Crystal Fox is a longtime Gayborhood businesswoman and executive chef of Bocconcini. We chat with the entrepreneur on running her own venture and supporting queer women along the way.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m 38 years years old and live in the Graduate Hospital section of Philadelphia. I graduated from Bloomsburg University with an undergrad in criminal justice and a master’s in education with an emphasis in multicultural education/international relations. During my final semester, in my master’s program, I was in the classroom and came to the realization that I couldn’t see myself doing 20 years in a classroom. It was depressing and left me feeling a bit lost in regards to a career path. So, with no real direction, I moved with a friend to Philadelphia and landed a job at Sisters, the now-closed lesbian bar. I was excited to be in the city, working at a lesbian bar, but not so excited to be placed in the kitchen. I mean, when you think of a nightclub, you think socializing, mingling, making connections. The complete opposite of what one thinks when working in the kitchen. But I took the job and it was the first time I felt like things clicked for me. I was having fun. Learning. I felt like what I did mattered and it taught me accountability. That one job, at Sisters, launched my love for food. I’ve since put myself through culinary school at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, worked at high-end restaurants like Amada in Old City, made an appearance on the Food Network’s show Chopped, have been sent to Rome by my employer to work in kitchens and learn about Italian food and culture, and now running my own location — Bocconcini in the Gayborhood. And I love every minute of it!
As an openly queer chef in Philly, what have your many years of working within the Gayborhood taught you about community?
To be honest, we watch out for each other. While working at Giorgio’s and now Bocconcini, we’ve donated to William Way, Action AIDS, the Attic, etc., and in return you will see those same faces showing up to the restaurant with holiday parties and birthday parties, or William Way will give us catering opportunities for their Homecoming, etc. This community has been nothing but supportive to Giorgio and myself. Businesses aside, even community members like local residents and visiting LGBTQ folk are very supportive of me regardless of where I’ve worked, and it’s just especially nice to see that support transfer to my own location, Bocconcini. It just shows that this community wants to see fellow LGBTQ folk succeed, and with that I hope to be a resource and contact for anyone who needs my support. When I spent several years estranged from my parents, in regards to my sexuality, this community and its resources saved me, and I hope to be that to someone someday.
You are the executive chef of a hot new restaurant. What are a few major things you’ve already learned on the job?
Most importantly? There is not one job that I don’t do or that isn’t required of me. I clean floors, windows, bathrooms, I answer the phones and take reservations during the day, I deal with all the ordering and receiving for Bocconcini, I cook on the line every night we are open, and when all is said and done for the day … I go home and answer emails and respond to reservation and party inquiries. It truly is a labor of love. You couldn’t keep a 19-hour-a-day pace if it wasn’t. But I am very happy.
What is one common misperception about women business owners in the Gayborhood you wish would immediately go away, and why?
That we don’t exist. We do, and not just in the Gayborhood, but in the West and South Philly sections of the city too. There are a ton of LGBTQ-fronted and -owned establishments. More than ever. I moved into the city over 10 years ago and I’m proud of our city’s trajectory in regards to making LGBTQ folks feel included and represented in business. Don’t get me wrong, there is a ton more work to do … but I’m happy that the strides that have been made have been in the more positive direction.
What is one tangible action you think will help garner more support for women within our city’s LGBTQ community?
More visibility. With the loss of Sisters, a few years back, women kind of trailed off the radar. There were only a few monthly parties for women, only a handful of strong leaders, and we kind of dispersed throughout the city. We are finding our voice again. The opening of Toasted Walnut has helped, coupled with Amber Hikes killin’ it in the Mayor’s Office, Samantha Giusti with the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, Angela Giampolo working tirelessly for the neighborhood, and Nikki López at Galaei. We are really finding our footing and place within the community again. I remain hopeful for our great city, even in today’s political climate.