James Beard Finally Acknowledges Philly’s Little Guys (and Gals) for its 2017 Semifinalists List

Essen Bakery (Oustanding Baker semifinalist) - Facebook

Essen Bakery (Outstanding Baker semifinalist) – Facebook

This story has been updated.

The almighty James Beard Awards Committee rarely ever left its comfort-zone when it came down to Philadelphia restaurants. Year after year, it was always Philly’s ultra-notable restaurants and chef names that made the cut — Zahav, Vedge, Vernick, Fork; Vetri, Starr, Solomonov — with the occasional nod to any Philly talent considered under-the-radar on the national scale, e.g. Joe CicalaKonstantinos PitsillidesAndre Chin and Amanda Eap (Artisan Boulanger Patissier). That’s not to say those big-name nominations weren’t deserved — they absolutely were — it’s just that there’s so much more to this city than Zahav and Marc Vetri. The rest of the country just isn’t aware.

But for whatever reason, this year, Philly-area chefs and restaurants, both big and small, caught the committee’s attention. Check out who’s repping Philly in 2017:

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Stephen Starr Still Has Plans For Philly

Stephen Starr

Stephen Starr

Stephen Starr is having a big year. There was the surprise Paris restaurant opening. Le Coucou (the New York restaurant he’s doing with partner Daniel Rose) got named as the best restaurant of 2016 by Pete Wells. And he currently has 33 restaurants up and running in Philly and elsewhere.

And in this month’s Vanity Fair, he gets a big interview in which he talks about his sudden success, getting fired from his first DJ job, his fear of heights and, most important to us here at Foobooz World HQ, his future plans for restaurants in Philly.

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Stephen Starr Restaurant in NYC Tops New York Times List

Stephen Starr landed a major restaurant plaudit in the New York Times today.

Well-respected critic Pete Wells, famed for his scathing reviews of Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen & Bar and Señor Frog’s, put Starr’s Le Coucou at number one on his Top New York Restaurants of 2016 list.

“The genius of this project from the chef Daniel Rose and the restaurateur Stephen Starr is that it gives us almost everything we loved about New York’s old-line French restaurants without the things we didn’t,” Wells writes. “The dining room isn’t stuffy, the service isn’t snooty, and people don’t get seated in Siberia if their pronunciation of boeuf bourguignon doesn’t have the right backhand spin.” Read more »

Stephen Starr Goes International

Stephen Starr

A while back, while chatting with Peter Serpico about his future plans with boss Stephen Starr, he told us that Starr was totally focused on a project in NYC with chef Daniel Rose–a collaboration between the two that involved the opening of a very French restaurant in New York (which turned out to be Le Coucou and opened over the summer) and some other “unnamed French restaurant” that might (or might not) be opening in New York a few months later.

Well, as things turned out, the timeframe was more or less right, but the location? Not so much. Because back in October, Starr and Rose very, very quietly opened a restaurant in Paris called Chez La Vieille.

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Stephen Starr Turned Down Offer to Open Restaurant in D.C. Trump Hotel

Donald Trump; Stephen Starr

Trump photo by Gage Skidmore (license)

There’s a good story by Jessica Sidman in Washingtonian magazine about how Donald Trump lost the restaurants in his new Washington, D.C., hotel. Two restaurateurs, José Andrés and Geoffrey Zakarian, pulled out of the under-construction hotel after Trump announced his campaign last year by saying immigrants from Mexico are rapists and drug dealers. (“Some, I assume, are good people,” he added.) Read more »

Feds Investigating Alleged Wage Theft at Stephen Starr Restaurant

L: Stephen Starr (Photo by Jacqueline Larma/AP) R: The interior of Talula's Garden (Photo via Starr Restaurants)

Left: Stephen Starr (photo by Jacqueline Larma/AP). Center: The interior of Talula’s Garden (photo via Starr Restaurants). Right: Aimee Olexy (photo by HughE Dillon).

The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating a cook’s claim that he and other employees at a Stephen Starr restaurant were forced to work without pay, Philadelphia magazine has learned. The scheme allegedly cost each of them thousands of dollars in lost wages.

Robert Fitz, a line cook at Talula’s Garden from 2015 through early 2016, filed a federal complaint in August. Fitz says he told officials that line cooks at the farm-to-table restaurant on Washington Square were expected to start work between roughly 11 a.m. and noon each day, but weren’t allowed to clock in until 3 p.m. The employees spent the off-the-clock hours preparing to begin serving dinner at 5 p.m., he says. Read more »

Stephen Starr To Take Over Serafina Spot

Serafina location at 18th and Sansom will become a Stephen Starr restaurant.

Serafina location at 18th and Sansom will become a Stephen Starr restaurant.

Serafina is going to be taken over by Stephen Starr. The Italian restaurant from New York landed with significant fanfare in 2011. It was immediately the place to see and be seen but its bloom faded quickly with lackluster and comically bad reviews. Then there was the Cliff Lee incident. And since then, the restaurant has gotten by on tourists, Rittenhouse Square lifers and its location on bustling 18th Street. According to Michael Klein, Serafina will remain open through November before Starr moves in.

Starr has not settled on a concept for the 160-seat restaurant and the Bunker LLC on the liquor license doesn’t give too much away. We’re guessing it isn’t a golf or World War I themed restaurant.

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Starr CFO Bruce Koch Passes Away

bruce koch linkedin

Bruce Koch, 60, Starr CFO

Starr Restaurants Chief Financial Officer Bruce Koch died Tuesday, January 26th after suffering a stroke on Saturday. Koch was 60 years-old.

In addition to being the CFO of Stephen Starr’s restaurant organization, Koch was known for his love of music, juggling being involved in two bands with overseeing the finances of the restaurant empire.

A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, February 6th, at 1 p.m. at the Germantown Friends Meetinghouse, 47 West Coulter Street. Details regarding a musical tribute will be announced later.

Bruce Koch, 60, bassist and Starr CFO [Philly.com]

After the Hangover: How Old City Finally Sobered up and Crafted a Grown-up Vision for Itself

Screen Shot 2015-12-23 at 4.16.15 PM

We called it the “Land of 1,000 Snookis,” and judging by the wounded comments we got, that hurt.

In the 2010 story “What the Hell Happened to Old City?,” Philly Mag’s Richard Rys reported that the neighborhood’s late-1990s promise — fueled by an enticing mix of high-end restaurants, cool boutiques and celeb-friendly lounges, much of it housed in repurposed historic buildings and all anchored by Stephen Starr’s pioneering spots Continental and Buddakan — had curdled under a relentless every-weekend assault by drunken young clubbers. Residents who’d snapped up million-dollar condos after lapping up the hip daytime and weeknight vibe were checking out as soon as they were lucky enough to find buyers. Local business leaders felt that City Hall, content to keep the raucous behavior roped off from other areas of the city, wasn’t interested in addressing the mess.

Though neighborhood organizations had sporadic success dealing with the so-called nuisance bars and clubs in the zone bordered by Market and Chestnut streets from Front to 3rd — Cebu, a former VIP magnet that had fallen far, was a notable early closure — it’s only relatively recently that a concerted mix of planning and enforcement has truly clicked. The result: Notorious clubs such as Grey Social Lounge, Mint, 32˚ and Blurr, along with about 10 similar establishments and their fly-by-night party promoters, are finally gone, and a new scene is emerging.

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