"So far, so good," said Kevin Sbraga as the second full week wound down at The Fat Ham, his new restaurant at 3131 Walnut St. in The Left Bank in University City.
For more than three months, I've been following the process of this modern, 46-seat Southern restaurant, from an early meeting at Eimer Design to the buildout to the last frenzied days leading up to the Friday, Dec. 6 opening.
(How frenzied? Sbraga received his city health certification, his certificate of occupancy and his liquor license in the span of 12 hours. Also, his walk-in fridge was hooked up the day of opening, requiring most of the food prep to be done at his Sbraga restaurant.)
Sbraga said the uncertainty - of a new venture, a new space and new people - is "just something you don't know will work until it does."
Already, the menu has changed. A garlic sausage dish had great components but just didn't feel right together, he said. He has changed the lamb belly to pork belly and beans. He bulked up the side of roasted turnips by adding more root vegetables. The apple cobbler was swapped out in favor of a lemon tart. And the doughnuts - which required a lot of labor in a kitchen probably smaller than your own - had to go. You can now get banana pudding instead. (He kept the chocolate chip cookie baked and served in a skillet with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.)
Despite the cocktails, including some that are barrel-aged, beer is the best seller, said general manager Ben Fileccia.
The Fat Ham serves about 50 a night, which is pretty much along projections. But so far, the "ticket averages" have been a bit lower than Sbraga and investors anticipated. Sbraga said he was not concerned, as a similar situation arose at Sbraga; revenue per seat increased by $20, he said.
The series is here at Philly.com:
In Part 1, he let us in on a design meeting for the space, which he hopes to open in November.
In Part 2, the rubber hits the road as he and his associates went on a road trip to explore Southern cuisine.
In Part 3, Sbraga and company meet the press.
In Part 4, construction starts on the space.
In Part 5, Sbraga and crew test recipes.
In Part 6, Sbraga hires staff.
In Part 7, the lights go in.
In Part 8, the countdown to opening.
In Part 9, a round of health inspections.
In Part 10, putting The Fat Ham to the test.
Notes from a friends and family dinner.