The Informant: Tommy Up Disappears, Meek Mill Disappoints… Then Dines
The Informant is our new gossip column from longtime Philly Mag reporter Victor Fiorillo. Each week, The Informant will bring you the tantalizing tidbits and sensational stories that those in the know are talking about behind the scenes. Got a tip? Email email@example.com.
Tommy Up has always been one of Philadelphia’s most savvy and prolific social media wizards and promotional gurus, using Facebook, Twitter and the like to spread the word about gimmick burger joint P.Y.T. and his other entrepreneurial efforts gone viral. Just how savvy and prolific is he? Facebook once flew him out to company headquarters in Menlo Park, California, for a secret meeting of superusers. But for the past few weeks, his social media accounts have dried up, and folks are wondering what the heck happened to the 44-year-old Fishtown native, especially after his latest effort — a New York City outpost of his burger joint P.Y.T. — closed after just three months.
“Not making burgers is like a bad breakup for me,” says Up, whose real last name is the far less catchy Updegrove. “I really had to unplug and reaffirm what I am looking to do after seven years of doing this.”
The East Village P.Y.T. managed to get a lot of publicity after it opened in October. This was nothing new. Up’s bizarre burger concoctions had been featured on shows like Saturday Night Live and Jimmy Fallon and in national magazines for years. Great press, yes, but the neighborhood didn’t seem to be all that receptive, and the restaurant was shuttered before January could come to an end. And that’s around when Up seemed to have vanished. No social media posts. No confirmed sightings. And his longtime phone number wasn’t working, either.
“I had to shut it off for a while,” says Up. “I just had to take some time.”
Up also recently closed two Philly operations: his original P.Y.T. and cocktail bar Emmanuelle, both at the Piazza in Northern Liberties. Up says he grew tired of the Piazza after progenitor Bart Blatstein, with whom he had a long working relationship, sold his controlling interest in the development to New York’s Jared Kushner, who happens to be the son-in-law of blowhard Donald Trump.
According to Up, the situation under his new “overlord,” as he refers to Kushner, was far from good, thanks to tactics that Up says hyperbolically were like “living under a death threat.” The relationship tanked, and court records indicate that Up could owe Kushner close to $300,000. Up says he’s expecting to work something out with Kushner this week.
(“Mr. Up repeatedly failed to both pay rent and follow property rules,” said a spokesperson for Kushner’s company. “After multiple forbearance attempts and rent reductions, he vacated the property. We are now in court seeking to recover some of what he owes.” Up responds: “They drew first blood, not me. I was honest with them about their failed efforts and their only response was to retaliate against me, financially and otherwise, again and again. I have documentation of their negligent management and systematic destruction of the Piazza that is revelatory. I look forward to sharing it if it comes down to it.”)
The plan was to reopen P.Y.T. as part of the new Fillmore concert venue development near the Delaware waterfront, but now that deal is no more. “The timing of it, I just really haven’t been able to make it work right now,” Up says. “It may seem like an implosion, but I have a good relationship with them. The timetables just aren’t working.”
But as far as Up is concerned, his New York dreams aren’t entirely over. As he tells it, P.Y.T. New York could reopen. He explains that rent was so high that he would need a liquor license to make enough money to cover it, and that liquor license has been hard to come by.
“The landlord is an awesome guy, and he loves us,” says Up. “He was hanging out there all the time. But the liquor license thing is difficult. Very political.”
The only Up spot that’s still open is the fantastic Fishtown tiki bar The Yachtsman, which he debuted in August 2014 after a controversial Kickstarter funding effort.
Up has always been a hustler, and if you’re placing bets, you should probably place one on him popping back up any day now with some crazy new idea that everyone will be talking about. And we certainly hope so. After all, the world needs more Deep-Fried Lasagna Bun Meatball Burgers. OK, maybe not. But still, come rejoin civilization, Tommy. It’s more fun with you in it.
Editor’s Note: The item above has been updated to include comment from Jared Kushner and response to that comment from Tommy Up.
Meek Mill Disappoints the Kids
Philly born and raised rap star Meek Mill was supposed to play basketball recently with the kids from West Philadelphia charter Boys’ Latin. But it’s evidently hard being the king of hip-hop: Meek pulled out at the last minute because he wasn’t feeling well. The Informant would have asked for a doctor’s note. But, hey, one can only imagine how exhausting it must be trying to keep up with his girlfriend, Nicki Minaj.
The school’s athletic director says that Meek is supposed to show up this Thursday for a makeup session, and we certainly suggest that he follow through. The commitment is part of the public relations effort that the rapper embarked on in December after a Philly judge found that he had violated his probation on an old gun charge. Meek isn’t allowed to leave the five-county area — he’s not even permitted to visit mom in New Jersey — and he can’t take on any paid events, only charitable ones. He’s due back in court this Friday.
Meanwhile, Meek and his bodacious gal aren’t exactly keeping a low profile in the city. They dined at Del Frisco’s last Tuesday and then were spotted at another restaurant this weekend, as documented by some Instagram page whose sole purpose is tracking the celebrity couple. Looks like Ms. Tootsie’s?
Caitlyn Jenner Going to UPenn
In case you haven’t heard enough about the world’s most famous transgender person and the individual who contributed half of the chromosomes required to produce reality show travesties Kendall and Kylie Jenner of Keeping Up with the Kardashians fame, you can pay $30 to hear Caitlyn Jenner speak at the University of Pennsylvania. With her will be 1976 Penn grad and occasional Philly Mag contributor Buzz Bissinger, who is collaborating with the former Olympian on a memoir. Admit it, you’ll buy it.
Remember Sara Ganim the young journalist who blew open the Penn State Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal and won a Pulitzer Prize for her efforts? Well, it just so happens that Ganim was the CNN reporter that Philadelphians turned out to pelt with snowballs during the Blizzard of 2016. No, she didn’t give up her job at the Patriot-News to become a weather reporter. She’s an investigative journalist for the network. Guess they were short staffed?
A Blatstein Reversal
The Informant would like to make sure that you are up on the latest news about Bart and Jil Blatstein. In our inaugural edition last week, we told you that Jil had filed for divorce against the mega-wealthy developer after more than 35 years of marriage. Well, one day after our story hit, Jil withdrew her divorce complaint. Think what you will, but the Blatsteins are said to be very much in love. We wish them the best.
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