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David Katz Talks About the Sudden Shutter of Mémé

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Katz has closed Meme.
Katz has closed Meme.
Photo: Matt Hurst

Chef David Katz surprised the local food world with a tweet this morning that announced the end of Mémé (listed as one of the Best New Restaurants in 2009 by Esquire) after their annual pork dinner, which happened last night. Fear not, fans of Katz, as he is surely not done cooking for the locals. Eater caught up with Katz to chat about the surprise announcement, and what the future holds for one of Philly's most talented and outspoken chefs.

Wow. What the hell happened? Was business that bad?
(Laughing) It was nothing dramatic like that. I've been thinking about it for months. Honestly, if I wanted to keep Mémé open, I could have for the foreseeable future. But, I have other things I want to do, and I realized that to do something else, I needed to end my run here. I'm a control freak. I couldn't do this place and open something else, and be comfortable.

So, it's a quality control thing?
Yeah, I mean I have great guys in the kitchen. But, this place is set up to have two cooks and me. And, that's small, you know. My regulars would see me not there, and then I would lose that business. It's an open kitchen, you know? They'll know I'm not there. And, while I have the money to keep Mémé open, I don't have the ability to keep two open and have one flounder. It's that simple.

What's next? Are you going to finally open that fried chicken place or the high-end sandwich place we've talked about in the past?
Well, nothing is set in stone, but I do know I like to devote my attention to casual food, to street food. So, we will see what it's going to be. Also, I would like everyone to know Mémé is for sale. Can you emphasize that? (laughing)

Did the early positive response to your casual summer menu at Morgan's Pier encourage this at all?
No. I mean, it's great, and I have fun, but no, that's not the reason.

What was the response when you announced the closing?
I got all of these calls and texts saying they were sorry to hear about it. Which I understand, but for me this is a positive. But, it's because of my control freak nature I couldn't open two places and had to call it quits with this restaurant. It's a wedding, not a funeral.

So what are you doing right now?
I'm getting the chance to hang out with my sons, and go to the beach. To hang out and enjoy the summer with my kids here in Philly. I've never had that opportunity. I spent almost every day of the last four years on the line at Mémé. And, while I loved it, you don't get a chance to grow as a chef or as a restaurateur, or as a father.

You always did everything your way, and have been vocal about that. Since Mémé opened, we've seen a lot change in the industry locally. What are some of the positives you've seen?
I know people are all tired out of the gastropub movement or whatever, but you're really seeing some great food and some great progress in that area, and in neighborhoods you wouldn't expect. I think more chefs are getting vocal about their restaurants, and about their philosophies, and that's good, too. If I inspired any of that, then I hope it's been positive, and helped people be honest about what they want from their restaurant. Philly's doing great, and I am happy to be a part of that group.

Do you have a list of places you want to eat now that you have the chance to dine out in Philly?
Oh yeah. I'm excited for Vernick, and to check them out. Hearing great things. I am looking forward to checking out Stateside, too. Even though George (Sabatino) came in here in our early days and said he didn't like it. (Laughing) Seriously, though, I hear he is killing it down there. Two great spots I ate at recently, Sbraga, I ate there like three weeks ago, and I'm still thinking about it. One of the best meals I have had in a long time. And, I eat at American Sardine Bar a lot, and look forward to eating there more.

Tell us your favorite memory and worst memory of your time at Mémé.
Favorite is easy. Getting the chance to work with the guys I cook with has been so much fun. And the collaboration dinners we do, the pork dinner, with all of my other chef buddies. Such great times, and we always enjoyed doing that stuff together.

As far as worst memories, it has to be the opposition I encountered when I applied for my liquor license by the neighborhood. You get this list letting you know who opposed your application. They made crazy assumptions and said terrible things. Worst of all, one of the names on the list was someone from public relations that I had a disagreement with, long after we had parted ways. Couldn't believe it.

So, how soon will we see David Katz back on the scene?
As soon as I get Mémé sold, I'll be ready for the next thing. So, we will see how soon I will be back, but I will be back.

· All Mémé Coverage [~EPHI~]


2201 Spruce Street Philadelphia, PA 19103