Monday, December 21, 2009

'Restaurant Of The Future' A Little Bit Starr And A Little Bit Garces

the bazaar by jose andres at the sls hotel in beverly hills
One area of The Bazaar by Jose Andres in Beverly Hills — the restaurant of the future? | Photo via

The Wall Street Journal recently published an insightful article about how The Bazaar by Jose Andres at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills may be a harbinger of the future of dining.

The piece cites key aspects about the restaurant that correspond with strong overall trends in the restaurant industry, such as:

- Snacks Replace the Meal
- The Bar Is the Focus
- The Open Floor Plan
- Rejecting Traditional Fine Dining
- It's in a Hotel

It also provides counterpoints so as to never paint itself too far into a corner. E.g.
Snacks Replace the Meal

THE BAZAAR: Serves only tapas, or small plates, which can be ordered a la carte or as part of a multicourse menu.

THE FUTURE? Small-plates restaurants have been growing throughout the decade, but in the past year have made a quantum leap in popularity as restaurateurs look for ways to offer customers cheaper food without appearing to discount.
[...]
OR A FAD? Tapas are a Spanish tradition but not all food works tapas-style, and some diners will be reluctant to give up the familiar appetizer-entrée-dessert approach to a nice dinner out.
Anecdotal evidence supports the theory. While, The Bazaar has grossed more than $13 million in its first year, putting it in the top 50 highest earning restaurants in the country, other fine dining restaurants have been hit hard by the economy.
The $8 billion fine-dining business — the category of meals costing $70 and up — has been the hardest-hit sector of the struggling restaurant industry. Nearly every city has lost one of its most famous restaurants in the past two years, from the Striped Bass and Susanna Foo in Philadelphia to D'Amico Cucina in Minneapolis to Boston's Icarus and New York's Chanterelle.
Also interesting: the successes of both Stephen Starr and Jose Garces are referenced in the article.

For his part, Stephen Starr is quoted for what the restaurant of the future will not be. And that is, as he's said before, a restaurant like his Buddakan or Morimoto in New York City, which required inordinate amounts of raised capital to finance.
Three years ago, restaurateur Stephen Starr raised $15 million to build Buddakan and $11 million for Morimoto, both non-hotel restaurants in New York. "Getting that kind of money today for restaurants is impossible. It'll never happen in our lifetime again," Mr. Starr says.
While Chef Jose Garces is cited for his tapas prowess.
Over the past four years, Philadelphia chef Jose Garces has built a small empire of five small-plates restaurants and plans to open three more next year.

The small-plates format is a clever way around consumers' psychological barriers to restaurant spending. Consumer research shows that patrons order more when individual dishes are priced fairly low, and they don't spend time adding up the costs. Especially while the economy is soft, many fine-dining restaurants will offer a small-plates menu, either as a bar menu or instead of a traditional menu.
Meanwhile, both Starr and Garces seem to be affirming several of the article's theses in their own pursuits.

They both like the idea of hotel restaurants. Starr has Steak 954 at the W in Ft. Lauderdale and is currently pursuing another hotel restaurant in New York City. Before the recession killed (or at least severely wounded) them, Garces was looking at projects at new hotel properties in both Las Vegas (Fontainebleau) and Atlantic City (Revel).

And Starr's pull out from the Chelsea Hotel was more of a critical assessment of Atlantic City's prospects than it was about his interest in hotel ventures in general.

Garces obviously likes small plates. But as can be seen with the Cantina at Distito, he's willing to go even more accessible with it.

Starr's pushing casual too. Pizzeria Stella. Mexico City. Bar menu at Barclay Prime. Et cetera.

Overall, if these trends are, in fact, indicative of the big-time restaurants of the future, at least they sound relatively more fun and social.

Related:
Restaurant of the Future? A new model is changing the dining landscape across the country. The rise of small plates, big bars and hotel restaurants. [ Wall Street Journal ]

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Rob McElhenney's Forthcoming Always Sunny Inspired, Old City Bar Has A Name: Mac's Olde Towne Tavern

mac from it's always sunny in philadelphiaAs reported by Michael Klein in his Inqlings column on Sunday.

Can't say it's the greatest name in the world but not sure we care.

It should make money regardless.

Related:
Inqlings: A partly 'Sunny' bar for Old City [ Philadelphia Inquirer ]

Previously:
Mac From It's Always Sunny To Open Actual Bar In Philadelphia

Chelse Prime Doing Ok Without Stephen Starr; Starr Now Pursuing New Hotel Restaurant In New York City

the chelsea hotel in atlantic cityThe Press of Atlantic City reports that Chelsea Prime is doing fine without the oversight of Starr Restaurant Organization, in the three months since SRO and the Chelsea split.

Meanwhile, Stephen Starr is not sour on hotel projects. As was widely reported last week, Starr is now pursuing a new project in New York City that will be located at a hotel.

As to which hotel, Starr is not saying. But the speculation has already begun.

Related:
Chelsea Prime's just fine without Starr [ Press of Atlantic City ]
Stephen Starr Planning Vietnamese Restaurant in NYC Hotel [ Eater New York ]

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mac From It's Always Sunny To Open Actual Bar In Philadelphia

mac from it's always sunny in philadelphiaSo a couple of weeks back, we triangulated the theoretical location of the fictional Paddy's Pub from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Which turned out to be right around the corner from where Mac (aka Rob McElhenney) grew up in Pennsport in South Philadelphia.

And now we hear that Mac is coming back to his hometown as a bar owner... Word is that he and Dee (real life husband and wife, McElhenney and Kaitlin Olson) have purchased an actual bar in Old City.

Skinner's to be exact.

Which, incidentally, is only two blocks away from the unaffiliated Paddy's Pub on Race Street.

This is what McElhenney had to say earlier this year to Temple News:
TTN: Do you still have ties to Philadelphia?

RM: I’m home now more than I was when I lived in New York. I come home for Christmas and all the major holidays. My parents live in King of Prussia and Delaware County. My closest friends are guys I went to high school with.

I’m actually in the process of buying a bar in Philly with guys I went to high school with. It’s in the early stages, but they’ll run everything, and I’ll get back as much as I can. We’re still planning it, but it looks like we’ll open it in Center City.
Phoodie actually called Skinner's and got close to a confirmation.

Previously:
Mystery Location Of Paddy's Pub In It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia Finally Revealed

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Maybe Shake Shack Is Coming To Philadelphia...

shake shack madison square park
Shake Shack is looking to expand up and down the East Coast | Photo via Shake Shack

An article in today's New York Times takes a look at Shake Shack and its expansion plans, which could include 20 Shake Shack locations within five years, "mostly up and down the East Coast."

Philadelphia is on the East Coast. So look out.
Mr. Meyer’s accidental empire began with a hot dog cart in 2001, part of an art installation in Madison Square Park. “To our astonishment, every day, a line would form,” Mr. Meyer said. The cart expanded into a burger stand, “and none of us had any idea that that could be a success.”
[...]
The popularity of the Shake Shacks has been wildly beyond expectations, partly due to their humble order average of $13, “perfect for this economy,” Mr. Swinghamer said.

Remarkably, with more than $4 million in yearly sales, each of the Manhattan Shacks outdistances both premium and mass-market burger chains. McDonald’s, for example, has an average of $2.29 million in yearly revenues from each of its 13,958 outlets, according to Technomic, a Chicago-based restaurant consultant. The Shacks also outdo a premium-burger legend, the Virginia-based Five Guys Burgers and Fries; its 535 stores each average $1.03 million in sales.
[...]
So how fast and how far can the Hospitality Group take this? Five Guys began franchising only in 2003, and has now ballooned to 535 stores. "Our focus is not on how many you do," Mr. Swinghamer said bluntly. "If we can't do it right? We won’t do it."

Mr. Meyer commented that "we will grow as broadly as we can, without losing the quality, the hospitality, the community. And the sense of humor."
Quality article. Give it a read.

Meanwhile, Eater is even holding a contest, in which entries are submissions for where the next Shake Shack should be and why...

Related:
The Accidental Empire of Fast Food - Union Square Cafe's Danny Meyer Makes a Fast-Food Chain [ New York Times ]
Will the 'Shacking of America' Make a Pitstop in America's Birthplace? [ Grub Street Philadelphia ]
Make Your Case for Shake Shack #9, Win $50 of Burgers [ Eater New York ]

Previously:
Friends Of Rittenhouse Square Looking At Ways To Monetize Park; A Permanent Food Concession (A La Square Burger/Shake Shack) Is One Potential Outcome

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Friends Of Rittenhouse Square Looking At Ways To Monetize Park; A Permanent Food Concession (A La Square Burger/Shake Shack) Is One Potential Outcome

shake shack in madison square park new york city
Rent from food concessions is one way urban parks are generating revenue | Photo via

No, Shake Shack is not coming to Philadelphia. (At least not yet...)

But the photo is illustrative of the concept that is now applicable to Rittenhouse Square. Albeit, on a smaller scale.

The Friends of Rittenhouse Square are in the process of evaluating different ways the park can generate revenue.

For example, one way could be charging fees for organizations to host events (e.g. art shows, fashion shows, etc.) in the square. Or finding corporate sponsors for the square. Or assessing neighboring property owners.

And/or, yes, leasing a food concession to an eager restaurateur.

Not completely unlike Square Burger. Or Shake Shack. (Except Rittenhouse Square's location having much greater demand than Franklin Square.)

To help them evaluate the square's revenue-generation options, the Friends of Rittenhouse Square have hired Dan Biederman, who was responsible for turning around Manhattan's Bryant Park in the early 90s. His consulting firm, Biederman Redevelopment Ventures Corporation, now specializes in public space projects across the world.

(Bryant Park has been completely self-sustaining since 1998 and now generates more than $7 million dollars annually to be invested back into the park. In the winter, they turn the park's beautiful green lawn into a skating rink complete with a two-story bar and restaurant.)

Inga Saffron first reported on this in November:
Striking the balance between public and private goals will be tricky. Should Rittenhouse Square allow a food concession? Franklin Square did, but it isn't surrounded by restaurants.
[...]
The new management structure wouldn't be just about making money. Rosen can imagine setting aside space for yoga classes or a children's story hour. She wants to close the park's 18th Street side for occasional block parties with local restaurants.
The Friends of Rittenhouse Square are smart for looking at ways to make the park self-sustaining and not reliant on public dollars.

The challenge will be raising revenue while also keeping as much of the park as possible open as public space as often as as possible.

Related:
Friends of Rittenhouse Square Look to Revitalize the Park [ KYW 1060 ]
Daniel A. Biederman Named Consultant for the Friends of Rittenhouse Square [ PR Newswire ]
Changing Skyline: Struggle to make season bright on the square [ Philadelphia Inquirer ]

Monday, December 14, 2009

With Comcast To Soon Own Bravo, Getting Top Chef To Film An Upcoming Season In Philadelphia Should Not Be Exceedingly Difficult

comcast center philadelphia by b. mauleJust something worth noting.
At every turn, Comcast has emphasized to its own shareholders that the deal's purpose is to gain control over NBC Universal’s fast-growing cable channels.
Including Bravo.

The purchase of NBC-Universal could take more than a year to process completely.

But after it does, Comcast should seriously consider wielding its influence on such decisions as "where Season 8 of Top Chef should film."

Related:
G.E. Makes It Official: NBC Will Go to Comcast [ New York Times ]
NBC-Comcast Deal Puts Broadcast TV in Doubt [ New York Times ]
Comcast: Not your traditional Philadelphia firm [ Philadelphia Inquirer ]

[ Photo by B. Maule of PhillySkyline.com ]

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stephen Starr Also Pushing For Top Chef To Film In Philadelphia

stephen starr and tom colicchio on top chefMeal Ticket scored an interview with Starr regarding his appearance on the season finale of Top Chef.

The last question asked Starr about the possibility of bringing the show to Philadelphia.
Q. What are the chances of seeing a Top Chef season set in Philly in the future?

A. I don't know. Of course I put my two cents in that they should do that. I've pushed the producers. I told them they need to come to Philly, it's a great culinary town. I think they are considering it.
Well, 'considering it' is better than 'not considering it.'

Related:
INTERVIEW: Stephen Starr discusses the Top Chef Las Vegas Final Table [ Meal Ticket ]

Previously:
Tom Colicchio Wants To Open A Restaurant In Philadelphia And *GASP* Maybe Even Film Top Chef Here

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tom Colicchio Wants To Open A Restaurant In Philadelphia And *GASP* Maybe Even Film Top Chef Here

tom colicchio top chef vegas
Roll the dice, Tom | Photo via Bravo

Tom Colicchio did a Top Chef season finale interview with The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

Philadelphia unexpectedly came up during the interview not once, but twice.

First:
Q. Rumor has it that Stephen Starr is a guest diner on tonight’s show. When can we expect the empire to expand to Philadelphia?

A. I want to — plans were in the works but Stephen might have taken the space instead actually. Two great restaurants, Vetri and Osteria are there. They’re incredible. Development dollars are low right now so no immediate plans, but we’ll see for the future.
1) Awesome that Colicchio wants to bring one of his Craft restaurants to Philadelphia. 2) Meanwhile, what was the space here in Philadelphia that Starr grabbed before Tom could get his hands on it?

Then, two questions further into the interview, the real shocker:
Q. Have you thought about Top Chef international?

A. We go where the money is. I would love to do the show in London -– in a heartbeat. One of the producers is a Brit so I think he’d like that as well.

Q. Are there any cities right now that might experience a culinary revival, say in a couple years after they go through puberty?

A. I think DC and Philly are having a great moment. It would be great to film in both of those places.
Chicago presented such an excellent backdrop for the show because of the food culture.
What the WHAT?!

Tom Colicchio just said it'd be great to film Top Chef in Philadelphia — that is a huge endorsement.

Sure Philadelphia could be a great host city, but it's rare for someone from outside the city (let alone Tom Colicchio) to recognize as much and give Philadelphia such a glowing endorsement in the The Wall Street Journal.

And considering the strength of said endorsement, along with his connections to Top Chef, and the fact that Season 7 of the show, to begin filming in early 2010, is still looking for a host city, the question now becomes whether Philadelphia is going to do anything with the endorsement? Like take the hint and start to court the shit out of Top Chef's producers.

Because it appears that Washington DC is already aggressively pursuing Bravo, seeking to bring the show to DC.

And we don't blame them.

Related:
"Top Chef" Season 6 Finale: Head Judge Tom Colicchio Offers a Preview [ Wall Street Journal ]
Bringing Bravo’s Top Chef to DC [ We Love DC ]

Previously:
Tom Colicchio Road Trips Through Philly, Making Sure To Break His Vetri Cherry

Monday, December 07, 2009

Laban Annoints The Village Whiskey Burger As The City's Best

Craig Laban has a new favorite burger: the $9 Village Burger at Village Whiskey. (Note: not the $24 Whiskey King Burger.)
Add to this mix a splash of super-chef Jose Garces, and rest assured that the burger itself has also been given its gastronomic due. Ground in-house daily from grass-fed, naturally raised Maine beef, with different grind sizes for the various cuts in the blend, and an ingenious shaping technique that results in patties with a perfect end-grain (as opposed to one big bouncy smush), this is now my single favorite Philly burger.

One can top it with shaved white Alba truffles or creamy pads of seared foie gras, or a cool salad of sweet lump crab tossed with horseradish crème fraîche. But such gilding, aside from some cave-aged Vermont cheddar or smoky Oregon bleu, is hardly necessary. The liver, in fact, actually gets in the way of the primal satisfaction this $9 wonder already gives. With its ideal seasoning, meaty tenderness, and butter-crisped bun, its flavor lingers on my taste buds with the all-day mineral shine of a far more expensive cut of beef. The sweet amber sting of whiskey only intensifies the hum.
Two bells for Village Whiskey overall.

Related:
Village Whiskey - Jose Garces' latest tempts with fine spirits and a burger that is Philadelphia's best. Good luck getting [ Philadelphia Inquirer ]
Craig LaBan's Favorite Burgers - 2007 [ Philadelphia Inquirer ]

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Jen Carroll Is Extremely Happy At 10 Arts And Does Not Plan On Leaving Anytime Soon

Jennifer Carroll has given several exit interviews since departing Top Chef in Part 1 of the Season Finale on Wednesday, including a good one on Grub Street.

However, it was her exit interview with TV Guide in which she revealed that a) she felt strongly about winning the competition to represent not just herself and her restaurant, but also Philadelphia, and b) she's extremely happy at 10 Arts doing what she's doing and it won't be easy to lure her away.
TVGuide.com: Why do you think you got so emotional at the end?

Jen: Throughout the whole season, I've been pretty hard on myself. When I do one thing wrong, it's a monster mistake to me because I like to things to be perfect. But I got emotional because I was disappointed in myself and wanted to go further. I wanted to represent Philadelphia, myself, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Eric Ripert in the final episode. I wanted to win, so it was a disappointment. I never thought the experience was going to be as emotional as it was, and I cried the whole season. [Laughs] When people left, I was so upset because I became so close to them. I had seen other people crying on the show [in past seasons] and was like, "They've only known each other two weeks, how are they that good of friends?" But it's truly a bonding experience.

TVGuide.com: Do you have any regrets?

Jen: I regret the little mistakes, but I don't regret being on the show. It's been great for the restaurant and the hotel and Philly as a whole. I'm still Chef de Cuisine [at] 10 Arts by Eric Ripert, which is in the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia. Right now we're just living in the afterlife of Top Chef. [Laughs] I have no plans on moving anywhere or doing anything different. I'm extremely happy where I am. Eric is so proud of me and all of my bosses have been such an amazing support throughout the season.
Love to see the hometown pride.

Well done, Jennifer. Please do stay awhile.

Related:
Top Chef's Jen: "I Was Thrown" by Tom Colicchio's Comment [ TV Guide ]
Jen Carroll Will Pronounce Ceviche Any Way She'd Like
[ Grub Street Philadelphia ]

Friday, December 04, 2009

Obama In Allentown Today, Lunching At Hamiton Family Restaurant

ham fam diner in allentown pa
Obama ate lunch at the Hamilton Family Restaurant | Image via

President Obama is visiting the Lehigh Valley today to talk about jobs. After his speech at Lehigh Carbon Community College, he headed to the Hamilton Family Restaurant for lunch.

So even though he didn't dine out when he was in Philadelphia back in September, at least he is showing a little love for a Pennsylvania eatery today.

UPDATE: The President had the cheeseburger.

Related:
Allentown's eateries hungry for chance to feed Obama [ Allentown Morning Call ]

Previously:
Obama To Visit Philly On Tuesday, But Will He Stay For Dinner?

Will Allen Iverson's Return Mark A Return To Glory For The Houlihan's And TGI Friday's Of City Avenue?

NBC Philadelphia very astutely wonders if, now that Allen Iverson is coming back to Philadelphia, he will end up patronizing some of his favorite hangouts from the good old days.

Like the Houlihan's and TGI Friday's that reside across from each other on City Ave. at Presidential, two establishments which AI used to frequent multiple times a week earlier in his career.

To each his own. If Allen still loves his Friday's, we're not going to judge.

We just hope that he throws Center City a bone every now and again. Maybe a pop-in here and there...

It's been three years since he left and we're sure he would be very happy at a number of the new dining establishments that have opened since he left.

And Allen, the fans here would love to see you out and about. Here in town. Dining among the people.

UPDATE: That was quick.

Meanwhile, below is the latest evidence as to why Allen Iverson is probably the greatest individual we'll ever know.



Goddammit, Allen Iverson — you had at us at hello.

You had us at hello.

Related:
Is City Ave. Ready for Iverson's Return? [ NBC Philadelphia ]

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Chef Daniel Stern Shares Thoughts On Menu Trends For 2010

As part of their 2010 food trends blowout, Restaurants & Institutions has a Q&A with Chef Daniel Stern about menu trends to look out for in the coming year.

Among other things, Stern addresses the recession and its effects, the differences and similarities between MidAtlantic and R2L, and some of the things he thinks consumers are looking for when dining out.

Related:
Menu Trends Q&A: Daniel Stern, Mid-Atlantic and R2L
[ Restaurants & Institutions ]

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Philebrity Nominated The Illadelph For An Award

Which was very kind of them.

And even though we have not been covering as much general Philadelphia stuff of late, it's nice to have been included with our fellow nominees.

(Jose Garces and Shane Victorino among them — albeit for entirely different categories...)

Anyway, a big thanks to all of our readers — you guys have great taste.

Related:
The 2009 Philebrity Awards

God Bless Allen Iverson (II)

Welcome back.

You have been missed.

Dearly.






Merry Christmas to us.

Related:
He's Back; Iverson accepts 76ers offer [ ESPN ]

Is The Stephen Starr - Jose Garces Rivalry Escalating?

letto deli philadelphia
The coveted Letto Deli in Midtown Village — a culprit?

A brief time line:

- 2001: Jose Garces goes to work for Stephen Starr (via Douglas Rodriguez) at Alma de Cuba.

- 2003: Stephen Starr opens El Vez after then employee Jose Garces brings him the concept.

- 2003: Garces debuts as Executive Chef at El Vez's opening for Starr.

- 2005: Garces leaves El Vez and SRO, opens Amada.

- 2005 - 2008: Both Starr and Garces enjoy success independently.

And now, the fun part:

- July 2008: Garces opens Distrito, directly competing with and looking somewhat similar to El Vez.

Says Garces at the time: "I opened El Vez in 2003. It was a concept I actually brought to Stephen [Starr]. When I left, of course, I had to leave El Vez behind. This [Distrito] feels like I'm taking back something that was mine, very close to my heart."

Note: Distrito was named after Distrito Federal, which is another name for Mexico City.


- October-December 2008: Starr, a self-professed expert at finding great space, finds and then bails on the super hot Letto Deli location in Midtown Village, unable to make the seating work for a rumored burger bar concept.

- October 2009: Garces signs lease for aforementioned super hot Letto Deli location in Midtown Village, vowing to bring a Brats and Beer concept to the space.

- October 2009: Starr signs lease for pretty solid Midtown IV diner location near Rittenhouse.

- November 2009: Garces wins The Next Iron Chef. (Former boss Starr not in attendance at victory party at Distrito.)

- November 2009: Starr releases name for the restaurant he plans for Midtown IV location: Mexico City. As in another name for Distrito Federal. As in Distrito...

ZING.

Starr and Garces will both play it down publicly.

But this recent stuff can easily be interpreted as blatantly obvious restaurateur jabs aimed at one another.

Which makes it all a little more entertaining, no?

Related:
Starr to say ole! to Rittenhouse Square [ The Insider - Philly.com ]