Marc Vetri and his partners Jeff Benjamin, Jeff Michaud and Brad Spence are ready for some big moves.
Tuesday night, they hosted the 10th annual Great Chefs Event — a wildly successful fundraiser for Alex’s Lemonade Stand and the Vetri Foundation for Children, but none of the four were spotted shaking it on the dance floor as Questlove DJ’d the after party.
Instead, they’re preparing for expansion, in a big way. This week, Benjamin finalized the lease for a Pizzeria Vetri in Austin, TX, and he’s working on more, both in Texas and elsewhere. And if plans work out, Pizzeria Vetri won’t be the only concept to get new siblings.
A good relationship with Urban Outfitters is driving the action right now. URBN is the landlord of the Austin space where Pizzeria Vetri will open, which is located at 2420 San Antonio Street, right next to the University of Texas campus. The storefront is relatively small, with only 1,000 sq. ft. inside, but the block can accommodate 9,000 sq. ft. of outdoor seating, with 4,000 sq. ft. or so reserved just for Vetri customers. A custom Renato brick oven has already been commissioned for the Austin shop (instead of being dual-mouthed like the ones in Philly, it’s just huge), and construction hammers will get to work as soon as next week. An October opening is targeted.
Benjamin says he got to know the URBN folks through their involvement in the Vetri Foundation — they host the GCE party each year at their Navy Yard HQ, among other things — and that URBN expressed interest in having the Vetri Family be part of their new concept. URBN has made the decision to surround future stores with unique, independent businesses offering things you can’t necessarily just order on Amazon. It’s a strategy designed to build foot traffic, while in the meantime building vibrant downtown blocks.
URBN suggested Pizzeria Vetri would make a good neighbor to a forthcoming Austin store, so Vetri and Benjamin flew to Austin to check it out.
“The city is so inviting and so vibrant; there’s always something going on,” Benjamin told Billy Penn. “We said, ‘Sure, let’s give it a shot.’”
The URBN lease is the only one confirmed so far, but Austin can look forward to at least one, and probably two more Pizzeria Vetri outposts within the next two years. Per Benjamin: “It doesn’t make sense to open just one.” If the company is going to dedicate resources to a location that’s a 3-hour plane ride away, it makes financial sense to operate several restaurants.
Multiple locations will also make it easier for the Vetri Family to import the bit of Philly culture they’re looking to bring with them to Texas. Several current employees have expressed interest in either moving to Austin or planning a 3-month stayover. Many Austinites will also be hired, to the tune of 10-15 people per store. When it opens, the San Antonio St. restaurant will be the eighth establishment in the Vetri stable.
Vetri Culinary Director Jeff Michaud is overseeing the Pizzeria Vetri expansion. Along with Marc, he was the driving force behind Osteria, which brought Philly one of its first Neapolitan pizza ovens, and he loves the concept.
“I’m excited to do this — I had so much fun opening the original Pizzeria Vetri,” Michaud said. Pizzeria Vetri first opened on Callowhill Street across from the Barnes in late summer 2013. The second launched in Rittenhouse this month. In addition to Austin, expansion to Washington, DC is also in the plans.
Benjamin has been attempting to secure DC leases for months, but only just recently did he make it to real negotiations there. If things work out, the first DC Pizzeria Vetri will open at 14th and Florida Ave. NW, possibly in the first quarter of 2016. A second area location is being worked on for Bethesda.
More than pizza
Also in the cards are Vetri restaurants in Devon, PA. Urban Outfitters has announced plans to rejuvenate the 6.5-acre site that was formerly home to Waterloo Gardens. According to Benjamin, the Vetri Family has expressed interest in being part of that development, and if the deal is finalized, they will look to open more than one restaurant there. So it’s possible that the Main Line will get not only a Pizzeria Vetri, but also a more upscale Vetri restaurant. Benjamin isn’t sure yet which one, but smart money is on rotisserie-focused Lo Spiedo, considering that Osteria — the only Vetri concept already operating outside of Philadelphia, in the Moorestown Mall — also features Neapolitan pizza.