When Stephen Starr’s restaurant holdings swelled to a dozen or more in the early 2000s, he was unique in Philadelphia. Though there’s still nothing quite like the Starr empire — not here or in most other cities — he’s no longer that much of an outlier. If a chef or proprietor has success with one place, it’s become almost expected that they’ll branch out and open another. And if the second is successful, too? Sky’s the limit.
Dine or drink in any Philly restaurant today, and chances are good that the proprietors also run another spot. Or, in many cases, more than one.
Why has owning multiple restaurants become popular?
“Oddly, economies of scale don’t apply too much,” says Jason Evenchik, who opened Vintage 10 years ago in the Gayborhood and has since branched out in numerous directions. A slight monetary advantage is gained by having centralized bookkeeping and payroll, he says, and “with several restaurants you have more buying power with vendors.”
Chris Fetfatzes, who is currently restoring a South Philly building into what will be his fourth restaurant with wife Heather Annechiarico, points out that simply already having a vendor list is a big help. “You’re not starting from scratch looking for purveyors,” he explains. But mostly, he and Annechiarico open places for the excitement.
“We want to challenge ourselves with the unknown,” he says. “We are always looking to find great opportunities that a) we’re passionate about and b) we feel can broaden our knowledge.”
During the development of Lo Spiedo in the Navy Yard in late 2013, Jeff Benjamin explained the reasoning behind Vetri’s explosion from a single restaurant to a family of seven over a span of just six years. One driving factor was the ability to retain good staff.
“It comes down to human resources,” he said. “We have so many great people working with us, both in the back and front of the house, and we don’t want to lose them. But we do want them to be able to grow, to advance their careers.”
Benjamin also credited advances in technology with making the expansion possible: “I used to ask how I could be in more than one place at once — which I considered a prerequisite for overseeing several restaurants — and now I pretty much can, using my phone.”
Vetri is one of the Philly restaurant organizations just about everyone knows, along with Starr. Garces is another — all Jose Garces venues are branded and marketed under one umbrella. CookNSolo has become a more familiar name recently, thanks to its expansion into other cities, and though few people call it by its formal name (We <3 13th Street), the mini Midtown Village queendom run by Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran is well-recognized, if only because all the venues are on the same block.
But there are several other impressive groups flourishing right now. Many of them fly under the radar, so customers often don’t even realize different spots are run by the same organization. There’s no real reason you need to know places you patronize are linked, but sometimes it’s fun to connect the dots.
Here’s a rundown of some of the major rising restaurant groups in Philadelphia.
The Vintage Syndicate
Jason Evenchik only recently came up with an overarching name for his assorted holdings. He has different partners in for the different ventures, but they all work together to streamline operations and marketing.
Midtown Village wine bar with European flair in both decor (dark and sultry) and the menu (bistro plates).
129 S. 23th St. 19107
Sansom Street triad composed of a dining area with live blues and jazz, a whiskey bar and an absinthe party room.
1315 Sansom St. 19107
Tattooed bartenders serving beer with no nonsense (or food) to a jukebox soundtrack with a pool table upstairs.
1309 Sansom St. 19107
La Casa de tu Madre (2012, as Growlers; reconceptualized 2015)
Laid-back Bella Vista joint with tacos, margaritas, colorful lights and Day of the Dead skulls.
800 Fitzwater St. 19147
Industrial game hall across from Cheesesteak Vegas with hundreds of beers in cans and a rotating indoor food truck menu.
1231 E. Passyunk Ave. 19147
Rooftop-garden-sourced dining in Northern Liberties with a giant beer list, a long bar and live jazz nightly.
914 N. 2nd St. 19123
Modern take on the Polynesian theme, with less kitsch than 1970s versions but the same strong rum cocktails, paper parasols included.
102 S. 13th St. 19107
Garage North (opening Aug. 2016)
Fishtown sibling to the South Philly original, with canned beer, games and food from a built-in cart.
100 E. Girard Ave. 19125
13th Street Kitchens
Michael and Jeniphur Pasquarello started their enterprise on 13th Street — not the trendy part where Midtown Village is, but on the other side of Market. They’ve since opened up further north and also to the south, although they closed Point Breeze bistro Buckminsters earlier this year.
Cafe Lift (2003)
BYOB just off Spring Garden, where the setting is hard and industrial, but the every-day brunch is all about comfort.
428 N. 13th St. 19123
Prohibition Taproom (2005)
Across the street from Cafe Lift, a double whammy of great beer and hearty food served all day and all night.
501 N. 13th St. 19123
On the corner of Spring Garden, BYO to go with wood-fired pizza plus Southern Italian antipasti.
1240 Spring Garden St. 19123
Kensington Quarters (2014)
Fishtown bar and dining room with a menu centered around sustainable meat from the built-in a retail butcher shop.
1310 Frankford Ave. 19125
The first restaurant Michael Schulson launched was in Atlantic City (Izakaya at the Borgata, still going strong), but soon after he brought his expertise in Asian cuisines to Philadelphia. He’s since branched into classic American food, in various ways.
Cocktails at a sleek bar, snacks at a large chef’s counter and modern dim sum from all over Asia in dining rooms with color-changing walls.
124 S. 13th St. 19107
Graffiti Bar (2011)
Outdoor partner to the pan-Asian restaurant with custom namesake graffiti on the walls and a deal-heavy happy hour.
124 S. 13th St. 19107
Independence Beer Garden (2014)
Beer, drinks, snacks, sandwiches and games at a lively plant-filled oasis directly across from the Liberty Bell.
100 S. Independence Mall 19106
Double Knot (2016)
Coffee shop with pastries and noodle bowl lunches by day, underground cocktail house with sushi and robatayaki grilled meat by night.
120 S. 13th St. 19107
Harp & Crown (opening early fall 2016)
Bi-level Southern-inspired restaurant and late-night lounge with a built-in bowling lane on Sansom Street in Center City.
1525 Sansom St. 19102
Craft Concepts Group
With the announcement of a fifth beer-focused location this summer, publican Teddy Sourias decided it was finally time to give his growing group of Center City venues an overarching name.
Finn McCool’s Ale House (2001)
Irish-inspired sports pub with a beer list split between crafts and domestics, revamped in 2008 with a more modern look.
118 S. 12th St. 19107
Bru Craft & Wurst (2013)
Midtown Village beer haven with two entrances, indoor picnic tables and a pour-your-own tap wall.
1316 Chestnut St. 19107
Subterranean tavern inspired by the German underground with a mini performance stage and arcade games.
1320 Chestnut St. 19107
Uptown Beer Garden (2015)
Seasonal weekday beer garden with snacks that takes over an office building courtyard in Center City.
1735 Market St. 19103
Cinder (opening Sept. 2016)
Cider and sour beer bar serving wood-oven pizza on the corner of 15th and Locust.
1500 Locust St. 19102
“Sadly for journalists,” per Leigh Maida, there’s no official name for the collection of taverns she runs with partners Brendan Hartranft and Brendan Kelly, but their focus on out-of-the-ordinary pours and attention to vegetarian dishes is easy to spot. (RIP Resurrection Ale House, 2009-2014.)
Memphis Taproom (2008)
Craft beers in a Kensington tappie with a permanent food truck doling out hot dogs and sandwiches at one of the city’s first beer gardens out back.
2331 E. Cumberland St. 19125
Local 44 (2009)
Scratch-made food in a West Philly pub with an attached bottle shop carrying an extensive selection of large-format beers.
4333 Spruce St. 19104
Bi-level pub with unique draft and rare bottled beer lists serving lunch, brunch and dinner in Wash West.
216 S. 11th St. 19107
Neighborhood-friendly but elegant bistro inspired by Montreal with wine on tap and poutine on the menu.
824 S. 8th St. 19147
Thin-crust pizza and inexpensive libations make for family-friendly (and student-friendly) dining spread across two floors across from Clark Park.
4301 Baltimore Ave. 19104
Stephen Simons and David Frank have been in the Philly bar game for decades, slowly building their portfolio, but recently they’ve ramped things up with new openings (plus another in Old City that’s rumored to be in the works).
Khyber Pass Pub (1988)
Born as a gritty alt-rock music bar in the heart of Old City, revamped in 2010 with an extended draft list and NOLA-inspired food.
56 S. 2nd St. 19106
Royal Tavern (2002)
Relaxed Queen Village taproom with a pub food menu full of many vegan dishes available at lunch, brunch and dinner.
937 E. Passyunk Ave. 19147
Cantina Los Caballitos (2006)
Pitchers of margaritas and big burrito platters in a colorful dining room with enclosed outdoor patio, launched on East Passyunk before the block was hot.
1651 E. Passyunk Ave. 19147
Cantina Dos Segundos (2008)
Northern Liberties sibling to its counterpart to the south, with tequila and nachos aplenty.
931 N. 2nd St. 19123
Triangle Tavern (2015)
Long-defunct but much-beloved saloon in South Philly, brought back to life with eclectic decor and an Italian-American menu.
1338 S. 10th St. 19147
Royal Sushi & Izakaya (opening Sept. 2016)
Thanks to a partnership with father-son sushi masters Jesse and Matt Ito, Queen Village is getting a Japanese-style tavern.
780 S. 2nd St. 19147
Club del Buon Gustiao (club of good taste)
Peter McAndrews was born Irish but cooks Italian as well as anyone out there. Though he has focused on that cuisine — including at La Porta Ristorante in Media — he’s also branched into others, like Philly-style hoagies and unconventional tacos.
Modo Mio (2007)
Tiny cash-only trattoria on a Girard Avenue corner where the Italians at the table next to you will almost always share their BYO wine.
161 W. Girard Ave. 19123
Paesano’s Philly Style (2009)
Currently closed for a move to a larger spot down the block from the original, a counter-service lunch joint serving loaded sandwiches to Northern Liberties.
143 W. Girard Ave. 19123
Paesano’s South Philly (2010)
Bringing those creative hoagies (like the fried lasagna — topped with a fried egg, of course) within easier reach of the southern part of the city.
1017 S. 9th St. 19147
Elegant Sicilian BYOB with white tablecloths and large plate-glass windows looking out at the Italian Market.
901 Christian St. 19147
“Tacos that don’t suck” from a Fishtown shack with a walk-up window surrounded by picnic tables that turn into a beer garden in the summertime.
1431 Frankford Ave. 19125
Paesano’s Temple (2016)
The fourth outpost (there’s also a seasonal spot in Margate) of what may eventually be a regional brand.
2012 N. Broad St. 19121
Chris Fetfatzes and Heather Annechiarico didn’t have any restaurant or bar experience before their first venture, and they don’t yet have a name for their collection of spots, each of which they opened as places they’d enjoy patronizing.
A full-service restaurant with a bottle shop built in, so you can pull your own beer to go with elevated diner-style food. Rebuilt from the ground up after a devastating fire in 2014.
738 S. 11th St. 19147
The Cambridge (2012)
Cozy neighborhood tavern on South Street West with a full bar, a varied menu (burgers to fettuccine) and a courtyard out back.
1508 South St. 19146
Tio Flores (2015)
Huge beer list, margaritas and creative Mexican food (with nacho-dusted tortilla chips) in a casual atmosphere just up the block.
1600 South St. 19146
Grace & Proper (opening spring 2017)
Old-school Italian taproom a block from the Italian Market in a restored corner property.
941 S. 8th St. 19147