By now, you've probably heard the news. Marc Vetri sold his Vetri Family restaurant group to Urban Outfitters on Monday. And on Tuesday, Urban Outfitter's CFO told Bloomberg Business that the corporation is "spending less than $20 million on its controversial deal". Of course, this development lent itself to some friendly internet banter about which other chefs would or wouldn't take that deal. Marc Vetri even joined the discussion:
That being said, Eater Philly had a few more questions for King Vetri, and on Tuesday, we pulled a little interview out of the forever-controversial chef:
Eater Philly: Why was it a complete sale? Why not a contract?
"We actually basically had that. Because when we signed on to do Austin it was kind of a, we were going to open with them, and then we did Devon, and then we were talking about some other ones, and they were just like, "Why don't we just consumate the marriage?" And we were like, "What does that look like?" And then we just started thinking about what it looked like. I don't think it was on anybody's mind.
It wasn't an exit strategy?
No, we weren't for sale. We were looking to grow, on the contrary. We were looking to add, we were loving these pizzerias, and we can add, they were pretty easy to open. So we were kind of like about to scale up, and they were like 'We've had a relationship for 10 years." They liked us, we liked them, it was just kind of like, "What are we doing? Let's just knock these out."
The sale includes Pizzeria Vetri, Amis, Osteria, Lo Spiedo, and Alla Spina. All of those are replicable concepts, and I'm assuming Urban Outfitters now has the ability to replicate them anywhere and anytime they open a new store or lifestyle center. Are there any concepts down the pipeline that aren't those specific restaurants?
Everything we open from now on is theirs, we're working full time for them, we're part of the family. We open stuff together, the Vetri Family is now an Urban Outfitters brand. Urban Outfitters has the Urban Outfitters brand, the Anthropology brand, the Free People brand. All those brands run, basically, autonomously. Urban's got something called Shared Services, where they basically support the brands. All of those brands make all of the decisions within the brands, and Urban, their infrastructure, they basically support everything. We're our own brand at Urban Outfitters, the Vetri Family, we're going to run all the food and beverage operations for Urban Outfitters, and you know, we have the luxury of having the Shared Services to basically support us and to help us to grow. They're awesome at things we don't know a lot about, so it's a great marriage.
Could there be other concepts?
There could be, but we haven't made out a growth plan yet, there could be anything.
"It's not going to be like [Urban Outfitters saying] 'Hey, put this salad on the menu that we really like.' No, we're not going to do that."
Will there be any changes to your current restaurants in Philly right now?
No, not at all. Things that would kind of happen, we're looking to do a little redo of Osteria — we're ten years old and it needs a little redo. But we would doing that anyway, we're not doing anything to the concept. It's not going to be like [Urban Outfitters saying] "Hey, put this salad on the menu that we really like." No, we're not going to do that.
Grub Street recently interviewed Michael Solomonov, and he said [about Zahav], "I'd think we'd kill it in New York, but then we'd have to fucking move to New York." With this acquisition, if they want, [Urban Outfitters] can feasibly open anywhere in the country. Craig LaBan docked you by a bell because the quality was lower in Moorestown than at your other spots, and he projected that was due to a lack of attention from you and other managers. How do you plan to keep any further iteration of your restaurants high in quality, given that you won't be able to consistently touch the tables like you do here in Philly.
Well, the Osteria in Jersey thing, I mean it was very hard to run that from the start, it wasn't because we weren't there. We were actually there more than any of the other restaurants. He had that wrong. But these Pizzerias are sort of a different animal. I think opening them up, they're a lot easier to maintain and to run.
But isn't it not just Pizzeria Vetri, it's also Amis?
I mean right now, we don't know. We're thinking about it, but we really haven't figured it out yet. I think that's one of the reasons why we joined up with Urban Outfitters, because they know how to scale. They know how to build stores and to manage. We're starting to now develop a team of folks to open them up, and we're going to have district managers, regional managers, and we're just going to kind of go from there. Right now we're just thinking mostly the Pizzeria.
Why did you close down the Moorestown location?
It was doing well, we just wanted to focus on Philadelphia. The Osteria that we have in Philadelphia, there's a lot of moving parts, and in order to really focus on that and to actually grow the Pizzerias, we thought that it would be best to move on from that. It was an awesome project, we had figured things out over there. It was a rough first year, but then we opened up some walls and we made the bar larger, and then it was like, wow, now it's really starting to do well. When we decided to go [on] this route, we really had to focus on our Philadelphia restaurants, really focus on the Pizzeria to get the growth started. We thought it would be better to just lose that one.
Upon hearing the news, the term "sell-out" came up in conversation among the media. Some people say you're capitalizing on an opportunity to make some serious money, and others are saying you're selling out, giving up the whole, personal restaurant/chef-owner sensibility, and instead, handing your restaurants over to a big corporation.
We're still running the restaurants. They can say whatever they like. Is Thomas Keller a sell-out? Does he sink up all the money into his restaurants? No, he has investors, he hires a team, his organization manages the restaurants and if he does well, managing the restaurants, the investors do well, and he does well. I mean, how many chefs own their own restaurants without having any outside help.
But Urban Outfitters exists all over the country.
Does Kevin Sbraga own all his restaurants? Does Michael Solomonov own all [his restaurants]? I don't know what percentage they own. Sbraga is opening in Florida right now, he has these investors, he's the operator, it's basically his brand, and if the restaurants do well, the investors do well, and so does Kevin.
"That's human nature: to be scared of change and something new and you don't understand right away. So you bash it."
I saw you mention in the Philly Mag interview that people are initially negative to new ideas.
That's human nature: to be scared of change and something new and you don't understand right away. So you bash it. I've been dealing with that my whole life, it makes me work harder, I love it. Tell me it's not going to work out, I love that.