Northwest Philadelphia will lose one of its most celebrated restaurants when Relish closes for good after service next weekend.
On Ogontz Avenue in West Oak Lane, the brunch hot spot and jazz lounge flourished for more than a decade under the management of Robert and Benjamin Bynum, the restaurateurs behind South Jazz Kitchen who previously ran Zanzibar Blue and other well-respected Philly soul food and music venues.
There wasn’t anything specific that led to the decision to close Relish, Robert Bynum told Billy Penn.
“We’re both getting older, this is our 33rd year [in the hospitality business],” Bynum said. “Going through the pandemic, we realized something about our quality of life — or lack of quality of life. South and Southside, the event space next door, are going so well. We just really want to focus on that.”
The Bynums first arrived at West Oak Lane as consultants, brought on in 2007 by U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, who was at the time a state rep hoping the restaurant could help revitalize the neighborhood.
On the eve of its closure, Evans expressed gratitude for the energy and time invested in making Relish what it was.
“I thank the Bynum brothers and all the workers for the years of dedication they have provided,” Evans told Billy Penn on Sunday. “As an African American business, it provided real opportunity. For all the years, I want to really seriously thank them.”
Evans added that “like anything, things must change,” but noted that “15 years of existence” is a long time to maintain any small business, especially a restaurant.
A series of prior restaurant concepts had foundered at 7152 Ogontz. Ave., which is still owned by the nonprofit Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp. But after the Bynums fully took over in 2009, the place became a destination — not just for Southern cuisine and jazz tunes, but for politicos wanting to see and be seen. By 2016, Relish was hosting what was arguably the region’s biggest Election Day gathering.
Its political reputation hasn’t softened. President Joe Biden visited Relish while campaigning in November 2020, following in the footsteps of Vice President Kamala Harris, who made her stop at the West Oak Lane restaurant in September of that year.
The relaxed but elegant vibe was as much of a draw as the food or the company — and that was the idea behind the name.
“I remember when Ben Bynum was coming up with that title,” Congressman Evans recalled. “He wanted people to ‘relish the experience’ — and in this time especially what we’re going through, that’s something of value.”
Two other Bynum Hospitality locations closed shortly after the pandemic hit, including Green Soul and Warmdaddy’s (the latter was said to be reopening in the former’s place, but did not). The Bynums also previously operated two spots in Chestnut Hill, Paris Bistro and Heirloom.
Though they aren’t looking to open any other concepts, the brothers are staying involved as the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp. searches for a new operator. “They very much want an African American operator,” Robert Bynum said. “We’re committed to helping fill that space.”