Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf plans to be in Philly on Nov. 8, but if you want to find him at lunchtime, don’t bother looking in Center City. Same goes for Mayor Jim Kenney.
Both men — and likely most of the other local Dems, Dem hopefuls and key Democrat supporters — will be out in West Oak Lane instead. They’ll be at Relish, the jazz and soul food restaurant that’s become the new Election Day hot spot for the Philly political class.
Used to be Famous 4th Street was where party leaders gathered to swap stories, pat backs, thank fundraisers and chat with media. The deli, located a block south of South Street in Queen Village, has been a Philadelphia Election Day locus since back in the ‘70s. But times change. During last April’s primary election, Famous 4th was relatively quiet, Philly Mag reported, while Relish was hopping. And Famous 4th is not officially on Kenney’s political schedule for Nov. 8, at least not yet.
Why is everyone trekking out to Ogontz Ave. instead of staying close to City Hall these days?
Basically, because of Pa. Rep. Dwight Evans — and his relationship with Relish proprietors Ben and Robert Bynum.
Evans, who is on the Nov. 8 ballot himself this year (he’s expected to beat Republican James Jones and become Chaka Fattah’s replacement as US Congressman from Pa.’s 2nd District), has been hosting invitation-only Election Day buffet luncheons at Relish for around eight years. He does it because he’s proud of his Northwest Philly neighborhood, and also because he loves the way the Bynums run restaurants.
“The governor loves the place — Governor Wolf loves that restaurant,” Evans said in an interview. “[The Bynum brothers] have what I call the ‘secret sauce.’ It’s a combination of the music, the food and the service.”
Evans described how hard he worked a decade ago to convince Robert Bynum to take over the restaurant, which went through a series of failed concepts when owned by the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp. The OARC, which Evans founded and was investigated in 2014 for misspending funds, is still landlord for the property, but Relish is now entirely in the capable hands of the Bynums, who also own South, Warmdaddy’s, Paris Bistro and Green Soul.
“What they and their staff have been able to do it put together an experience. They have proven my theory about transforming communities [through businesses],” Evans said.
“It’s not in Center City. It’s not in the suburbs,” he continued, noting that it’s at least a 25-minute drive from downtown Philadelphia. “Yet big-name people go there. Obama’s brother in law has been there. Cornel West has been there. Kareem Abdul Jabbar. [Actress] Nia Long. The woman who will be US Senator from California, Kamala Harris.”
Relish is most well-known for its brunch — OpenTable recently named it one of the “100 Best Brunch Restaurants in America” — and is usually only open Wednesday through Sunday. Which, of course, creates a perfect opportunity for people to host private events on Mondays…and Tuesdays.
“We have now turned it into the spot for Election Day,” Evans said.
Robert Bynum isn’t complaining. “Yes, people come,” he said with characteristic understatement. “A lot of people come. It becomes a good day.”