Vetri’s perfect storm: The power outage that forced it dark and pop-up tweet that broke the phones

What does one of Philly’s top restaurants do when the power goes out? Light candles and have a burger party.

Marc Vetri at Vetri

Marc Vetri at Vetri

Danya Henninger

The past 24 hours are proof that even the best restaurants in America sometimes have rough days.

Things started going awry at Vetri on Thursday around 5 p.m. Just before dinner service, as cooks were preparing to fire up their burners and servers were doing one last round of adjusting the linens and straightening the silverware, the power went out.

The Italian fine dining destination is in a very old building on a mostly residential patch of Spruce Street near 13th — the three-story house was built in 1860 — so there’s no backup generator or way to snag power from another business nearby. Without lights or other niceties electricity provides, there was no choice but to close for the evening. Which meant around 30 people who’d probably made reservations for a special occasion weeks or months in advance would have to be disappointed.

“It does stink to have to call someone and tell them we can’t have them in,” said Jeff Benjamin, who co-owns the petite restaurant with Marc Vetri.

Around 30 diners were displaced, Benjamin said, although many of them found solace in the pasta and wine at sister restaurants Osteria and Amis (just down the street). As for the Vetri crew, they did what anyone would do faced with a surprise night of no power: They lit some candles and ordered in dinner — Shake Shack, specifically — while they waited for PECO to arrive.

Trucks arrived relatively quickly despite the pouring rain, and around 10 p.m., the power came back on. But the restaurant’s issues weren’t quite over.

Friday morning, Marc Vetri made the decision to host a pop-up dinner in Vetri’s second floor show kitchen. It’s something the star chef does every so often, always at the last minute, and it’s always popular. With good reason, since it’s a chance to have Vetri cook for you personally for $75 a head, instead of the $155+ it usually costs to dine at his original gem.

Whenever he pulls the stunt — which involves announcing the event on Twitter and Instagram and inviting people to leave phone messages if they want a spot — the restaurant gets flooded with upwards of 200 calls. Vetri staff then goes through the voicemails and calls people back chronologically, offering them reservations, until the 15 or so seats are filled up.

Except this morning, the voicemails went missing.

“We use a telecom company that’s cloud-based,” Benjamin explained, “so in the event of an outage we can reroute calls.”

Well, the power outage happened. But somehow, even though the electricity was back on, the voicemails weren’t coming through. There was once an issue with the phone before, per Vetri, but it was different — the service wasn’t letting people leave messages. This time, people had left messages, but they were in limbo somewhere.

“I’m not sure what happened,” Benjamin said, suggesting it might have been the restart after the electricity went off that flummoxed the system. “The perfect storm (pun intended) of a power outage and the inordinate number of incoming calls kind of broke it.”

Don’t worry, though. The story has a happy ending. As of 11:30 a.m., the voicemail issue was resolved and all messages were saved, and the lucky first callers first got their seats at the pop-up Vetri Enoteca.

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