Someone scrawled some telling graffiti on a wall across the street from Patterson Palace, an eatery owned by Bruce Patterson, his siblings, and parents: “The older ya get, the more ya regret.”
What does Patterson regret?
That he spent so much time and aggravation chasing an ambition that led mostly to debt and hassle — so much so, he said, that he almost forgot his humanity.
The graffiti wall hides Center City’s gleaming office towers from the North Philadelphia restaurant and catering hall.
Growing up, his mom ran restaurants and his dad repaired houses in the neighborhood. The two businesses kept the large Patterson clan busy and fed.
But Patterson wanted more.
His ambition had been to have his name on an office building site as a general contractor, like Keating, or Turner. He did manage that as a partner on the nearby Progress Plaza revitalization.
What he didn’t want was to endlessly forage for the few subcontracting crumbs set aside for minorities.
He’s a union contractor, but when union workers don’t work at the pace he’d like, he’d rather give the job to a neighbor — maybe someone fresh out of jail and desperate for an honest job.
Then there were finance hassles. General contractors rely on subcontractors to front the money for supplies and payrolls. Payment delays or disputes over payroll can bury a business.
Patterson wanted to provide jobs to the community as a contractor, but the obstacles overwhelmed his dreams.
That’s why he’s reinventing himself as an owners’ representative, hoping to provide community jobs on someone else’s dime.
For example, when Temple University builds or repairs a building, he wants to help Temple make its hires in the neighborhood, in part to ease old tensions between the school and its neighbors.
Yes, earning what amounts to a consultant’s fee diminishes both risk and reward.
But think of this: The more who work, the more who can afford to dine on Patterson’s signature greens and croquettes — key when unemployment is 16.5 percent among blacks and one in four construction workers is idle, as the government reported Friday.
“I can’t build a building,” Patterson said. “But I can build a bridge.”