Q&A: Michael Schulson on $5,000 Dinners and 95-Cent Pizza Slices

Plus, what it was like having Georges Perrier scream at him all the time.

Michael Schulson

Prolific Philly restaurateur Michael Schulson / Photograph by Stevie Chris

My full name is … Michael Jeffrey Schulson. Everybody in my family has a “J” name — my father, my brother, my boys.

I grew up in … Long Island.

I came to Philly … for an amazing opportunity at Le Bec-Fin.

Working for Georges Perrier was … uh, interesting. Getting screamed at was the norm. It was unhealthy. And fortunately, the industry has changed.

I learned to cook from … my Nana, who left Poland during the Holocaust. She was the most amazing cook.

My first restaurant job was … filling the salad bar at Bob’s Big Boy.

The first restaurant I opened was … Izakaya at the Borgata, 15 years ago.

These days, I own14, with three more on the way.

Next to open is … a Double Knot in Miami, and later this year, I’m opening a Mediterranean concept in Philly at the Laurel.

The most expensive meal I ever had was at … Masa in New York. Four of us. The check was more than $5,000.

The most famous person I’ve cooked for was … Michael Jordan. I’ve cooked for Bill Clinton and Obama and every athlete or actor that visits Philly, but Michael Jordan was the “wow” to me. He was an icon when I was growing up.

If you’re visiting Philly and only have time to eat at one of my restaurants, make it … Alpen Rose — and order the fish. We cook everything on wood and actually jam the fish onto the embers. It’s delicious.

The streetery situation here is … complicated.

One restaurant you probably don’t know about but should is … Tio Pepe in Northeast Philly. Incredible paella, homemade Portuguese sausage, and grilled quail.

People who say the city makes it hard on small businesses … don’t know the half of it. There is so much difficulty trying to get anything done.

My first concert was … James Taylor, at Madison Square Garden in the late ’80s. Yes, there was a girl involved.

Something I wish I knew 20 years ago was … how to not get in my head. Everybody should read the book Untethered Soul. Life-changing.

One restaurant genre Philly needs no more of is … pizza places. And remember when you could get a slice for 95 cents?

Fine dining has … changed. You can now go into regular restaurants and get the same quality of food you used to have to go to Four Seasons or Le Bec to get. And I have people spending $150 each at Alpen Rose wearing hoodies.

The farthest I’ve been from Philly is … Asia. I worked at the Four Seasons in Tokyo for a year in the ’90s. The greatest experience of my life.

When somebody tells me they want to open a restaurant, I tell them … don’t. Some things seem cool and fun, but just as I’m not a doctor because I have the WebMD app, the fact that you watch cooking shows doesn’t mean you know how to open a restaurant.

The last time I had a dine-and-dasher was … yesterday. Probably happens once or twice a week.

One thing you should never put on a burger is … too much shit. I’m a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onion guy. Don’t overcomplicate things.

I’ll stop opening restaurants … when I’m dead.


Published as “One of Us: Michael Schulson” in the April 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.