Just a few months after celebrating its 10th anniversary, chef Peter McAndrews announced he is closing Modo Mio, his petite Girard Avenue BYOB.
Two outposts of McAndrews’ sandwich shop, Paesano’s, have also shut down recently. As reported in Michael Klein’s email newsletter this week, both the Italian Market and Temple storefronts are done for good. (The Girard Avenue Paesano’s, located a block or so from Modo Mio, remains open.)
The closures are connected by a common thread. Said McAndrews: “I want to go back to being the chef again.”
Now 47, McAndrews branched out from running the kitchen at Rembrandt’s 10 years ago to open his first restaurant, and subsequently oversaw a near-constant flurry of activity. He launched Paesano’s, Monsu in the Italian Market, Popolino in NoLibs (now closed), La Porta in Media, Pa., and Heffe, a Fishtown taco shop. He also consulted on various other menus and continued to expand Paesano’s, with both brick-and-mortar storefronts and a stand in Lincoln Financial Field.
So for the past few years, he said, “I just run around and put out fires. I pop in for an hour or two everywhere, but I’m not really part of the place.”
McAndrews’ desire to get back to actual cooking is part of the reason he’s pulling back. Another reason? Staffing.
“I don’t know if it’s because of increased competition or what,” he said, “but it’s not easy to find skilled people who want to work.” Last winter, he fired the entire staff of Paesano’s Temple because he showed up one day and found them all drunk, he said. Not long after, his longtime Modo Mio chef quit, and he cycled through at least three other candidates — “with impressive resumes, from the hot restaurants on East Passyunk” — who couldn’t or didn’t want to hack it.
Being short-staffed led to McAndrews working 80-plus-hour, seven-day weeks, which in turn degraded his health. Last month he was rushed to the emergency room because of dangerously high blood pressure.
The last straw: Rent hikes. Both Modo Mio and the Italian Market Paesano’s leases were up for renewal, and landlords were asking for figures McAndrews didn’t consider workable.
But there’s a silver lining to these shutters — more than one.
First: Worried Bella Vista sandwich seekers can relax. Paesano’s will be semi-reincarnated when Monsu opens for lunch. Starting the week after July 4, the BYOB on the corner of Ninth and Christian will add daytime hours, serving light pasta dishes and also many of McAndrews’ famous “Philly style” sandwiches, which have impressed everyone from the Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern to Vice Munchies’ Action Bronson.
Second: McAndrews is also planning a comeback for his beloved fine-dining trattoria — and it will be a homecoming of sorts. If all goes according to plan, McAndrews will step in after Rembrandt’s is sold and turn the restaurant space into a new version of Modo Mio, one with a liquor license.
He has plans to revamp the Fairmount standby and modernize it a bit, with exposed brick in the dining room, uniforms for servers, and a well-thought-out wine and cocktail list.
“The bar will still be for the regulars,” he said, but the dining room will serve a menu similar to Modo Mio’s, including the popular “turista” option that brings four courses for less than $40 per person. He’ll also take advantage of the built-in brick oven to do pizza. He’s planning to create a kid-friendly atmosphere in the upstairs dining area, “where parents can bring their kids but still get a great meal and have a glass of wine.”
Ideally, McAndrews said, he’ll spend half his time at Monsu and half at the new Modo Mio, while also popping in at Paesano’s on Girard. He’s still a consulting partner at Heffe, and also still runs La Porta — where he’s actually adding a spin-off rotisserie-slash-Italian-BBQ spot next door this month — but those are running well under experienced management.
“I want my real focus to be one sandwich shop and one or two restaurants,” McAndrews explained.
Last day for Modo Mio’s original dining room at 161 W. Girard Ave. will be Thursday, June 29.