AS OMNIPRESENT AS the Chickie’s & Pete’s brand has become among both sports fans and the athletes they worship, Pete never planned to create the ultimate Philly sports bar. Until 1998, he still had just one location, the old family bar in Mayfair. That year, the concessions managers at the Vet decided it was time to improve the stadium’s dismal food choices, and reached out to a few local businesses. After sampling the cuisine at Chickie’s & Pete’s, they made Pete an offer to open a stand behind section 248 in left field. Pete wasn’t convinced he could limit his menu to just a few items, though. Seafood and sports? Didn’t seem like a natural fit. It took a $10,000 cash signing bonus to get Pete on board, which meant, in Pete’s world, he had to go overboard. “Pete would work the crowd,” says Aramark regional director Brian Hastings, who’s credited with closing the deal. “He used to say, ‘You’re not just getting crab fries. You’re getting Pete Ciarrocchi.’ He became the mayor of Vet Stadium.”
That same year, the Eagles hired a new head coach, Andy Reid, and as he and his staff pulled all-nighters at their offices deep inside the Vet, Pete would feed them. When Reid’s new draft picks were holed up at the Airport Marriott during contract negotiations, Pete would fetch them in his “taxi crab” van, so before they knew their jersey numbers, young Eagles knew Chickie’s & Pete’s. Pete even hosted Reid’s press conferences, knowing there are two things reporters love — good quotes and free food. That led to WIP hosts like Angelo Cataldi name-dropping his restaurant, and eventually, after years of free publicity, Pete started advertising on the station and hosting sports-talk radio shows.
By the time the Vet was leveled, Chickie’s & Pete’s was on its way to becoming a sports icon, as if the old joint was passing a torch of cultural significance directly to Pete, its mayor. He’d rolled the dice again, taking over a desolate space on the Boulevard to open his second restaurant, and once more in 2003, when he dumped $2.2 million into the 24,000-square-foot abandoned supermarket on Packer Avenue. “It scared the shit out of me,” Pete says. “I was all in.”
The Packer location became an instant hit, a place where fans could watch their teams on one of 38 televisions, and players could retreat for a post-game lobster pizza, and, of course, those fries — thin, with ridges cut to three-eighths of an inch, extra-deep to hold more seasoning, plus a secret cheese sauce made of cream cheese and three others Pete won’t reveal. (Says Pete, when pressed, “You could slip me a mickey and I wouldn’t tell you that!”)