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Blackbird Pizzeria, one of Philly’s pioneer plant-based food destinations, will close at the end of the month after more than a decade in business, the Northern Liberties restaurant announced Tuesday via social media.
“It has been such a pleasure being able to add to the vegan food scene in Philadelphia and play whatever role we did in pushing veganism forward,” said owner Mark Mebus on Instagram.
The restaurant couldn’t justify renewing its lease when it runs out because of the unpredictable business environment, Mebus explained. Like most food operations in Philly, Blackbird switched to takeout only when the pandemic hit, reopening to indoor dining in June 2021.
When it launched in 2010 in its original location of 6th Street near South, Philly’s vegan food scene had few players. Blackbird became known as one of the first places with a strictly plant-based menu that was also indulgent, and its pizza, wings, and vegan cheesesteaks gained national renown.
In 2017, Mebus and his team took over an empty restaurant space at 614 N. 2nd St. in Northern Liberties, and set up Blackbird there as a second outpost, which eventually became its main location.
In November 2020, controversy broke out after a Blackbird staff member was fired. Mebus reportedly acted after he found security footage that captured crude comments she made about his girlfriend at the time. her colleagues, believing Mebus fired her unjustly, went on strike two days later — and were then all fired by Mebus, according to a GoFundMe in support of the out of work staff.
In the Instagram post announcing the closure, set for Sunday, Feb. 20, Mebus teased that the NoLibs spot would soon be occupied by a different vegan restaurant, though he didn’t offer further details.
The news that Blackbird would cease to exist brought an outpouring of laments and memories from heartbroken customers, who reminisced about their favorite dishes and thanked the restaurant for changing the vegan food scene in the city.
“This is truly heartbreaking,” said New Jersey Senator Cory Booker in an Instagram comment. “I love your restaurant and have such good memories of my visits.”
Another commenter remembered the first time they got food at Blackbird. It was an unusually warm day for February and it started raining. They ran to the restaurant with a dog to pick up the order, remembering “being really happy in the moment.”
“Blackbird will definitely be missed for a long time coming,” they wrote.
In 2019 Blackbird branched out with a sister vegan restaurant in Rittenhouse, called 20th Street Pizza which won’t be affected by the closure.
“Our sister restaurant @20thstreetpizza is still open and probably always will be,” Mebus wrote in a comment