Stephen Starr: Bad Schools Make for a Bad Economy

Says his restaurants have a tough time attracting talent to Philly.

When it comes to supporting Philly public schools, restaurateur Stephen Starr has put his money where his customers’ mouths are: He raised more than $100,000 for the school district by asking patrons to add a donation to their bill whenever they ate at one of his restaurants.

Starr gave an interview to the Philadelphia Business Journal about why he promotes the schools. An excerpt:

Having a strong school system, of course, makes the city better. You have better people going out into society, you have a better talent pool available to you as an employer, and you have employees that feel happy and safe to stay in Philadelphia or move to Philadelphia who have children that don’t feel compelled they have to move out because they can’t send their children to a school system that doesn’t have enough money to give them to buy books or computers.

One of our biggest problems right now is getting employees to come to Philadelphia. We have headhunters that we hire. We have our own recruiting department, and to get exactly this — upper management people to come to Philadelphia — has been a little bit of a challenge.

Sometimes it works really well. Philadelphia is such a beautiful and affordable city, but things like the school system is a big negative when it comes to getting people to move here from Portland or from San Francisco when they have two kids.

It’s unaffordable to put them in private schools. Our school system is in shambles, so it helps all the way around — morally and ethically. If you’re a business getting people to stay around here, it’s one of the most important objectives the city should have.

Starr, incidentally, just opened an El Vez outpost in New York.