Stephen Starr’s Next Project
Sometime next month, Stephen Starr will officially open the doors on Route 6, a new seafood restaurant on North Broad Street. And when he does, the doors will officially close on an era in Philadelphia history.
In August, Starr told Philly.com’s Michael Klein that the seafood place—his 21st restaurant in Philadelphia—would be his last in town, at least “for a while.” For hard-core Philly foodies, many of whom have viewed Starr as more a savvy showman than a serious restaurateur, the seeming completion of his Philadelphia Empire will likely be met with a shrug. But for the rest of us, those who have long enjoyed the show and all it helped make happen, the fact that there won’t be any more new Stephen Starr restaurants to love, hate or debate is at best bittersweet.
Starr is a lifelong music fan and former concert promoter, so let’s put this in terms he might appreciate: If Ed Rendell was the Elvis of Center City’s revival—the guy who first revolutionized our idea of what our downtown could be—Starr was arguably the Beatles, the one who helped bring it to the proverbial next level. Starr’s impact has been, in part, about commerce, but more than anything, he has brought a level of energy, excitement and, yes, cool to Center City. Whether he was helping to revitalize a forgotten part of town (as he did with Old City’s Continental, in 1995) or giving an established neighborhood something it didn’t even know it needed (Rittenhouse Square’s Parc, in 2008), Starr has consistently created places that people—often suburbanites—want to come to. And when they get here, a funny thing happens: Some of them decide that the city isn’t just a nice place to visit, but potentially a nice place to live. Granted, it may go too far to give Starr all the credit for Center City’s residential growth. But remove those 20-plus restaurants of his, and the lights aren’t quite as bright downtown.
Is this really the end? His “for a while” comment is a hopeful hedge. But even if he has opened his last Philadelphia restaurant, there may be another way he can contribute to the city. My suggestion: that he throw his passion and focus behind a Stephen Starr Charter School for Creative Entrepreneurship. There have to be other Stephen Starrs in Philadelphia’s galaxy; maybe the man himself can help us find and cultivate them.