Namesake: The White Dog Café

A Philly legend with a national reputation
By Kay Elliott, October 2009, Updated June 2021

Twenty-five years ago, Judy Wicks opened the White Dog Café on the first floor of her Philadelphia brownstone, selling muffins and coffee to go. Today, the restaurant—which now takes up the entire residence, plus two adjacent houses—has a national reputation for both its award-winning cuisine and its owner’s social activism.

The restaurant’s name honors former resident Helena P. Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society (which emphasized altruism, unity and compassion in everyday life), who occupied the brownstone in 1875. The dog entered the story when Madame Blavatsky was laid low with a serious infection of the leg. Refusing to allow doctors to amputate, she addressed the problem by having a white dog lie across her leg at night, “curing all in no time.”

The café and its associated nonprofit, White Dog Community Enterprises (WDCE), have established a tradition of community-building with their support of global fair trade, environmental sustainability, socially responsible business, and peace and nonviolence. Wicks is widely recognized for her work in the local, living economies movement and has a plethora of accolades to her credit, including the distinguished James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year award.

The White Dog Café celebrates its 25th anniversary on September 12 with a “Dance of the Ripe Tomatoes” block party. You can pay $45 for the event (profits are earmarked for the Philadelphia Fair Food Project, one of WDCE’s signature causes), or just show up and dance with your dog for free. If you miss the anniversary party, all is not lost; you and your well-behaved pup are always welcome at the café’s outdoor tables.

White Dog Café
3420 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, Pa.

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 50: Sept/Oct 2008

Courtesy of the White Dog Café

Kay Elliott is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner and owner of Handful of Hounds. She lives with two rambunctious rescued Rottweilers in Petaluma, Calif.