Food for Thought: We’re So Euro

When it comes to tasty imports, New York’s got nothing on Philly. Why we’ve become the test market for European chains


When Maoz opened on South Street in 2004, few Philadelphians were aware that the little falafel takeout joint was the first U.S. outpost of a successful chain of European restaurants. Falafel fans had long expected Maoz to branch out into the States, but most expected it would surface in New York. According to Maoz US operations manager Yair Marinov, however, Philadelphia was believed to be more European than that city to our north.

“There’s foot traffic for lunch and dinner and, of course, nightlife,” Marinov says of Maoz’s South Street location. “Plus, there seem to be more vegans in Philadelphia than in New York.” He also says that, unlike other large cities that aren’t the Big Apple, people here are open to new flavors and concepts. The city offered Maoz a hungry, cosmopolitan demographic in a pedestrian-friendly environment at a lower price point. “The rents in New York are insane,” says Marinov. Maoz did eventually branch out to New York, but only after finding success in Philly.

Yogorino, another European import, has just one store in the United States, and they, too, chose Philadelphia. Cata Raisbeck partnered with the Italian parent company to open a shop on 20th Street, just off Rittenhouse Square. Just as with Yogorino, Philly’s cheap rents and good foot traffic played key roles. Raisbeck says that they also looked long and hard at Boston before settling on the City of Brotherly Love. “I just thought, the country started here in Philadelphia, wouldn’t it be cool if Yogorino in America started here, too?” says Raisbeck. (The shop’s grand opening was on July 4th.) Other factors that worked in Philly’s favor: young people, students, and empty nesters who retire to Rittenhouse.