As today is the 20th anniversary of my "Table Talk" column in The Inquirer, I spoke to some fellow old-timers about what they've learned about the business. That article is here.
Just as telling is the amount of churn in the restaurant business.
I went back to 1993 - which happened to be the year I began editing Zagat Survey's annual Philadelphia restaurant guides - to see the Top 40 restaurants as rated for food.
Of these 40 primo restaurants, 13 are still in business, in one form or another. There are no Stephen Starr restaurants on this 1993 list; The Continental opened in 1995 at Second and Market Streets. Marc Vetri was five years from opening Vetri. Jose Garces was a culinary student in Chicago.
You can see, plain as day, the downfall of fine dining.
The top-rated restaurant was Le Bec-Fin, then in G. Perrier's heyday. The Fountain at the Four Seasons - now the top-rated room in town according to Zagat - was second, under Jean-Marie Lacroix, now of Brulee Catering. Ciboulette was a charming old-school Frenchie at the Bellevue under Bruce Lim. In 1993, Dmiti's was drawing lines at Dmitri Chimes' sole location in Queen Village. Swann Lounge was serving a la carte at the Four Seasons; it's known now as the Swann Cafe. Tacconelli's is still a pizza destination in Port Richmond. Le Bar Lyonnais was the bar beneath Le Bec-Fin. Gaetano's was a ritzy Italian at 725 Walnut St., lately a series of cafes. Green Hills Inn is still running outside of Reading. Jean-Pierre's in Newtown, Susanna Foo on Walnut Street, Alisa Cafe in Upper Darby, Napoleon Cafe in Port Richmond - all gone (Jean-Pierre hosts classes now). Deux Cheminees is now Vedge. EverMay on the Delaware and Joe's in Reading - no longer. La Truffe is now the Victoria Freehouse in Old City. Osteria Romano at 935 Ellsworth - gone. Frenchtown Inn is still around. Restaurant 210 is now Lacroix at the Rittenhouse. La Famiglia is still very much alive in Old City. The Harrow Inne was a short-timer in Ottsville, Bucks County. La Bonne Auberge was a ritzy French in New Hope. Mainland Inn is gone from central Montco. Sagami is still doling out the sushi in Collingswood. La Fourchette is Wayne - gone. The Saloon is still around in South Philly. Chez Robert in Westmont, Monte Carlo Living Room at Second and South, Coventry Forge Inn in Pottstown, Pink Rose Pastry Shop at Fourth and Bainbridge - all gone. La Cocotte in West Chester is now Ryan's Pub. Odeon at 114 S. 12th St., which in two weeks will be PEnnsylvania-6, is gone. Jake's is still around in Manayunk. Forager House is gone from New Hope. DiLullo Centro is now Estia at 1407 Locust. Golden Pond in Chinatown is gone. Reading Terminal Market - which has always been included in Zagat - is thriving, as are Hamilton's Grill Room in Lambertville and Morton's of Chicago (at Logan Square then, at 1411 Walnut St. now).