A Family Craft

The Presta family has been keeping Manayunk customers satisfied for nearly three decades.
By Megan Douress
Photography by JPG Photography (jpgphotography.com)

On warm spring and summer days, the corner of Main and Jamestown Streets is buzzing. The tables lining the sidewalk are consistently filled with hungry foodies and beer aficionados, who bring their energy and appreciation for craft food and drinks to Craft Manayunk. It’s a trend that Antonio Presta knew the neighborhood was missing when he was presented with the opportunity to open his own bar and restaurant at 4141 Main Street. After all, Antonio was practically raised in the kitchens of his family’s Manayunk businesses throughout the years.

“My dad moved here when he was about 18-years-old from Italy,” Antonio explained. “He didn’t speak a lick of English. I think he tried being a plumber at one point, he tried working at a car wash, and then he eventually got involved in the restaurant industry.”

Antonio’s father and uncle owned pizzerias in the area before becoming full-fledged restauranteurs. In 1989, they saw the potential Manayunk had and opened Bella Trattoria at 4258 Main Street, which was a neighborhood staple for 25 years. Meanwhile, Antonio’s cousin ran a lounge, Sapphire, at the corner of Main and Jamestown Streets.

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Antonio said. “We’ve been doing this our whole lives — ever since I was 12-years-old. I would polish silverware for money on weekends. I went from being a busser to a server to a bartender. I washed dishes at one point. I was on the line at one point when I was 17. I pretty much did everything from top to bottom.”

After 11 successful years as Sapphire, the lounge scene was phasing out. Antonio’s family came to a crossroads – either sell the property or come up with a new concept. Destined to be an entrepreneur, Antonio jumped in with a rebrand idea, inspired by his summers spent traveling throughout Europe.

“I’m a big foodie, so I pulled ideas from everywhere I’ve been,” Antonio explained. “I initially started with the name, Craft Manayunk, and then I developed the concept around the name — craft food, craft beer, everything was craft.”

After a few renovations and a total rebrand, 4141 Main Street opened its doors as Craft Manayunk in 2014. While Antonio had extensive experience in the food world, the booming craft beer scene was a different story. He took a quick lesson from one of his beer reps to learn about the new trend, but now looks to his knowledgeable staff to create a beer and cocktail menu that will keep their customers coming back for more.

“They’re the ones dealing with and accommodating customers 24/7,” Antonio said about his staff. “We take about two weeks to brainstorm where we discuss what people are looking for and what people are drinking more of, whether it’s more local or barrel-aged beers. Spirits are kept more local as well — there’s been a big trend for that.”

Antonio tips his hat to his chef when it comes to the food menu, too. He recently hired a new chef, James Varon, who has been keeping the menu fresh, especially with the changing of the seasons.

“In the spring and summer, everything will be fresh, raw ingredients,” James said. “It will be a big change to move from classic bar food that you see on Main Street a lot. It will be a balance between fried and light — balancing those dishes in general.”

Menu staples include the grilled filet mignon, topped with jalapeno scallion butter; steamed mussels; and their craft burgers and sandwiches. James recently added scratch tater tots to the menu, which customers have taken a liking to as well. As for the all-time customer favorite? The fried pickles, of course.

“It’s kind of scary how many pickles we go through!” Antonio laughed.

The seasons won’t only bring new menu items, but a more permanent version of Craft Manayunk’s patio, dubbed The Garden at Craft. For the last two years, customers were only able to hang out at the quaint beer garden for private events or Manayunk festival days. This summer, customers will be able to dine out back from Thursday to Sunday.

“We’ll do live music once a week, a lot of games, and we’re starting to think of ways we can do really cool events back there, like a pig roast,” Antonio said.

With a rotating menu and exciting events on the horizon, Craft Manayunk continues to evolve and adapt to the trends as the years go on.

“We want to be that neighborhood bar but we also want to give you the best possible food and drink products we can,” Antonio said. That’s one thing I can be extremely proud of — that anyone who comes in here isn’t afraid of change. We’re constantly changing our menu — constantly putting new things on and taking away favorites. The reason we do it is because we feel confident enough in our customer base to do it. They do trust us and as long as they enjoy it, we’re happy.”