The past several months have been devastating for the Philly food scene.
For one reason or another, we’ve seen the closings of several beloved restaurants and bakeries that elevated the city’s reputation as a dining destination. Eeva, the city’s first independent unionized restaurant, shut its doors 11 months after the pizzeria/bakery joined Local 80. Korshak Bagels, Lil’ Pop Shop (closing for good on December 2nd), Weckerly’s Ice Cream (closing for good on December 23rd), Relish, The Lucky Well, The Lunar Inn, Abe Fisher, Merkaz, Wishbone and City Tap House in University City are all gone. As there’s been an increase of new dining hotspots opening in Philly, there’s also been an uptick in closings since the mass exodus of restaurants during the pandemic.
There are several factors that can be causing these abrupt departures: Lack of business, staff burnout, rising operational costs, and/or increased competition. “Yesterday’s price is not today’s price” – and so is the case for Philly’s food culture right now. With more visibility and national recognition, the pressure on our hometown chefs and owners is even higher — which could arguably lead to changing menus and rebrands.
I feel the pressure in the room when I visit new restaurants now more than ever before. In a town where restaurants are coming and going like fashion trends, chefs and owners want to prove they’re built to last. So when I see the sudden outcry on social media when restaurants close, I go, “where have you been?”
Seriously, where have you been?
If you truly loved a certain place, how did this happen? I’m not saying it’s the fault of diners entirely — but we definitely do play a fair part. Businesses can’t operate on once-a-year diners if they’re not a national chain or global destination. Sure, I go to Jean Georges at the Four Seasons once a year — but it’s also located in a grand hotel that’s hard to regularly get into. The Black-owned Relish in the Northwest deserved more of my patronage, as its closing has now made me truly miss a rare spot in Philly that consistently served exceptional golden fried chicken, collard greens, baked mac and cheese, and yams. Fortunately, the Bynum Brothers still own and operate South on North Broad Street that has filled that soul food void in my life — but only partially.
Such a loss in the food scene has made me more aware of the role that I can play in helping to keep the restaurants I love alive and well. For starters, it’s not showing up to their funeral (read as restaurant closing announcement posted online) distressed that they’re gone after years of neglecting them. It actually looks like being intentional in how I show up for these spots in various aspects of my social and personal life. Am I recommending them to others to try? Do I put them on the list of places for my company to host a happy hour or holiday party? Do I give them a shout-out and follow them on social media? Do I support their special events and tastings? Do I leave a thoughtful review online? Do I tip well? Do I explore their catering options for birthdays, weddings, showers, and more? Do I buy gift cards to spread the joy I have there with someone else?
These are the questions I now ask myself when I fall in love with a restaurant. If I’m not doing any of these things as a diner, can I really be the one to cry if they close? At a time when restaurants are going through the trials and tribulations of the industry — now is not the time for our support for them to be fleeting. If owners and chefs must step up to rise to the occasion of appealing to our tastes, we owe them the same level of investment in their survival.
This holiday season, my husband and I have committed ourselves to supporting the restaurants and catering businesses nearby rather than giving our money to supermarkets. It’s not the magic bullet that’s going to solve all of the problems facing Philly restaurants — but it’s a helpful step in the right direction. We all have a part to play. I encourage you all to consider the same.