When Stephen Starr began building his empire, he did so with concept restaurants: martini bars, Asian-fusion buddha shrines, soul food diners, and conveyor belt sushi restaurants. (That was then — decades ago. Now, he’s a James Beard award-winning restaurateur, teaming up with some of the most talented culinary stars in the world, opening chef-driven restaurants across the globe.)
But Aimee Olexy, his business partner and the owner behind two Washington Square stalwarts, Talula’s Garden and Talula’s Daily, hates the term “concept” — always has. That’s why, when Philly Mag asked her to tell us all about the new restaurant she’s opening in Rittenhouse Square (in the old Serafina space at 130 South 18th Street), she barely gave us a straight answer.
Olexy, ever the hopeless romantic when it comes to her restaurants (and restaurants in general), doesn’t believe in “concepts.” She thinks that labelling them can be distracting. “Restaurants are what they are,” she says. “They evolve out of the people who go to them.”
What’s clear, however, is her vision: “An essential neighborhood restaurant in Rittenhouse.”
It’s called The Love, named after what she says is the most the important ingredient. And as cliché as it may sound, it goes deeper than you’d think. It plays into her idea of what a restaurant in this town should be, it’s the term she uses when adding a little something to a dish to make it pop, what she tells her staff to give to a guest when they’re waiting for a table at the door. “We’re feeding you. That’s an intimate thing”, she says. So it’s, too, the all-encompassing term for her convictions behind the stove: American, local, fresh, seasonal, sustainable — the stuff that’s defined her style of cooking from her days at Django to Talula’s Table, Garden, and Daily. As for the menu, change will be constant: “It’s a living thing.” New York transplant Josh Tomaszewski will be chef de cuisine, serving lunch and dinner seven days a week.
Like we’ve mentioned before, Starr hired design team Roman & Williams (they made NYC’s Le Coucou the babe that it is) to do up The Love’s interior. Olexy says it’ll feel like home — a comfortable vibe with patterned wallpaper, ceramic tiles, wood, brick, linen-upholstered banquettes. Upstairs, a communal table will serve as additional seating, plus a space to host special events, dinners, cheese classes, and any other “special stuff” Olexy has up her sleeve.
After a massive build-out (they had to completely gut the space and start over), they plan to have the restaurant open to the neighborhood by late October. If you’re interested in a position at the new spot, Starr Restaurants is hosting a job fair today at Talula’s Garden till 2 p.m.