Neil Stein Returning to the Restaurant Business

[Photo: Trevor Dixon]

Once one of Philadelphia’s most talked about restaurateurs, Neil Stein has spent his time rather quietly since his January 2007 release from SCI Schuylkill, where he served a yearlong sentence for tax evasion and wrote about the prison food. But now the man who was at the helm of a restaurant revolution and brought us the concept of outdoor dining is ready for his comeback.

This morning, Stein confirmed that he plans to open a restaurant at 1801 JFK, a space currently occupied City Garden, the Chinese restaurant. Though he won’t divulge much, including the name, he says it’s going to be a bistro (shocker!) that screams modern, or as he puts it, “This place is very modern, very very modern.”

“It’s been a few years since I’ve been out of Rouge,” says the 70-year old Stein, “and I just couldn’t turn down this opportunity. It’s so exciting, and I just know that it’s something that the city is going to like — no, it’s something that the city is going to love.”

Though JFK is not exactly the Restaurant Row that Stein is used to (hello, Chima), he points to the site’s proximity to the Four Seasons as part of his recipe for success. “Remember that we’re only 200 yards from the hotel,” explains Stein. “So in addition to the fact that we have a lot of people around for work during the day and a lot of people who live nearby at night, we also have the best tourists in the city just down the street.”

With a declaration that will certainly elicit eye-rolls from the Philadelphia restaurant community (and, by all means, here at Foobooz), Stein maintains that a late fall opening is entirely possible. “We’re working with two designers right now, and if we get going on this in the next 3 to 4 weeks, then I think an opening in 3 to 4 months is right,” he says. After all, he adds, “I’ve done this before.”