly?
Tough to say, really. We experienced so many delays, most of which were caused by our own stupidity, ignorance and naivety. But in the original timeline, we were saying we’d be open in six or seven months. But from the point at which we started tearing out the old guts of the building to put in the new, it lasted 16.

Can you point to one main culprit?
Again, we were just so ignorant. There were just so many parts to the process. Okay, so you get a permit for your Ansul system [that’s restaurant lingo for the fire suppression system that’s part of the kitchen hoods]. But then you find out that you also need a separate permit from a separate department for the hood itself. And then someone wants a new set of drawings. That takes three weeks to get from the architect. Then you get that to the Planning Commission. And you expedite it, because you’re so far behind already, and that costs extra money. And then you have to get the contractors back on the job, but they’re on a new job because yours had stopped.

There’s been a lot of coverage on your problems with the Philly unions. Didn’t you know that was going to happen once you employed non-union labor?
Listen, we’re a small business in America. This is a small job, I was thinking. A lot of it we’ve actually been doing ourselves. For the last six weeks, the Milkboy [sound] engineers and I have been in here swinging hammers.

So why do we even need another music venue? Don’t we have plenty?
Philly absolutely needs another venue. There’s not a development-sized venue in town. They just don’t exist in Center City. We hold 200 people. Where else can you get that? Other than upstairs at World Cafe Live, which sucks, of course. Bryan Dilworth from Electric Factory is booking this Milkboy, and he’s so excited to have a place for bands that aren’t going to fill the Factory but can sell 200 tickets. We’re filling a hole.

Milkboy Philly, 1100 Chestnut Street, 215-925-MILK, milkboyphilly.com.