Stephen Starr has entered the pizza stage with Stella, and though the warring pizza-style factions all have opinions as to its success, everyone who loves pizza (which is to say everyone) agrees that it was high time that someone took on our pizza problem in a serious way. Let’s face it, Philly: We are pizza poor.
Starr has known this for a long time. He recently told me he’s had the Stella pizza concept in mind for two years, but a combination of the recession (not a time to open another high-concept/big-budget restaurant/movie set) and the availability of the space on 2nd and Lombard made him spring into action. And according to Starr, the public’s even hungrier for pizza than he thought. In the next two months, he says, Stella will expand into the adjoining storefront.
But that isn’t the only expansion Starr has in the works: He plans to open a second Stella in Chestnut Hill. “It might have a different name,” he says. “I haven’t decided, but the concept will be the same.” Additionally, he has secured a lease on yet-to-be-announced location in Rittenhouse Square, where he will open another casual pizzeria that will serve 18-inch New York-style pies with traditional “but better quality” toppings. Starr says these spots will open in just a few months.
His plan isn’t domination of the pizza scene. In fact, he says he hopes to inspire others who also want to take on pizza the right way and finally get Philly some respect from pizza aficionados. And I really hope for that, too. When I travel, people always talk to me about food in Philadelphia. For the most part, I’m a proud ambassador for my home town. But when the subject turns to pizza, as it did when I met New York City pizza expert and food writer Ed Levine, I lose my Philly pride in the blink of an eye. He said we’re a lackluster pizza town, and I knew it was true. But maybe thanks to Stephen Starr, and perhaps more important, those he will inspire, we will be pizza poor no longer.