Chef Kris Serviss of The Blue Duck is making good on his Who’s Next honor as one to watch.
When we highlighted the Northeast Philly native as one of 21 up-and-coming culinarians last May, he was deep into planning his second venture with friend and business partner Joe Callahan. A year later, and boom — the pair is gearing up to launch not one but two new restaurants in Center City. There’s the long-in-the-works space on 11th near Locust (The Ugly Duckling, slated for a late June launch), but also a surprise rebranding of the former Bop on Broad, which will open next Friday, June 9, as Blue Duck on Broad.
We caught up with Serviss to see what he’s been up to and what exciting food adventures await in his future.
On the Wildwood connection that led to the Bop takeover: Joe and I have some mutual friends with [Bop partner] Scott Keenan — they always talk us up at Keenan’s North Wildwood — so he and [Bop partner and Eagles tight end] Brent Celek came in to eat a few times. After the third meal, they approached us with this opportunity.
How Broad Street is perfect for the Blue Duck concept: I feel like what we do is just so easygoing and inviting, it’ll appeal to just about anyone walking down the street. We’re ok with being a destination, but I think we’ll be a walk-in place, too. Especially because the whole place opens up with sliding doors and sidewalk seating.
What a liquor license means for brunch: No one’s ever complained about BYOB [at the Northeast location], but I think with mimosas and fun drinks behind it — Billy Hines did consulting on our cocktail menus — brunch will kill down here. I’m really excited for it.
Why the kitchen will close at 10 p.m.: Philly is an early town, we’re planning for that. Even though it’s the theater district, that just seems to be the tendency here. On 11th Street it will probably be a totally different dynamic. Joe and I have aspirations to be the industry bar for that neighborhood.
How he came up with the Ugly Duckling name: When we changed our original spot to The Blue Duck [instead of Blue Duck Sandwich Co.] I made a joke that we should call our next place The Ugly Duckling. We were lucky to have that name in our back pocket. It fits, because it’s full of darker colors and textures. We want to have a lot of fun with that place.
On navigating Center City: I’m a kid of the Northeast, so bad with the geography down here. I’m lucky I got to work today without Mapquest — I still use the walking map, it’s kinda sad. I know Chancellor is the little alleyway street [running east-west next to Ugly Duckling on 11th], but I must have told people it’s located at Walnut & Chancellor like 500 times. They’re like, dude, those streets don’t even cross each other.
On renewing his Holme Circle lease: They’ve never had a full restaurant in that strip mall. I think our growing pains would have been easier if they had. The big oil drums for the used fryer oil, for example. It took them a while to warm up. They only have a few solid tenants, but they’re glad to give us a rent increase every year! But we do expect to renew for another five years.
Versus a 10-year lease in Center City: Ryan Sell from AMC Delancey has been very understanding. We hit some bumps as far as building the place out, but he gave us a lot of leeway; he believes in our product. They had some higher bidders, like a chain that wanted to possibly go in there, but stuck by us.
Envisioning the Philly restaurant scene in 10 years: I don’t think there’s too many restaurants opening. There will always be closings, and obviously some places do certain things way better than others, but some days I want authentic cuisine, some days I want an interpretation of it. The landscape is still evolving. And there are monsters out there, crushing it. When I think about how Bop and Ugly Duckling are within three blocks of each other, I get excited about how well [Mike] Solomonov and [Steven] Cook do with restaurants in close proximity.
What running spots in Center City will mean for his waistline: I’m personally excited about working down here. I’m either gonna gain a lot of weight or eat a lot healthier. Me and Joe just ordered hummus from Dizengoff — you can’t do that in the Northeast. Although I always thought CookNSolo should open in the corner of our strip mall. A FedNuts there would be their most profitable store.