I’m Stepping Down as Philly Mag’s Food Editor to Open My Own Restaurant
I’m just going to say the thing: I’m opening a restaurant.
I know, I know; I’m the food editor at Philly Mag (at least for the next several weeks). I know, I know; I’ve written all about the flaws and foibles of the restaurant world. I know, I know; we’re still dealing with a human- and restaurant-killing pandemic. But I’m doing it anyway.
It was always part of the plan to open one. I made the decision a decade ago, when I was an English major in college, panicking about being an English major in college. My parents — both immigrants (iykyk) — were hounding me about my career plans, and I had no answers. I was working in a restaurant at the time, a brunch spot on the Main Line, and having a great time. Because — and this is important — restaurants, under the right circumstances, are fun places of work. The money is fast, the food is good, the drinks are flowing, and the industry is full of interesting people.
Working in a restaurant always felt, to me, like what it must be like to work on a pirate ship. Same energy, I think. Everyone — doesn’t matter if you’re front or back of house — is there to make some coin, and everyone has a story to tell.
Back then, Philly’s food scene was really popping off. I liked working in restaurants; I thought I knew them well enough. (I read Kitchen Confidential and knew what a brunoise is; what else was there to it?) So in my future-panicked stupor, I decided I’d open a restaurant of my own. When I told my friends and family about my plan, many of them, rightly, laughed in my face.
So I got a job serving at a Stephen Starr restaurant in Center City. It was my first Serious Restaurant Job. I got the gig by telling the GM that I was passionate about the industry, that I was ready to learn, that I wanted to own a restaurant of my own one day. The GM laughed at me, too. I spent about two years there, then bounced around to a few other restaurants, sponging up as much knowledge as I could — about wine, about food, about good service. I met wonderful people, people I’m still friends with to this day.
Work in them long enough, though, and you’ll learn about the ugly side of restaurants, too. I met industry lifers who couldn’t escape addiction issues; I worked under abusive leadership, serial harassers, the whole gamut. I learned that restaurants, vibrant and exciting as they are, can cause as much misery as happiness. The ugly side of the restaurant world scared me away. The sheen dulled over the years. I fell out of love with the work. And eventually, I found my way to food journalism. I knew I could string a sentence together; I knew food; I knew the industry from the inside. I found that by covering the food scene as a writer and editor, I could still be a part of our restaurant world without being in it.
So that’s what I’ve been doing the past five years here at Philly Mag.
It’s an exciting and strange thing to be a city magazine’s food editor. It’s strange to be asked to be an “expert” on an entire food scene — especially one as rich and diverse as Philly’s. There are and will always be blind spots in the coverage. My job was to sniff them out and correct the course, but getting it right all the time is impossible, which means you’re always at risk of getting it wrong.
Even knowing that, the rewards were great. Because in the hunt to find the latest and greatest food thing, you build memories. You collide with people and cultures that aren’t your own. You traverse entire continents while staying within city limits. For the past five years, covering our food scene taught me how to love restaurants again.
Ironically, I wrote a small piece in 2019 titled “Philly Is the Worst City in Which to Open a Restaurant.” The restaurant apocalypse came a year later, and I’ve been doomsday-writing ever since. I even wrote an entire story about the end of restaurants as we know them.
There was a moment last year when I really, truly felt like our restaurants wouldn’t, couldn’t survive COVID. (So many were already on the brink of failure.) But many did. Because as damaged as they are, restaurants are resilient. As connectors and agents of culture, they are essential to the fabric of a city. As storytellers, as wells of entertainment, they are eternal. Even after nearly two years of plague, of existential crises among those of us working in food journalism and those of us working in the restaurant industry, I still believe in restaurants. Now more than ever.
I, like you, caught a whiff of change in the air. There’s this new sense of entrepreneurship (so much of it born of survival), a new sense of what it means to own a restaurant, to work in restaurants. In Philly, it appears there’s a changing of the guard — young, doe-eyed food entrepreneurs charging forward, attempting to make something better of this place any way they can, knowing full well that the restaurant industry will never be the same after COVID. What can I say? Writing about it, I got caught up in it. Now, I desperately want to be a part of it.
So I’m opening a restaurant. It’s going to be called Mish Mish. It’s going to be in the Noord space in East Passyunk (1046 Tasker Street), and I’m hoping to have it open by the spring of next year. I’m terrified, of course, but I couldn’t be more excited. Laugh at me all you want.
All that said, there are a couple things you should know moving forward:
1. I’m staying at Philly Mag through the end of the year. We will make every effort to avoid any conflicts of interest. Our annual 50 Best Restaurants issue is coming out in January, and much of the work is already done—in most cases, by my colleagues Regan Stephens and Jason Sheehan. My restaurant obviously won’t be open by the time the issue is out, but we’ll make sure, as always, to be fair and accurate with our coverage as I make moves to get my place off the ground. And you all know my story now, so you can decide for yourself if I hit the mark.
2. I obviously can’t own a restaurant and stay on as food editor here, so guess what? We’re on the hunt for a new food editor. If you’re reading this, if you know your shit, it could be you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info, and stay tuned for the listing.