When it comes to the Philly food scene, camaraderie is the name of the game. The recent boom means competition is fiercer than ever, but chefs still collaborate on dinners, trade tips and generally work under the premise that a rising tide lifts all boats. But later this month, two of the top restaurateurs in the city will be trying their hardest to punch each other in the face.
On Saturday, April 29, Mike Solomonov of Zahav faces down Brad Spence of Vetri Family in a boxing battle for charity.
The culinary powerhouses will spar in one of four celebrity matchups during the Night at the Fights, the new annual fundraiser for the Urban League of Philadelphia. Last year’s inaugural event raised $166,000 for the century-old nonprofit, which works to empower Philly’s African American community. This year’s goal is $300,000 — which will come from a combination of direct ticket sales and the participants’ own fundraising efforts.
So far, Spence has raised more than $1,800 for the project via his ULP online donation page, which asks supporters to kick in funds to help him train for the bout.
Thing is, he’ll be training anyway. He’s a regular at Joe Hand Boxing Gym, where he works out and runs veterans assistance nonprofit Fatback Boxing. And his regular sparring partner at the Northern Liberties gym? Yep, Mike Solomonov.
“Mike and I have been boxing for years,” Spence said. “We are pumped to help out a great cause.”
Also a regular on the Joe Hand mats is Sue Jacquette, events director for AECPartners, the company helping produce Night at the Fights for the Urban League. She was chatting up trainer Wade Hinnant about finding new people to participate in the “celebrity” component of the evening — last year’s event featured DA Seth Williams, who is currently…indisposed — and Hinnant suggested Spence and Solo.
“Mike was in the gym, [so] we called him over and asked if he wanted to do it,” Jacquette said. “He agreed on the spot, as did Brad.”
Boxing might seem a bit violent as the centerpiece of a community fundraiser, but it’s actually a perfect fit. Young black Philadelphians looking to channel pent up energy into something productive are often guided toward training as a boxer, which offers both discipline and opportunity. See for example Southwest Philly’s Marquise Noel, who went from near high-school dropout to minor Creed movie star thanks to his prowess in the ring.
Urban League of Philadelphia board chair Bobby Keyes came up with the idea “as a fun and innovative alternative that’s affordable for everyone,” Jacquette explained. “His long term goal is for Night at the Fights to be a signature event in Philadelphia for years to come.”
Tickets to the event, which takes over the Liacouras Center with live music, standup comedy and a VIP reception after-party, start at $50. Buy them directly or donate via Spence or Solomonov’s pages — a pledge of $100 or more scores you two seats. No matter which chef gets in the most jabs, the Urban League comes out a winner.