IT’S THE FOURTH quarter at sun-washed Lincoln Financial Field, and for a moment — just one — Pete Ciarrocchi doesn’t care that his Eagles have blown a huge lead over the Washington Redskins. It’s not the balmy weather on this October Sunday that’s lifting his spirits, or that he’s here with his three boys and his wife, who roll their eyes and laugh as he curls a game program into a megaphone and bangs on his chair in a futile attempt to will his team to win. What’s making him smile now are the two things that occupy a place just below family and football on his priority list in life — crab fries, and making a scene.
Pete opens the back door to one of the five Chickie’s & Pete’s stands at the Linc and sizes up his employees. “Look at their faces,” the giddy 51-year-old whispers. “They look straight down. They’re mortified.” Then it’s showtime, as Pete circles the fryers and does his best Jerry Blavat impression at top volume: “Chickie’s and Pete’s! Chickie’s and Pete’s! Look at all the beautiful girls, sellin’ those crab fries! Look at all the handsome guys, cookin’ up those chicken fingers! Crab fries! Get your crab fries! I’ve got three kids to send to college! Graduate school is expensive these days!”
Customers in two long lines chuckle, and as predicted, his staff seems to be thinking, in unison, “Please, God, make him shut up.” But if he did shut up, then Pete — who usually introduces himself as “Pete from Chickie’s & Pete’s,” as if the restaurant says more about him than his last name, which it does — wouldn’t be Pete. And Chickie’s & Pete’s wouldn’t have evolved from a family-owned gem of a corner bar in Mayfair to the city’s best-known sports bar, a place where fans in oversized jerseys and power brokers in rolled-up shirtsleeves rub up against the players they idolize.
Not even Pete’s own father would have predicted the kind of success his son is enjoying today: five stand-alone restaurants, plus three at the airport and one on the way at the Philadelphia Park casino. Around 6,000 buckets of crab fries sold at every Eagles home game, and 1,500 at every Phillies game. A house in Bensalem, and another in Longport. Buddies with everyone from the Governor to Andy Reid, the Geator to Bon Jovi. And to top it all off, he married a babe — a friggin’ Eagles cheerleader.
What’s really made Chickie’s & Pete’s a success story isn’t just sports; it’s both the menu Pete’s honed over decades and, more importantly, Pete himself. As with conjoined twins, separating the man from his restaurant could mean neither would survive. Pete’s the guy, after all, who used to ride to the Vet every Sunday in the same green Eagles tailgating bus that his wife — in her cheerleading skirt — was immortalized on. He’s the ham who made an appearance in the Mummers documentary Strut! and the guy who skipped out on a black-tie dinner honoring his Pennsylvania Restaurateur Award for an Eagles-Cowboys game (but who sent a thank-you video including a few words from Andy Reid).