Meryl Levitz to Step Down as Visit Philadelphia President and CEO

Photo by R. Kennedy for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®

After 40 years of championing the City of Brotherly Love to the world, Visit Philadelphia’s founding president and CEO, Meryl Levitz, will step down from her post in by the end of 2018. The organization’s board of directors has already established a search committee to find a successor.

Levitz told Philadelphia magazine in an interview that the decision to end her tenure at Visit Philadelphia was not an easy one. Personally, two major events occurred — the death of Levitz’s husband in July 2016 and a major birthday in April 2017 — that made the leader ask: “If not now, when?”

On the professional side, Levitz said, Visit Philadelphia has been booming. “We looked around and saw we’ve never been in better shape. We have a $15 million budget, we’ve realigned our staff and we know where we are going,” she said. “We have a lot of momentum, a series of wins and recognition in the city, region and country. I wouldn’t leave it if it were a mess.”

And the numbers don’t lie. Visit Philadelphia has produced groundbreaking results for the region under Levitz’s lead since its founding in 1996. Overnight leisure visits to the region, for example, grew 101 percent, from 7.3 million in 1997 to 14.7 million in 2016. Greater Philadelphia set a record in 2016 when 42 million domestic visitors stopped by — 37 million of whom came for fun.

Levitz has long been known as a marketing visionary, but said she doesn’t think about her legacy until she is asked. For her, the imprint of her work is clear in the Visit Philadelphia people who have told her how much they were able to accomplish at the organization.

“I’m excited how much these people have relished and enjoyed the opportunity to build this city,” she said. “They never thought they could do this work.”

She also loves how differently Philadelphians talk about their city: “This isn’t me alone. None of this is me alone. But I have to smile and think how different it is from how it was in 1971 when I first came.”

Some game-changing initiatives to come out of Levitz’s leadership include popular campaigns like “This Is My Philadelphia” and “Philadelphia. The Place That Loves You Back,” two slogans that helped give the fledgling organization major credit early on.

The recognizable “Philly’s More Fun When You Sleep Over,” which launched after 9/11, might have a lot to do with the sharp increase in demand for hotels downtown. Since the organization began advertising in 1997, Center City has seen a 296 percent increase in leisure hotel demand.

More recently, campaigns like “Philadelphia — Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay” and the specific focus on African American visitors with the latest offshoot of “With Love, Philadelphia XOXO,” the organization has directly communicated to visitors that might not feel as welcome here.

Over time, the theme of love between a city and its inhabitants became a signature element for the organization.

“We had always believed that the relationship between the destination and visitor was very important,” Levitz said. “[We also believed] that Philadelphia, meaning City of Brotherly Love, was a brand that was valuable, unique and could be expanded. That’s why all of our imagery has centered on the love between Philadelphia and the people who are drawn to it.”

The group also got people in the region itself to realize that they too, can visit their own city and sleep over. And that people in Philadelphia “can talk about it in the same loving way the newspapers, magazines and social media are talking about your city.”

Visit Philadelphia can also claim a number of firsts, according to Levitz. It was one of the first organizations of its kind to have a website, embrace social media, and build a photo library to better promote Philly.

The board will take about a year to identify the organization’s new chief executive. Diversified Search has been commissioned to undertake the national recruiting effort.

“We’re going to take our time. These are big shoes to fill,” said Manuel N. Stamatakis, Visit Philadelphia’s board of directors chair, who called Levitz “one of Philadelphia’s original tourism pioneers.” He added, “The good thing is we have an exceptional staff and team in place that Meryl has found and trained. We know what we’re looking for, and we’re confident we will find somebody.

For her successor, Levitz isn’t short on advice:

  • Be good to your board and staff.
  • There’s no job too big or too small.
  • Respond to all your emails, because so much of this is relationships.
  • As Winston Churchill said: “Never never never never quit.”
  • Carry the torch for Philly.
  • Always thank people.
  • Keep learning about Philadelphia and the people—great ideas come from all of them.

Levitz said she’s looking forward to creating a “to-don’t” list for several months once she officially steps down. While she has no official commitments post-resignation yet, she said she’s certainly interested in contributing to the things that can make Philadelphia better.

“The parts of Philadelphia we don’t market are important to me,” she said. “The wellbeing of the whole city is important to me.”

Her last piece of advice? That Philadelphia look outside itself.

“I think Philly looks inward too frequently. We are always going to need new heat and energy,” she said. “Philly needs to look more outside and get more ideas from outside.”

Cecily Tynan Is Fed Up With Your Wardrobe Critiques

Photo via 6ABC.

To someone my age, 6ABC meteorologist Cecily Tynan is as synonymous with the television station as legendary anchor Jim Gardner himself. That may sound like blasphemy to members of the older audience – and I’m sure Cecily would even agree – but it’s the truth.

She’s been bringing Philly the weather forecast since 1995, which, accept it or not, was a long time ago at this point. (Cecily’s throwback to the Blizzard of ’96 particularly took us back.) During these 20-plus years on the air, Cecily has been the picture of professionalism, yet in the social media age she’s subject to unjust scorn by disapproving viewers flexing keyboard muscles.

Disturbed by a particular recent instance of cyber bullying, Cecily took to Facebook to decry the online culture of critiquing her (and other women’s) wardrobe:

Rock on, Cecily! (And you’re right, today is totally sweater weather.)

REVIEW: Around the World with Stew in Passing Strange

The Cast of Passing Strange at the Wilma Theater. (Photo by Bill Hebert)

Old and new shake hands in the Wilma’s snazzy, exceptionally well-performed Passing Strange. The Broadway cult-hit, receiving a major revival here ten years later, still feels mostly fresh, original, and energized. Yet the central story of the piece—an exploratory journey to find a sense of identity—is as traditional as any literary theme.

Created as a kind of memoir-in-concert by Stew, aka Mark Stewart (who wrote book, lyrics, and in collaboration with Heidi Rodewald, music), Passing Strange traces his life from childhood in Los Angeles, where he grew up feeling rudderless within his own African American, church-centered community. Told through a double perspective—by the Youth, who represents the young Stew in mid-experience, as well as an older Narrator, who is Stew looking back from older adulthood—we follow his travels, both metaphoric and literal: specifically, the exciting, formative years he spent in Amsterdam and Berlin. The rock-inflected score not only moves the show forward, but also represents the artistic voice that Stew developed along the way.  (more…)

Despite Opposition, Temple to Move Ahead With Football Stadium Plans

temple football stadium

(Gene Pushkar/AP)

Temple University officials say they’re taking “the next step” toward building a $130 million on-campus football stadium.

Despite notable community opposition since officials began exploring the idea in 2013, university president Richard M. Englert said the school will now seek approval for the facility from the City Planning Commission.

“We have said from the start that our first priority has been to engage with our neighbors and local leaders to determine the potential for, and impact of, this facility,” Englert said in a statement. “After more than two years of these discussions, and in light of the project’s tremendous value for Temple and North Philadelphia, I have concluded that the time is right to take this step.”

The university authorized official preliminary studies on the stadium’s feasibility in February 2016. The area administrators are considering is bound by Broad Street to the east; Norris Street to the north; 16th Street to the west; and Pearson-McGonigle halls and the Aramark Student Training and Recreation Complex, just north of Montgomery Avenue, to the south.

Per current plans, the stadium would be part of a multipurpose site including retail locations along North Broad Street, as well as year-round classrooms, meetings and research space. The footprint would require the closure of 15th Street between Norris Street and Montgomery Avenue, but it would not directly affect the nearby Amos Recreation Center, which the city owns and operates.

Funding for the facility is expected to come from private donations, bonds and expenses that currently go toward Temple’s lease at the Linc, where the school’s football team will continue to play for its 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Plans for an on-campus stadium have brought considerable pushback from some community members, like a group called the “Stadium Stompers,” who worry that the facility would bring parking issues, noise, trash and traffic, as well as contribute to rising home and rent prices and gentrification in the surrounding area.

In an effort to ease those concerns, the school said it plans to assemble a Special Services District for the project, which would consist of a team dedicated to ensuring that the needs of the surrounding community are met. The group would work similarly to the SSD established around sports venues in South Philly.

In a statement, Englert said discussions with neighbors have been “invaluable” and that he is “confident we can design and build a facility that makes sense for Temple and for the community.”

The Love Launches Lunch and Brunch

Smoked Salmon Gravlax, Everything Bialy, Cream Cheese and Cucumber Salad | Photo by Alex Jones

It’s no secret that we love The Love. The “Rittenhouse neighborhood spot” might be a bit of a contradiction in terms, but how could a menu with equal parts Stephen Starr polish and Aimee Olexy heart not turn out charming and delicious?

And after a November opening, they’ve brought that shared ethos to lunch and brunch service, with a menu of cozy favorites with intriguing tweaks.



Lunch dishes range from heartier — golden-fried wild blue Chesapeake catfish with a side of hush puppies lightened up with sprout slaw, or The Chalet Burger, accompanied by a molten ramekin of cheese fondue — to light, like a colorful chopped Greek salad made with orzo, feta, and olives, served with a skewer-ful of shrimp on one side.

The smoked salmon platter straddles both, with enough veggies in its chive-spiked cucumber salad and brightly dressed greens to be a sensible lunch, while that crispy-tender bialy and rich cream cheese taste indulgent.

If you’re ready to eat like it’s the weekend, the Bananas Foster waffle is topped with sweet and spicy pecans and drizzled with a rum sauce boozy enough to nurse your hangover. Make the decision to order The Walking Dead, a not-too-sweet espresso cocktail made with Averna, rum, and vodka, based on what the rest of your afternoon has in store.

The Love is open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. for brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Check out the menus here and here.

Register for This Fun Relay Race Along the Schuylkill River Trail

Photograph courtesy Schuylkill River Relay.

Well, folks, the Schuylkill River Relay & 50K is back for another year of competition with your best running buddies. This year, the 50-kilometer race (that’s roughly 31 miles, guys) is scheduled for April 21, giving you just a few months to get in shape for the big day.

Here’s how it’s going down this year: Registration opens tomorrow, January 19, at 10 a.m. When it does, you’ll have the option to sign up as an individual — meaning you’re going to slug the whole 50 kilometers alone — or as a relay team. Teams can be made up of either three or six runners, who can divvy up the six legs of the race — which are each between five and six miles — between them.

The relay will start and finish at Saint Michaels Park. The course will follow the SRT southeast, with a turnaround point at Conshohocken Brewing Company.

And the best part: After you’re finished running, you’ll then get to party with your teammates (and a whole host of other sweaty athletes) at the finish line with Sly Fox Brewing Company’s SRT Ale. Additionally, there will be live music, food trucks, and lawn games to keep the endorphin high going long after the race is over.

There’s only space for 250 teams, so if you and your crew are set on participating, don’t wait to sign up tomorrow. Registration is $92 for an individual, $154 for a team of three, and $229 for a six-person team. Registration will soon be open here.

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The Healthiest Things to Eat at Reading Terminal Market

Photograph by Flickr/Paul Narvaez

Reading Terminal Market, while a true Philadelphia landmark, can be overwhelming. There’s so many vendors crammed into the place, so many delicious food smells commingling in the air, and so many tourists standing around, wide-eyed.

It’d be easy to assume there’s nothing healthy to eat at Reading Terminal Market. There’s so much other stuff to enjoy (Doughnuts! Mac and cheese! DiNic’s!) that it can be a real challenge for a health-minded person. (Though to be honest, if you’re starving when you arrive, we couldn’t blame you for just going to whatever vendor’s closest, asking for a heaping pile of steaming, sauce-covered, carb-laden goodness and digging in.)

If you’re up for the challenge, it is possible to find a healthy meal at Reading Terminal Market. To uncovered these hidden dietary gems, we asked Two Hungry Work Wives’ registered dietitians Liz Smith and Melissa Bailey to meet us at the market to help us pick out the healthiest things to eat. Here’s what they came up with.

Turkey Wraps at The Original Turkey

Photograph by Caroline Cunningham.

Not only are these thick, juicy slices of turkey pretty delicious, they’re actually a pretty great lean protein-packed meal option. Smith and Bailey recommend getting the Texas Griller wrap — which will have fewer carbohydrates than meal on sandwich bread. You can skip the cheese to make it a little healthier, and pro tip: always, always ask for sauces on the side.

Photographs by Caroline Cunningham.

Not feeling a wrap? Smith and Bailey say the small Lunch Box option isn’t bad either — just swap those mashed potatoes and corn for some of their other veggie side options, like green beans.

Salads at Molly Malloy’s

Photograph by Caroline Cunningham.

Smith and Bailey are fans of all of the salads at Molly Malloy’s, with the exception of the Caesar salad. They recommend adding grilled chicken to any of the salads for added protein. Not a salad person? The avocado toast is also a win at Molly Malloy’s for nice dose of healthy fats.

Steamed Rice and Veggie Platters at Sang Kee Peking Duck

Photograph by Caroline Cunningham.

Feeling in the mood for some Chinese food? At Sang Kee, Smith and Bailey say you can make a healthy meal out of the steamed rice and vegetable platters or the shrimp or chicken with broccoli. For sides, the steamed chicken dumplings are a safe bet, as is the vegetable soup. Just watch out for anything that’s fried on the menu — and as always, ask for sauces on the side.

Veggie Combo Platter at Kamal’s Middle Eastern Specialties

Photograph by Caroline Cunningham.

If Middle Eastern meals are more your style, Kamal’s has an awesome option in their veggie combo platter. Bailey and Smith say they’d order three items in the combo — either the lentil soup, hummus, and tabouleh, or the falafel, hummus, and grape leaves. If you’re feeling a little lighter, you can also opt for a simple Greek salad. For a snack, the juice bar at Kamal’s makes it easy to whip up something healthy: cucumber, ginger, and lemon would all combine to make a great juice.

Naked Burrito at 12th Street Cantina

Photograph by Caroline Cunningham.

Smith and Bailey recommend taking a pass on the tortillas at 12th Street Cantina and instead opting to go burrito bowl-style with the “Naked” burrito. Start off by asking for half the typical amount of rice, then top it with chicken, black beans, pico de gallo, pickled onions, cilantro, and guacamole. With protein, fiber, carbs, and fat, you’ll be getting in a little bit of everything you need.

Greek Rustic Salad at Olympia Gyro

Photograph by Caroline Cunningham.

The Greek Rustic salad at this Mediterranean eatery is a dietitian’s dream: quinoa, chickpeas, onion, tomato, and feta cheese. You can add grilled chicken on top if you’re in dire need of some protein as well. Alternatively, go for the classic Greek salad with grilled chicken, and the stuffed grape leaves as a tasty side.

Turkey Reuben at Hershel’s East Side Deli

Photograph by Caroline Cunningham.

If you simply can’t handle going to Reading Terminal Market and leaving without a sandwich, Smith and Bailey suggest going to Hershel’s East Side Deli and asking for turkey, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut on their seeded rye bread, with Russian dressing on the side. It’s kind of like a reuben, only healthier. But since the sandwiches tend to be large, make a pact with yourself only to eat half in one sitting — otherwise just ask the makers to include half the normal amounts of ingredients on your sandwich.

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Intent and Execution: Royal Boucherie Reviewed

Charcuterie | Photo by Ted Nghiem

Nick Elmi’s Royal Boucherie, his Old City restaurant opened in partnership with bar impresarios Stephen Simons and David Frank, is an undeniably fun place to hang out. It’s big, comfortable, at times raucous, with lots of dark wood and dim lighting. It’s got natural wine by the glass and beer in the can.

There’s something so primal about eating here—dunking hunks of sourdough into little pots of snails in butter, biting tender lamb off its brochette. There are so many interesting pieces of God’s most delicious critters being prepared in so many interesting ways.

Diners eating at Royal Boucherie | Photo by Ted Nghiem

AT A GLANCE

★★★★
Royal Boucherie

52 South 2nd Street, Old City

CUISINE: French

PRICES: $$

Order This: Anything with a French name, particularly from the charcuterie station, and then a plate of those pork cheeks.

The heavily French stuff can be especially good: I still daydream about the pork and Armagnac terrine with sweet pear mostarda. The bar snacks are smart and satisfying, like fried olives stuffed with pork, or Swedish meatballs made with duck and swirled through a dark sauce spiked with Dijon. And even if you’re staying for a larger meal (Boucherie is a great place to camp out for an entire evening), there are bright bursts of perfect technique and traditionalism: The lamb crepinette is like a meaty showcase for the flavors of unlovable winter vegetables (parsnips, rutabaga and the like), and the pork cheeks arrive like an illustration out of a 100-year-old French cookbook, with their pearl onions, skinny crooked carrots and pork jus, but taste like Elmi’s kitchen just invented the plate.

Trouble is, not every plate eats that way. And, more worryingly, the restaurant’s inconsistencies seem to be institutional—in intention, not execution. The cocktails, for example, lean heavily on the fruity and sweet side. And an argument could be made that this is a very French thing to do, but these are American cocktails, inspired by famous bars and bartenders, and it’s all of them, not just one or two—as if the bar crew is afraid of the taste of liquor.

Simpler dishes from the raw bar (like the cured scallop) are one-note flops (all grapefruit and nothing else), and the burger—Elmi’s most obvious come-on to the less adventurous eater—is a two-patty mess with bacon and cheese and mayo and truffle and un-pickled pickles that just taste like limp cucumbers along for the ride.

Raw bar | Photo by Ted Nghiem

Because I liked the place so much for what it did so well, I hated the failures twice as much. Which will always be the curse of a great chef trying to find a different sort of balance in a new neighborhood. If Elmi and his crew find it, Boucherie will be a citywide wonder.

But until then, it’s merely a great neighborhood bistro with the potential to do so much more.

Two Stars — Come if you’re in the neighborhood


Rating Key
0 stars: stay away
★: come if you have no other options
★★: come if you’re in the neighborhood
★★★: come from anywhere in the region
★★★★: come from anywhere in the country

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The Bar Method Is Now Open in Rittenhouse

Photograph courtesy The Bar Method.

We were very pumped when the Californian franchise The Bar Method brought their first Philly-area studio to Wayne back in October. And we’re even more stoked that we’re getting another one of the chic barre studios, right in Rittenhouse Square.

The Bar Method Rittenhouse opened its doors for classes on January 2, but the fun has really only just begun: Their grand opening is scheduled for the weekend of February 3 and 4, and we’re all invited.

The studio has three showers and towels for all. Photograph courtesy The Bar Method.

If you’ve ever tried barre before, you’ll know what you’re in for at The Bar Method. Essentially, the workout uses your body weight as resistance — sometimes with some light dumbbells thrown in to turn up the heat — for an hour-long, butt-kicking, muscle-toning workout. Sound fun? Well you’re in luck because throughout the grand opening weekend, all the classes are free (yes, FREE), which means you have no excuse not to give the workout a whirl.

There are men’s and women’s locker rooms at The Bar Method. Photograph courtesy The Bar Method.

And if you love it, you’re still in luck: the studio is currently offering six weeks of unlimited classes to newbies for $99 (which breaks down to less than what you’d pay for just four classes normally).

In addition to trying the class at the grand opening celebration, you’ll also have the chance to enter to win some free goodies from Athleta, snag a goodie bag from beauty app Mane Streem, and sit for a quick peel from Forever Young Med Spa.

There are two studio spaces at the gym. Photograph courtesy The Bar Method.

In the meantime, The Bar Method Rittenhouse is now up and running at 255 S. 17th Street, Suite 200 in Rittenhouse. The space has two studio rooms, a women’s locker room with three showers, a men’s locker rooms, childcare, and towels. Take a look in the photos here, then go check it out in person.

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Watch This Cringeworthy Video of PA Lawmakers Doing the Eagles Chant

Sen. Tony Williams (left) and Gov. Tom Wolf.

Can you think of a worse way to open a local grocery store than having two Pennsylvania legislators struggle their way through a half-assed attempt at the Eagles chant?

Well, that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday in Grays Ferry as Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Sen. Tony Williams came out flat when trying to pump up the Birds faithful in the produce section. And on championship week, no less.

Wolf is from York, so maybe we can let him slide, but Williams is a West Philly guy and he’s largely to blame for this pitiful chant going off the rails. Let’s just all pray there’s a better effort from our Birds on the field Sunday night.