I’m leaving my job as a food editor to open my own restaurant in Philly
I’m just going to say the thing: I’m opening a restaurant.
I know I know; I’m the food editor at Philly Mag (at least for the next few weeks). I know I know; I have written all about the faults and weaknesses of the restaurant world. I know I know; we are still grappling with a pandemic that is killing people and restaurants. But I do it anyway.
It was still part of the plan to open one. I made the decision ten years ago, when I was studying English at university, panicking about being a student of English at university. My parents – both immigrants (iykyk) – harassed me about my career plans, and I had no response. I was working in a restaurant at the time, brunch on the Main Line, and I was having a great time. Because – and this is important – restaurants, under the right circumstances, are amusing Work places. The money is fast, the food is good, the drinks are flowing, and the industry is full of interesting people.
Working in a restaurant has always struck me as what it should be like to work on a pirate ship. Same energy, I think. Everyone – no matter whether you’re in front or behind the house – is there to make money, and everyone has a story to tell.
At the time, the food scene in Philly was really booming. I liked working in restaurants; I thought I knew them pretty well. (I read Confidential Kitchen and knew what a brunoise is; what else was there?) So, in my future panic stupor, I decided to open my own restaurant. When I told my friends and family about my plan, many of them rightly laughed at me.
So I got a job as a waiter at a downtown Stephen Starr restaurant. It was my first serious job in a restaurant. I got the job telling the General Manager that I was passionate about the industry, that I was ready to learn, that I wanted to one day own my own restaurant. The general manager laughed at me too. I was there for about two years, then I went to a few other restaurants, accumulating as much knowledge as I could – about wine, food, good service. I met some great people, people that I am still friends with to this day.
Work there long enough, however, and you’ll discover the ugly side of restaurants as well. I have met lifers in the industry who could not escape drug addiction issues; I’ve worked under abusive leadership, serial stalkers, the whole lineup. I’ve learned that restaurants, as vibrant and exciting as they are, can cause as much misery as they can cause happiness. The ugly side of the restaurant business scared me. The shine has faded over the years. I fell in love with the job. And finally, I found my way into culinary journalism. I knew I could string a sentence together; I knew the food; I knew the industry from the inside out. I discovered that by covering the food scene as a writer and editor, I could still be a part of our restaurant world without being in this.
So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last five years here at Philly Mag.
It’s an exciting and strange thing to be the food editor of a city magazine. It’s strange that he is being asked to be an “expert” on a whole culinary scene, especially a scene as rich and diverse as that of Philly. There are and always will be blind spots in the coverage. My job was to spot them and correct the course, but you can’t get it right all the time, which means you always run the risk of getting it wrong.
Even knowing this, the rewards were great. Because in the hunt for the latest and greatest food, you build memories. You come up against people and cultures that don’t belong to you. You cross entire continents while staying within city limits. Over the past five years covering our food scene has taught me How? ‘Or’ What love restaurants again.
Ironically, I wrote a little article in 2019 titled “Philly is the worst city to open a restaurant in”. The restaurant apocalypse came a year later, and I’ve been writing the end of the world ever since. I even wrote a whole story on the end of restaurants as we know them.
There was a time last year when I really felt like our restaurants wouldn’t, couldn’t survive COVID. (Many were already on the verge of failure.) But many did. Because as damaged as they are, restaurants are resilient. As connectors and agents of culture, they are essential to the fabric of a city. As storytellers, as well as sources of entertainment, they are eternal. Even after nearly two years of plague, existential crises among those of us who work in food journalism and those of us who work in the restaurant industry, I continue to believe in restaurants. Now more than ever.
Like you, I felt a whiff of change in the air. There’s this new sense of entrepreneurship (largely born out of survival), a new sense of what it means to own a restaurant, to work in restaurants. In Philly, it looks like there’s a changing of the guard – young doe-eyed food entrepreneurs are rushing forward, trying to improve this place in any way they can, knowing full well that the food industry restoration will never be the same after COVID. What can I say ? In writing about this, I got carried away. Now I desperately want to be a part of it.
So I open a restaurant. He will be called Mish Mish. It will be in the Noord space in East Passyunk (1046 Tasker Street), and hopefully it will be open by the spring of next year. I’m terrified of course, but I couldn’t be more excited. Laugh at me as much as you want.
That said, there are a few things you should know to move forward:
1. I stay at Philly Mag until the end of the year. We will do our best to avoid any conflict of interest. Our annual issue of the 50 Best Restaurants will be out in January, and much of the work is already done, in most cases, by my colleagues Regan Stephens and Jason Sheehan. My restaurant will obviously not be open when the issue goes out, but we will, as always, be careful to be fair and to the point with our coverage while I take steps to get my seat off the ground. And you all know my story now, so you can decide for yourself if I hit the mark.
2. Obviously I can’t own a restaurant and stay here as a food editor, so guess what? We are looking for a new culinary editor. If you’re reading this, if you know your shit, it could be you. Email us at [email protected] for more information and stay tuned for the list.