Chef Henry Morgan is right back where he started, and he couldn’t be happier about it.
On March 15, the CookNSolo alumnus cut the ribbon on his first cafe, Homeroom, which is located at the former Green Bean Coffee in Gladwyne, where Morgan held his first front-of-house/back-of-house restaurant experience 10 years prior.
The cafe is minutes from his Wynnewood childhood home and just down the street from Beth David Reform Congregation, where the chef had his bar mitzvah.
Homeroom’s menu, with items such as za’atar chicken salad sandwich and smoked salmon toast, plays homage to both Morgan’s time as a chef at Merkaz and Dizengoff and his Jewish roots.
Why did you decide to name your cafe Homeroom?
The biggest thing is, it feels like a homecoming, it feels like home for me.
Also, just from a practical standpoint, I wanted a one-word name that didn’t require “coffee” or “cafe” at the end of it. It starts with an “H” and ends with an “M” — my initials — which is kind of a nice side effect.
We kicked around a bunch of different names for a while, and that was one of them, and it grew on me. It’s kind of like naming a child — I don’t have any children, but it feels like it. I felt pretty good about it, and it seems like people are resonating with it as well.
When did you really begin to think that opening your own cafe was something you could do?
In the middle of last summer. I left CookNSolo in July. I kind of grew out of my position, just due to the pandemic. I was considering just kind of taking some time off … that I haven’t had in years and years and years and then potentially rejoining the company for plenty of projects down the line.
I was driving out here in Gladwyne, Lower Merion, going to have lunch with my dad … and I drove past the cafe and there was a big “For Lease” sign in the window. And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of interesting’ and called the number that was put in the window, and one thing led to another, and it just all fell in place. It was just perfect, perfect timing.
What were some of the lessons you learned while working at CookNSolo?
A couple things I think I’ve been able to carry over here: One is that every detail matters, no stone left unturned. Also, that hospitality is as important as the product that you’re serving, and oftentimes, it is the product you’re serving.
Mike [Solomonov] loves to say that if the bathroom isn’t clean, somehow the food doesn’t taste as good. Just to the point of details and presentability, curating an overall positive guest experience.
What made you decide to become a chef?
Well, I always loved to eat from a very young age. My grandmother was a great cook and cooked all of our holiday meals and all special occasions.
But really where it started was for my mitzvah project for my bar mitzvah, I worked at MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance), an organization in Center City. They cook and deliver meals for homebound AIDS patients, but I think maybe they have evolved into more than just that, specifically. And I connected really well with the chefs and people that work there. I kind of became like the de facto hosts for all these different groups that would come through.
The following summer I had my first real job, which was in a restaurant called Taquet in Wayne, which is no longer there and hasn’t been there for 10, 12 years, but it’s a very old-school French restaurant.
And the chef de cuisine there, a guy named Clark Gilbert, who’s still one of my absolute best friends to this day, and happens to live right around the corner from the cafe here in Gladwyne, became like an instant mentor for me. But the subculture of the industry and, really, my relationship with Clark and the way that I looked up to him kept driving my passion, my interest in working in restaurants.
What was the first dish you ever learned to cook?
I would say Caesar salad. We sold a lot of salads [at Taquet]. Caesar salad was one of my favorites, and probably is still, one of my favorites foods, and certainly as a little kid it was.
And we now have a salad at my new cafe called Clark Caesar salad. So it’s like a little community nod, and he (Clark Gilbert) gave me his recipe for the dressing. And it still holds up to me to be the best.