Your life is about to change. You have a new one on the way. Get set for sleepless nights. New worries. Hopes and dreams. Decisions to make.
What name will you choose? Perhaps you’ll honor a family member or someone special in your world, or borrow from pop culture, or pay tribute to a city or town. You might even coin something original. Every restaurant has a name, after all. Old-time restaurant names generally used their owners’ first names, last names, or nicknames: Pat Olivieri at Pat’s King of Steaks, Jim Perligni (or Pearligni) at Jim’s Steaks, Giovanni Tacconelli at Tacconelli’s, Ralph Dispigno at Ralph’s, William “Pa” McGillin at McGillin’s Olde Ale House — to name some that are still around in Philadelphia. Proper names still figure into the mix. Talula (of Talula’s Table, Talula’s Garden, and Talula’s Daily names) is Annalee Talula Rae Sikora, daughter of founder Aimee Olexy and her former husband, chef Bryan Sikora. Vernick, of course, is chef Greg Vernick. Suraya, the hit in Fishtown, is Suraya Harouni, grandmother of founders Roland Kassis and Nathalie Richan. Here are the stories behind some of the less obvious names in town.
When Greg Dodge was planning a pizzeria/wine bar at 13th and Sansom Streets nearly 10 years ago, he and his brain trust deliberated until associate Ally Green popped up with Zavino. Zavino? “Za,” for the slang for pizza, and “vino” for wine, she explained. “I didn’t like it,” Dodge said. “It sounded so made up.” But others loved it. Its originality allowed Dodge to snap up Zavino.com, a prize in this era of search-engine optimization. Its letter Z also lent itself to an artful logo and a spot in a smaller grouping of alphabetical restaurant listings. That said, Dodge added, “any name is a good one as long as the restaurant is good. If it’s not good, it won’t matter.”
In 1935, German immigrant Dick Kubach took over a 19-stool diner at 1610 W. Passyunk Ave., naming it after a can of Mel’s tomatoes, which had a picture of a rose on the label. The story goes that Kubach asked a sign painter to start with the word Mel and to add a rose. The painter, though, lacked artistic skills and simply wrote the word.
Gin & Pop
The bar-restaurant in Francisville is on the corner of Ginnado and Poplar Streets.
The Northern Liberties pizzeria uses the Italian word for snack.
Neil Stein opted for French when conceiving the Rittenhouse Square bistro, later using Bleu for another restaurant.
The Hawaiian themer at 21st and Chestnut Streets borrowed the Pidgin term for “mutt.”
“It’s about the love of hospitality and the importance of the ingredients of a great meal: It’s cooked with love,” said cofounder Aimee Olexy. “That’s all. That’s why we have a period at the end.”
Seward Johnson, the noted sculptor and founder of this luxe restaurant on his Grounds for Sculpture complex in Hamilton Township, N.J., has explained that as a boy, his favorite book was Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. He named the restaurant after the character Ratty — defying conventional wisdom that rodents and restaurants should never mix.
The Rittenhouse bistro and its a.bar next door use the “a” from its spot at the aka Rittenhouse Square.
Pigeons, too? Owners Scott Schroeder and Patrick O’Malley deferred to the then-3-year-old daughter of building owner Paul Markowich. “Olivia called it ‘the pigeon building’ because it always had tons of pigeons on and around it,” Schroeder said. “It was consequently covered in pigeon [poop] when we signed the lease. We took it as an omen.”
Twelve Steps Down
There are 12 steps between the corner of Ninth and Christian Streets and the front door of this South Philly taproom. Also, it’s a pointed pun directed at Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step program.
When coming up with EatNic, a BYOB in Paoli, restaurateur John Scardapane said he was “looking for something different.” His first restaurant chain was SaladWorks. “Something about this reminds me of Eataly, my favorite restaurant in New York,” he said. “And I chose ‘picnic,’ because this is like a picnic. You never know what you’re going to get. So combine them, and you get EatNic.” (Such portmanteaus are not unusual. Caterer Joe Volpe mashed the names of daughters Francesca and Sophia into Cescaphe Ballroom in Northern Liberties and one now-closed Center City restaurant, Matyson, was a mash-up of Matt and Sonjia Spector’s first names.)
Friday Saturday Sunday
Chad and Hannah Williams’ Rittenhouse Square destination was founded four decades ago by a crew of part-time restaurateurs as Friday Saturday Sunday & Thursday, Too.
Stephen Starr was a music promoter in his earlier years. The 1978 album Cheap Trick Live at Budokan — recorded at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan — called to mind a statue of Buddha. And so a golden Buddha presides over the Asian-inspired restaurant that opened in 1998 in Old City and later elsewhere.
Starr’s English themer at 18th and Sansom Streets has as its logo a dapper lion — as in, a dandy lion. That’s not the inspiration, though. In fact, Starr says, it’s named after the Rolling Stones song.
“We wanted to do American comfort food,” Starr says of his restaurant at Seventh and Chestnut Streets. “This was the most American name I could think of.” (An unrelated bar in Rittenhouse called Smiths opened a few years later.)
Starr credits advertising guru Steven Grasse for bringing up the name of a Mexican Elvis impersonator for his Mexican restaurant that started at 13th and Sansom Streets.
Chef Nicholas Elmi chose the mountain laurel — Pennsylvania’s state flower — for his East Passyunk restaurant to give a sense of place and to showcase the products he uses in the kitchen. The bar next door, In the Valley, or ITV, is just a translation of “Passyunk” from the Lenape.
The Residences at Two Liberty Place got shorthanded at Daniel Stern’s 37th-floor bistro.
Spouses Jon Nodler and Samantha Kincaid and Michael Fry said they knew they wanted to get a particular message across before opening their new Kensington BYOB: “When you come to our restaurant to eat, you’ll feel every detail at once: tasty food, attentive and sincere service, the warmth of the space, ever-changing art displayed on the walls, the tempo of activity in time with the music and sounds of an open kitchen — it will all melt together into one composition, an unbroken panorama, and you will have a nice time.” They found “cadence” while researching the topic of landscape painting.
“In Spain, when you order a red wine at a bar, you say ‘póngame un tinto,’ which translates to ‘I’ll take a red wine,’ ” Jose Garces said about his Rittenhouse Square Basque wine and pintxo bar. “Our core staff at the time brainstormed a list, and then we took it to a vote. Another contender on this list was Garzak, a combination of Garces and Arzak (as a tribute to legendary Basque chef Juan Mari Arzak). Tinto won by a mile.”
For this stir-fry/salad restaurant chain, founder Justin Rosenberg simply combined “honest eating” and “locally grown.”
Zahav and Goldie
Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook brainstormed long and hard to come up with the name of Zahav, their Israeli-inspired destination in Society Hill. The name came to them in the Hebrew lyric of the Naomi Shemer song “Jerusalem of Gold” (“Yerushalayim Shel Zahav“). While thinking of a name for their Rittenhouse falafel shop, they simply translated Zahav — “gold” — and cutely added an “ie.”
To name their Jewish-inspired bistro in Rittenhouse, Solomonov and Cook created a fictional character of a son of immigrants who was steeped in the Jewish experience but who had realized the American Dream. In other words, someone who honored the classic food from the old country but was comfortable with secular, contemporary interpretations, like bacon in an egg cream. Abe Brown is Steve’s grandfather; Alex Fisher is Solomonov’s grandfather.
Harp & Crown
The Michael Schulson destination bar-restaurant on Sansom Street in Rittenhouse was named after a colonial-era Philadelphia tavern.
High Street on Market
The destination next to Fork also went colonial: Market Street was known as High Street back in ye olde day.
Hop Sing Laundromat
Reaching into the deep recesses of American pop culture, the owner, who goes by only Le — who opened the Chinatown cocktail bar nearly six years ago — said he was a fan of the western TV series Bonanza. The character Hop Sing, a Chinese immigrant and cook, frequently threatened to quit the Cartwright family and open a Laundromat.