Pope Francis’ visit to Philly has been a bust for the city’s restaurant industry.
Except for the few that set up special stands outside their doors — vending at a (very sparse) city-wide street fair — Center City restaurant owners across the board report dismal sales throughout the Francis Festival so far. The lack of business was further exacerbated by two things. Sales were slow the entire week leading up to the visit, thanks to businesses, schools and city offices closing, city-dwellers leaving town and suburban diners scared off by early parking and traffic restrictions. On top of that, restaurateurs had been encouraged by the city and World Meeting of Family officials to bulk up on supplies for a boom that never came.
But there is a silver lining. At least some of that extra food is going to help homeless Philadelphians.
Along with her husband Pierre, Charlotte Calmels owns two relatively upscale restaurants, and her experience this week was discouraging. Revenues at Rittenhouse Square’s Le Chéri were down a full 80 percent, she said. At Bibou, a South Philly BYOB located outside the traffic box, they fell to around 40 percent of normal.
“I wish the city would give us some kind of tax break,” she said. And then, a different idea: “All of us will be sitting on so much food that will go to waste. The shelters and food banks should go around to all the restaurants and collect it — if one of them calls me, I am happy to give it to them.”
Possibly not quite as happy as Margaux Murphy was when she heard of Calmels’ offer.
“Seriously??? I would love to get [the food] for tomorrow’s distribution,” she wrote in an excited text message. “How do I go about this?”
Murphy runs The Sunday Love Project, a volunteer organization that coordinates a meal giveaway to homeless people each week, and also tries to foster a sense of community. Because of logistical issues during the papal visit, she had planned for today’s meal to consist of nothing but a few crockpots of her homemade chili. Instead, she will swing by Le Chéri on Sunday morning and add some fine French fare to the menu. Since she can’t distribute at her normal spot on Logan Circle, she’ll be giving it out in front of the Last Stop Clubhouse, under the El near K&A.
If other food banks and shelters are interested in taking advantage, they should know that other restaurateurs are also open to the idea, if they do in fact end up with leftover food.
A representative for Stephen Starr — who had told the Inquirer that the papal visit “affected business worse than Hurricane Sandy” — said his 20-plus Philly restaurants did not expect to have a lot of excess food. “We didn’t anticipate high levels of business, and ordered appropriately,” she said. “However, if we find a surplus we would certainly be up for [giving it to shelters].”
Marc Vetri was also into it. All of his seven Philadelphia dining rooms were extremely slow — “dead,” in restaurant parlance — except Pizzeria Vetri on Callowhill, which is located right near a Parkway entrance checkpoint. After convincing Secret Service and city officials not to close off the entire block, a surprise restriction that had not been expected, he thought the pizzeria, selling slices out front at an impromptu stand, would “maybe do OK.”
Asked whether he thought shelters should contact restaurants to see about leftover food, he answered, “Probably [a] good idea.”
“Why throw [food] away if you can donate it,” said Teddy Sourias, who reported miserable sales at all three of his bars: Bru Craft & Wurst, U-Bahn and Finn McCool’s. However, he didn’t personally expect to throw away food. “We created a non-perishable menu, just in case this would happen.”
Some of the leftover food will likely turn into staff meals — what a restaurant feeds its kitchen and waitstaff before service each night.
HipCityVeg’s Nicole Marquis — who said, “This has been so bad for business, big disappointment” — is using her excess supplies to host a post-pope industry night at Bar Bombon in Rittenhouse Square. Starting at 8 PM, those in the biz can swing by for $3 Neshaminy Creek IPAs, $7 shots of rum and half-priced tacos, among other specials.
And while many restaurateurs were angry about what they saw as excessive restrictions and unnecessary travel warnings — “The media effectively scared everyone away,” said Dave Magrogan, who owns Center City’s Barra Rossa and several other establishments, and reported revenues down 60 percent — some were more accepting.
Federal Donuts co-owner Tom Henneman acknowledged that business was “not what we had hoped for,” but wasn’t overly upset about it.
“As a city, I would rather look back and say we were over prepared than wish we had done more,” he said. “[This] weekend is about Philadelphia showing well. More so than FedNuts doing business.”