Little Pete’s on a Friday morning, just after 9:30, the morning after Center City learned its favorite diner will be razed to make way for a 300-room boutique hotel complex : Quiet, unassuming, eclectic.
Some are wearing suits and blazers, some hoodies, others what appears to be the garb they woke up in. A few couples and groups sit in tables. Most everyone else sits at the counter by themselves, drinking coffee and ordering the Friday special: scrapple and eggs.
They are marketers, visitors to the city, elevator operators, contractors and businesswomen. For 34 years, Little Pete’s on 17th and Chancellor has been a 24/7 hole in the wall that’s stayed the same as Philadelphia’s most cosmopolitan neighborhood continued to grow around it.
“You have every walk of life coming in here,” says Lorenzo Labella, who works in the wind energy business at an office nearby on Walnut Street. “It is very, very interesting to say the least. Late at night, it’s quite a different place. There’s some characters.”
Labella, admittedly, used to be one of them. He first came to Little Pete’s the year it opened when he was a student at Penn. He can’t remember what he ordered then (“it was one of those wacky nights”), but he’s been a fan of the place ever since. Sometimes he walks over for breakfast or lunch. Sometimes he orders in. Either way, he usually eats Little Pete’s once a week.
“They have the best pot pie, on Thursdays,” he says. “The greatest.”
Close to some of Rittenhouse Square’s ritziest spots like Rouge, Prime Rib and Parc, Little Pete’s is in the neighborhood but not of the neighborhood. Its separation from the pack and its cheap prices seem to draw people in.
Temple Grassi had been tipped off about the impending redevelopment and so planned a trip Friday after playing court tennis at Philadelphia Racquet Club. He lives in Washington D.C. but visits Philadelphia about 15 times a year. For the last 25 or so years, he’s been coming to Little Pete’s on many of those trips.
“To have this here,” says Temple Grassi, “it’s a wonderful spot.”
Akil Taffe, who works in radio promotions for RCA records, was in town for tonight’s Powerhouse 2014 concert. One of his clients, Chris Brown, is performing. Taffe often stays at the Palomar and stops by Little Pete’s for breakfast.
“Two eggs at the Palomar would probably cost you 20 bucks,” he says, laughing.
He was starting his day. Others like Labella, Sharita Collins and a contractor who only gave his first name, John, worked nearby and were stopping in for a break. Some of them had heard Little Pete’s would close. I was breaking the news to others. Collins says she might have to start getting her pancakes at the soon-to-open Cheesecake Factory now.
Labella started talking about this area of the city. He’s been awestruck at the pace of development over the past three years. In Rittenhouse, on Walnut Street, the small businesses are becoming rare, in his opinion. All he sees now are nationally known stores looking to get their name out at a prime spot in the Philadelphia market. Uniqlo is here. Bloomindale’s could be coming. Though Labella is disappointed to see Little Pete’s on the way out, he’s excited about the future of the city.
“Ten years from now,” he says, “it’s going to be unbelievable.”
Across the counter, another man was talking a to a friend about why this had to happen: Philadelphia has one of the highest hotel occupancy rates of any city. The owner of the building will make tons more if the building is redeveloped.
On the way out, the cashier asks me if I’ve gotten some good stories to tell. I ask what he thinks about the end of Little Pete’s.
“It’s Center City,” he says matter-of-factly. “Everything’s getting developed.”