Marc Vetri: Why I Sold to Urban Outfitters

"We're not going be cheapening anything."

Marc Vetri

Marc Vetri

Marc Vetri treated Tuesday like any other day. He spent his morning at Amis Trattoria on 13th Street, talking about the menu with the chef. Then he rolled over to Osteria on North Broad Street to do the same. Tonight, he’ll “roam around his restaurants” to make sure the vibe and the food are just right. Just like always.

But there’s little doubt that Tuesday is more than just another day. A day earlier, Vetri agreed to sell his family of restaurants to Urban Outfitters for an undisclosed price. In an interview Tuesday morning, Vetri said “we were never for sale” but that the synergy between the two companies was too strong to let the deal pass. Apart from the restaurant Vetri on Spruce Street, Urban now owns 100 percent of the business.

Vetri called the deal “an unprecedented event in the restaurant and retail world” and said “I don’t know of anything else like this.” Neither did Urban investors, who seemed perplexed by the move. Combined with a weak earnings report, the deal sent Urban’s stock tumbling. (It was down 7.5 percent on Tuesday afternoon after a rough Monday.)

But there are certainly some synergies that Wall Street just isn’t seeing. Vetri is opening a Pizzeria Vetri location at a lifestyle center in Austin, Texas, just steps away from 60,000 students at the University of Texas; the landlord is Urban Outfitters. Vetri is also set to become part of Urban Outfitters’ lifestyle village in Devon, Pa. That project is slated to include an Urban Outfitters store plus URBN-owned Terrain and Anthropologie. It will likely have more than one Vetri Family restaurant. Heck, Glen Senk, former CEO of Urban, served as chairman of the Vetri Foundation.

“One could say that we’ve been negotiating for the last year, but I look at it like we’ve been holding hands for the last 10 years,” said Vetri. “I started to develop a relationship with a lot of the executives and employees there. Through the years, I realized that our companies are very similar in culture and vision regarding innovation, entrepreneurship and pushing the limits to move things forward. They’ve really been mentoring us for years.”

Vetri said it was Urban that approached him and business partner Jeff Benjamin about a potential deal.

“They said ‘We know how to scale and build things. We know how to run infrastructure. We know how to let the brands run themselves — and we have shared services that support the brands. How about we show you how to build and you run the brand?’” he recalled. “I said, ‘That’s fucking awesome.’”

While we know Pizzeria Vetri will expand its footprint, he also said to expect more Amis Trattoria restaurants as well.

“It’s the most neighborhood, the most accessible. That’s at the top of list to replicate, because it’s the most replicate-able,” he said.

I also asked him another question that’s been on people’s minds: Will pizza be served inside Urban Outfitters stores?

“We’re not going put a restaurant inside of a store. That, for sure, won’t happen,” said Vetri. “We haven’t plotted it out yet — most likely it will be a combination of some stores and lifestyle centers. But we have nothing planned out yet. We’re basically in evaluation mode.”

On his future role at Urban, Vetri says he’ll continue running his restaurants as usual and be in charge of Urban’s existing cafes. (It has UO Café in New York City and two Terrain Cafes.)

“They do an awesome job already with all their food concepts,” said Vetri. “We just want to help them run a little more efficiently. It’s no different to how many restaurateurs run their restaurants. They have the investors and maybe they own a percentage, but they’re still the operators.”

So why not sell the Vetri restaurant on Spruce Street along with the rest of the business?

“If we’re talking about scaling, Vetri’s not scalable,” he said. “It’s a one-and-done. It’s a culinary learning center. A research facility. A testing facility. It’s something we can’t open up more of. It doesn’t make sense for Urban to own something like that.”

One more question seemed to be on everybody’s tongue: Is Vetri just selling out, ultimately cheapening his product?

“Anytime you change the game, I think it’s human nature to be negative about it,” he said. “The only thing I can say is ‘Watch what happens.’ We’re all about innovation and creating incredible things. With our two organizations, the sky is the limit. We’re not going be cheapening anything.”

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