Stephen Starr: Bad Schools Make for a Bad Economy

Says his restaurants have a tough time attracting talent to Philly.

When it comes to supporting Philly public schools, restaurateur Stephen Starr has put his money where his customers’ mouths are: He raised more than $100,000 for the school district by asking patrons to add a donation to their bill whenever they ate at one of his restaurants.

Starr gave an interview to the Philadelphia Business Journal about why he promotes the schools. An excerpt:

Having a strong school system, of course, makes the city better. You have better people going out into society, you have a better talent pool available to you as an employer, and you have employees that feel happy and safe to stay in Philadelphia or move to Philadelphia who have children that don’t feel compelled they have to move out because they can’t send their children to a school system that doesn’t have enough money to give them to buy books or computers.




One of our biggest problems right now is getting employees to come to Philadelphia. We have headhunters that we hire. We have our own recruiting department, and to get exactly this — upper management people to come to Philadelphia — has been a little bit of a challenge.

Sometimes it works really well. Philadelphia is such a beautiful and affordable city, but things like the school system is a big negative when it comes to getting people to move here from Portland or from San Francisco when they have two kids.

It’s unaffordable to put them in private schools. Our school system is in shambles, so it helps all the way around — morally and ethically. If you’re a business getting people to stay around here, it’s one of the most important objectives the city should have.

Starr, incidentally, just opened an El Vez outpost in New York.

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • Flanders

    “…mortally and ethically”. Proofread much?

  • barrygster

    So he isn’t wrong about the important of fixing the school district, but a serious question. How many folks in upper management send their kids to big city public schools? Maybe Portland and SF have good public schools, but while Philly schools are in crisis, Chicago, LA, and NYC are not known for excellence in public education. Do they also have problems attracting upper management candidates?

    The inner ring suburbs here have some of the best schools in the country, so this doesn’t ring true to me.

    • William Rhodes

      I send my kids to public schools and I am in “upper management”. To be fair, they both attend Masterman and we live close-by.

  • The Undisputed Truth

    Absentee parents are really what make for bad schools, but you wont hear Steven Starr or Philly magazine touch that one. We’ll spend another 50 years barking up the wrong tree and wondering why it keeps getting worse.

    • Eric the Red

      “If these were suburban white kids, I wonder if that skepticism would
      still be there. Let’s just say what I mean — there’s no dancing around
      it. These are poor black children, many of them, and I think the
      skepticism is not skepticism. It’s racism.” -Starr

  • The Undisputed Truth

    According to the 2010 Census, Portland (aka the whitest city in America) has 6.3% black and 9.4% Hispanic citizens. About 16%. Portand is 72% White and 8% Asian.

    San Francisco has 6.0% Black and 15.3% Hispanic citizens, about 21 % San Francisco is 35% Asian, many more than black and Hispanic combined. They are what make their schools great.

    Philadelphia is 44.3% black and 16.3% Hispanic for a total of 58.5% combined of the struggling ethnic groups. It costs far more to educate them, the cost of all services per capita is astronomically higher, the tax base per capita, far lower. A double whammy.

    Philly has as many black citizens, 700,000 as the entire population of Portland and almost as many black citizens as all of San Fran. Philly has far more blacks and Hispanics than the entire population of either city. Combined those two cities have a population approximately that of Philly. Put them together and they would have about 1/7th the number of black citizens and well more than twice as many white citizens.

    Comparing Philly to either of those cities is a farce. Blaming money and schools and ignoring the human pathology as we have done for generations is another way to avoid the issues and do nothing.

  • Enuf already

    Those running the government in any form ALSO NEED to have skin in the game. They should be on the same healthcare and pension as the rest of us. In addition, I do agree that they should have their children in the same schools at least for a time period so that they can live the experience and see what the real problem is. Would also be a good idea were they to have to live in some of the same neighbor hoods for the same reason so that they get to live the reality, as most of them have no idea of what they’re talking about. How can you resolve what you don’t understand.
    Kind of like to a point Undercover Boss.