Schmear It, a local eatery, tries to spread more than just cream cheese across Philadelphia.
Dave Fine, founder and “chief schmear officer” of Schmear It, wanted to create food devoted to a local cause.
It started in August 2013. With his first and only eBay purchase, he bought what is now the orange Bagel Mobile, which he transformed into a food truck.
In November, he officially opened a bricks-and-mortar store at 3601 Market St.
“Obviously, the greatest challenge at first is just that initial leap going up from one operation to two,” he noted. “But everything else has been going well.”
A lot of Schmear It’s regulars are Drexel and Penn students. Fine, a University of Pennsylvania grad, is certainly familiar with both campuses.
In the beginning of his business brainstorming, Fine wanted to create his own unique business model, “specifically with the desire to have a social mission and do good from the platform of the food industry,” he said. “But of course without significant capital or a traditional culinary background to open a restaurant, I figured a food truck would be a good opportunity to try it out.”
Familiar with the food truck scene on campus, he saw a need for quality bagels and schmear in Philadelphia.
“It was combined factors of not really having any traditional culinary cooking experience, and bagels and schmear was certainly something that I could do,” said the 27-year-old. “Bagels were an underserved market in Philadelphia and specifically at the University of Pennsylvania as well as Drexel — just University City in general.”
He first put pen to paper conceptualizing Schmear It as a fellowship recipient at Tribe 12, a Philadelphia-based organization that helps young entrepreneurs succeed.
But going into the restaurant business was never an inclination for him.
Originally from Baltimore, baseball enthusiast Fine started out working in fan services and customer relations post-graduation, specifically in marketing and public relations.
Next he moved to the nonprofit sector in Maryland, but the combination of jobs — and being a self-proclaimed foodie — led him to want to create a business with a social impact.
He took inspiration from Warby Parker and Toms Shoes to develop his model: A portion of Schmear It’s funds would go toward a local nonprofit that would be highlighted each month.
“We set it up primarily as a grassroots marketing platform to hopefully be an extra voice to spread awareness about some of these local nonprofits doing awesome work,” he said.
Because Schmear It was originally just a food truck, Fine said it was a given that the company needed a strong social media presence — so regulars and newbies could find them.
Leveraging that large platform allows Schmear It to feature these local organizations and charities, adding value to the nonprofits and schmearing good all over the city.
They’ve featured organizations like Bethesda Project, Mighty Writers, Philadelphia Orchard Project, HIAS Pennsylvania, Autism Speaks and Philabundance.
On Jan. 15, Fine was the keynote speaker for Drexel Hillel’s inaugural leadership summit.
He spoke to the students about his path to making Schmear It a reality and its growth over the past three years, as well as its social impact and the company’s values.
“Whenever I have the opportunity to talk, I hope to really engage with the audience,” he said.
He explained that when it comes to breadth versus depth in a business plan, for example, “I certainly don’t think there’s one right answer,” he said, “so the opportunity to set it up as a conversation and see how others weigh in is an interesting one.”
Down the road, Fine said he would love for Schmear It to continue growing, “seeing what role we can fill in Philadelphia, not just as a breakfast/coffee/bagel shop but also as this socially inspired, informed, do-good restaurant.”
For other startups, Fine said it’s important to think about creative ideas and make them stand out.
“Every other day there’s something new where you could easily give up, and that goes with any startup. But the key that ultimately makes you successful is your ability to not give up and to problem-solve and just keep working toward that mission and your goals,” he said.