One early Friday morning in December, before most Philadelphians have even opened their eyes, Emily Riddell is starting a fire. Dressed in pristine chef whites at her new retail bakery space in the Bok Building, Riddell is wielding a culinary torch, gently dusting a blue flame around glossy meringue peaks that top two dozen lemon tarts. It’s one month until Riddell’s new venture — a permanent home for her bakery Machine Shop, formerly a pop-up and wholesale operation — will open, and she is more than ready to get started.
Riddell is the owner of Machine Shop in South Philly, the French-influenced bakery that she founded in 2017 with former co-owner Katie Lynch. For most of the bakery’s existence, Machine Shop was a wholesale operation, with baked goods only available to pastry lovers at select coffee shops like Elixr and Menagerie around the city.
When the pandemic hit, that swiftly changed. Riddell says that in March 2020, Machine Shop “lost every single wholesale account in 24 hours.” So the owners pivoted to a pop-up model, selling caramelized kouign-amman, crusty baguettes, and creamy canele to eager customers on weekends while they sorted out what to do next.
Machine Shop’s bakery space was in a former machinists’ classroom on the fourth floor of the Bok Building (a converted technical school in South Philly), so on Friday and Saturday mornings, the bakery team would schlep an array of eclairs, tarts, and other treats downstairs to the first floor, selling French pastries to Machine Shop fans until they sold out. “We weren’t making any money,” Riddell says of the pop-up. “We were just trying to keep moving, keep working, keep doing something that felt kind of normal.”
From day one of the Machine Shop endeavor, Riddell says, the plan was to turn the wholesale bakery into a retail shop. (When it came time to plan the retail space, Riddell says her former business partner decided it wasn’t what she wanted to do.) Nearly five years, one wholesale business, a series of pop-ups, and an ongoing pandemic later, the retail space for Machine Shop Boulangerie will finally open to customers on January 13, maintaining a permanent home on the first floor of the Bok Building. It’ll be open every week, Thursday through Sunday.
Just like the upstairs classroom, parts of the first floor space still resemble a bygone era in Philly’s history: “I think these were all auto body workshops and classrooms for the school,” Riddell says while walking around the cafe. The retail space is now home to a custom-built counter, stools, and pastry cases from former Bok Building tenant Brian Christopher, as well as seating for over two dozen diners. “I heard that the coal was loaded into here for the furnace —that’s why they have all of these garage doors,” Riddell says. “These are the old paint drying lamps from the auto body painting space.”
The kitchen space, which Bok previously used for events, was built out to Riddell’s liking, with one side dedicated to pastry and the other to bread. Like Riddell’s pastries, the space is immaculate, organized down to every last whisk, of which there are many. On that Friday morning in December, baker Rick Dennehy launched sourdough bread loaves into deck ovens while Riddell dusted twice-baked almond croissants with confectioners’ sugar.
When the cafe opens on Thursday, January 13, the menu will be largely the same as the one devotees remember from Machine Shop pop-ups: orange cardamom morning buns, croissants with everything seasoning, winter citrus tarts, seeded rye breads. That menu will evolve as the retail operation grows. “Eventually, I’d love to do a line of chocolate bars because that’s really what my [career] focus was before I opened Machine Shop,” Riddell says.
No matter what Riddell ends up baking at Machine Shop, she says, the mission remains straightforward and simple. At the new retail cafe on South Ninth Street, Riddell wants to continue doing what she loves: “Feeding people delicious sweet things.”
Machine Shop Boulangerie is located at 1901 S. 9th Street on the first floor of the Bok Building. Opening day is Thursday, January 13, and the bakery will be open Thursdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Website.