The StaphMeal Saga

The food scene was turned upside down this summer when an anonymous blogger began hurling ludicrous­ epithets at everyone from Georges Perrier to Stephen Starr. But the truth about StaphMeal founder Joshua Scott Albert may be even more explosive than the grenades he lobbed.

ARMED WITH HIS trusty BlackBerry, Albert bunkers in at his sidewalk table. He exudes a casual air in black jeans, lavender sneakers and a brown flat cap, his eyes radiating a steady glitter. His boyish good looks are offset by a certain wary unknowability.­

Albert is so thin that he appears almost not to exist. The gauntness, he says, is a result of Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disorder. “I’m supposed to avoid coffee,­ cigarettes and stress,” he says, chuckling. “I never have, which may account for my stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea. No pun intended: This disease is a pain in the ass.”

Then again, so is Albert. “Josh has very little tolerance for what he perceives as the world’s injustices, whether they are against him or someone else or lots of people,” says Moraff, a freelance writer who on August 24th bought Albert the domain name StaphMeal as a birthday present. “He’s been acting­ on that emotion for a while, as far as I can tell.”

In May, after a drink or two, Albert flipped off a cop outside Barbuzzo and was charged with public drunkenness. In August, after a drink or five, he was punched out at the Barbary after flipping the turntables on a DJ he deemed homophobic. “For better or worse,” Moraff says, “my little gift allowed him to flip much bigger tables and flip off bigger and more important people.”

Opinions on Albert ping-pong from one extreme to the other. “Josh is a sweet, likeable kid,” says Joyce Parr, the fifth of his six foster mothers. “Very few young people I’ve met are so open and up-front.”

“Joshua Albert is a lost, troubled guy who literally terrorized the Philadelphia restaurant scene,” says Jonathan Cohen, the attorney for Perrier and Olunloyo, and an object of considerable StaphMeal ridicule. “He terrorized anonymously, which required no courage or risk.”

Albert has elevated false personae from simple avocation to art form. Last year he called himself “Scott” in a Web post offering his services as an escort. He went by “Eli” in the eight online porn films he made while living in New York. “I had sex with men in half of them,” he reports. “But I never had anal or kissed a guy. I’m straight, so the homosexual stuff had to be Viagra-induced. Strictly gay-for-pay.”

Albert’s pugilistic prose and numerous noms de guerre are dwarfed by his history. It’s his history that has made him, that informs StaphMeal and propels the online eye-pokes. “Josh has long had temper and attachment issues,” says Parr. “Relationships are hard for him. He has no sense of family.”

No wonder. He never had much of a family. Albert was born in High Point, a North Carolina city sometimes referred to as the Furniture and Hosiery Capital of the World. He and his younger brother lived with his mother, Elizabeth, who Josh says was a stripper. “My father was a heroin addict,” he says offhandedly, as if his old man had been a plumber or an insurance salesman. “He and my mom split up when I was a toddler.”

Josh was six when he and his brother were taken into state custody. Josh remembers once calling the police during a home visit because he found pot in his mother’s apartment. At age 10, he witnessed her being brutally assaulted.

Parr shudders at the memory of reading the casework compiled by a therapeutic foster-care agency. “Josh’s mother wasn’t just raped,” she says. “Her throat was slit.” The beating triggered Elizabeth’s steep descent into hard drugs. She suffered a fatal overdose when Josh was 12.

Josh moved out of group care into a foster home, while his brother went to live with their maternal grandmother, whom Josh hated. Seven years later, his estranged father died of AIDS. Until he was 18, Josh was passed like an umbrella from foster home to foster home. Parr met Josh while she was an assistant principal at Chestnut Grove Middle School in King, North Carolina. He was a tightly wound preteen. During a visit with his grandmother, he caused a rumpus by upending a table of food. Still, Parr found the boy endearing. She and her husband even tried to adopt him.

Josh moved in with the couple just before his 16th birthday. “He was always testing boundaries,” Parr says. “Increasingly, he became unmanageable.” The tipping point was a confrontation she had with him about downloading porn on the home computer. Parr, then pregnant, told him he could only stay if he went to family counseling. His refusal begat Foster Home Number Six. “Josh is a great kid—he really is,” Parr says. “But he angers quickly, and when things get tough, he tends to run away.” (For his part, Albert still keeps in touch with Parr and doesn’t dispute any of this.)

Albert was 14 when he worked in his first restaurant, a Chick-fil-A in Burlington, North Carolina. After graduating from R.J. Reynolds High in Winston-Salem, he rappelled from job to job, state to state, making a pit stop here in 2005 on the suggestion of a girl he met in Cape May. Along the way he was arrested and convicted a half-dozen times, for everything from vandalism to credit-card theft (not the greatest crime for a waiter to have on his record).

He returned to Philly in 2010 and worked in the galleys of a half-dozen restaurants, including Zavino, Amis and A.Kitchen. “I’d quit because I didn’t like a place or felt unappreciated,” he says. “A few times, I got fired.” He had just been hired as a runner at Bistrot La Minette when he started StaphMeal. “One reason I decided to be anonymous was that I was afraid I’d get fired,” says Albert. He had been booted out of his apartment and was crashing on Moraff’s couch. “Another reason was that I didn’t want to get my ass kicked.”

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  • tracy

    i don’t feel bad for this kid. i do feel bad for myself and everyone else who will waste their time reading an article on this guy. there’s laws there are rules, play within them. does anyone actually have sympathy for this kid? doubtful. good thing the porn business is always hiring!

  • Arden

    Absolutely brilliant deconstruction of this guy’s brief reign of terror. Thanks Philly mag.

  • J.D.

    Beautifully written. I actually felt sympathy for the little monster.

  • Batali

    This story is what I’d call Josh Albert’s just desserts. Well done!

  • Jerry

    this one really blew me away

  • PAINTER

    What a sad weird little boy. I feel so sorry for him and his victims.

  • Shane

    A wonderfully wrought portrait of almost unfathomable self-unawareness and grandiosity!!

  • Amis

    That’s definitely the first time I’ve read “a bravura lack of introspection”…i laughed.
    It’s nice to see that a “nutball” 25-yr-old blogger’s vernacular can be so readily matched by a “douchebag” law professional.

  • Flay

    So much for his 15 seconds of fame.

  • Trotsky

    I arrived at this great story through a link from Philly’s most ludicrous “radical” Twitterer. “Barclay” is one more white middle class college kid who fancies himself a “radical” (translation: can’t get laid). He’s the ultimate hipster poseur loser, and he was OUTRAGED by this story. The line about on his Twitter feed (I’m not making this up!) was “Not sure if bourgeois rags deserve convo w/ radicals.”

  • Nora

    I agree with @Trotsky totally. I go to school with Barclay Shields and can attest to the fact that he’s a hipster pseud trying desperately to conceal his bourgeois upbringing and lifestyle. He even grew an Amish beard to show he’s “different” from his classmates and the rest of the Occupy Philadelphians. The kid is a total joke on campus. A sad sexless fraud.

  • Jim

    Excellent article. Thanks for running it.

  • Rouge

    I laughed my ass off at this story. Josh is one tortured youngster. So is radical wannabe Barclay Shields, the most pretentious “artiste” and “political theorist” residing at The Ox on North 2nd. He’s both a terrible activist and a terrible writer.

  • Nom-Chompsky

    This article aims to humiliate a group of poorly-connected, under-read and over-theorized group of radical youths who flock to stories in which they are portrayed as the victims in a continuing scheme of the well-to-do in Philadelphia. Lidz ventured to gather his material from the source instead of nit-tweeting libel without any concern towards verity. Barclay, there is definitely no milk or eggs in peanut butter.

  • Henry

    Terrific job. The writing is lively and surgically precise.

  • norman

    I use those words looslely as a fifth grader writes better than you fools.
    do you really get paid for this?

    Muckraker NOT muckracker

    with 10% unemployment it is a shock writers of your caliber get pay checks.

    -norman elifisy

  • norman

    I apologize for my last post about writers and edotors. I’m on meds for this damn schizofrenia and just now came to my senses. The story was very good and I am an awfil speller and didn’t m,ean “looslely”. Sorry about my mood swings.

  • Emily

    Excellent portrait of Mr. Albert, the latest example of a self-important, self-hating, attention-craving narcissist. Akin to a 300-foot flagpole in the midst of a prairie thunderstorm. Also known as being 25 years old.

  • Foo

    25 is the new 15, I guess.

  • Gulp

    Great new footage on YouTube of Joshua talking about getting “choked” by a Philadelphia cop at today’s Occupy Eviction in Dilworth Plaza. I’d like to believe the cop was acting on behalf of the entire Philly foodie community. I salute you officer.

  • Scott

    Way to go cops!

  • Stephen

    Josh’s beliefs were never more than skin deep. His real interest was in being viewed as a rebel, an extraordinary fellow who could see the real truth when those all about him were blindfolded. Like many disturbed personalities who fix on causes, he was a malleable creature who always saw nirvana just beyond the next bend in the road. His blog got him some of what he wanted: media notice, and attention, attention, attention.

  • Larry

    How adorable!

  • men

    I eat every meal out in center city since 1990. I was intrigued by and found many of the comments at staph meal of the anonymous staff accurate to the how I saw them treated.

    (I never knew the site existed until i searched a neighbors name to see how I might encounter him b/c i had to confront him on an issue unrelated to food…staphmeal alerted me to how he might respond by testimony of his employees…and he did respond similar to how he was painted in the anonymous blogs.

    How is this guy commenting on food places where we daily dine different than inga commenting on the designers of our local buildings for daily consumption?

    Our curb appeal is a reflection of how we live inside.

    I think Inga & Abert have alerted us all to have a higher standard and reminded us all to be beautiful both inside and out, and on stage and back stage, and in the front of the house and out back.

    (have you seen how our city restaurants keep the dumpster areas of our streets?!) Gross!

  • You’re joking right?

    Comparing this psycho’s commentary to serious critique is laughable. I ask, did Inga ever call someone a “c**ty Jew”?

    https://twitter.com/#!/staphmeal/status/174165167775555585/photo/1