You’ve heard the story before: Young chef opens shoebox-size BYO. Cooks for a few dozen people every night. The critics fall in love. He keeps it humming for a spell, staying small—until suddenly he can’t resist any longer. Chefs may get all the love, but restaurateurs? They get the money.
So he opens another place. Why not? We’re talking about a guy who used to cook at Le Bec-Fin. People give Place Number Two the benefit of the doubt—at least to begin with. It makes the Philly Mag 50 top five. Squeaks into Esquire, too. Watch out, Jose Garces.
Flash-forward a couple years.
Place Number Two calls it quits. Nobody much laments it. We’ve still got the little BYO we first fell for. Until the shutters close on that, too.
By the time Place Number Three is born (as a clone of Place Two), and Place Four stirs serious befuddlement with crab scrapple, “pig wings,” burgers on doughnut rolls, and cooking blunders all over the place, it’s almost as though good old Place Number One never existed at all.
That’s not Chip Roman’s story—not yet, at least. But it is a cautionary tale. Roman, like Daniel Stern (of Gayle and Rae, now both closed, MidAtlantic which closes tonight and R2L which remains open), made his bones at Le Bec-Fin. He went out on his own with Blackfish, a small BYO that overcame its Conshohocken address to rise to the top of Philly Mag’s Best Restaurants list. And while he kept his restaurateur ambitions in check a bit longer than Stern did, last year he busted out of the BYO box by backing Mica, in Chestnut Hill, and Ela, in Queen Village (about a block from the old Gayle).
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