Co-founder of Vetri quits role at Urban Outfitters

Jeff Benjamin (left) and Marc Vetri on the front steps of Vetri Restaurant in 2011. Benjamin will remain a partner in this restaurant.

Jeff Benjamin, who founded the Vetri restaurant empire with Marc Vetri nearly 20 years ago and oversaw the sale of much of the company to retailer Urban Outfitters, confirmed Thursday that he had left his corporate role last week.

Benjamin, 48, from vacation on a beach in Maine, emphasized that there were no hard feelings in his departure, which he said was not precipitated by one issue or incident. “Both Urban and I looked at our future and what needed to happen for success,” Benjamin said. “Most founders end up leaving the companies they sell. Now seemed like the appropriate time. We have a growth plan in place.”

Benjamin said he also suggested to Urban executives, “I think someone who is used to scaling a business outside of Philadelphia would be valuable to you.”

An Urban Outfitters spokeswoman said the departure was by “mutual agreement.” It was not clear if his position would be filled.

Benjamin will remain co-owner of Vetri’s renowned flagship location on Spruce Street, which was not included in the sale of the Vetri Family restaurants Alla Spina, Amis, Lo Spiedo (now Bar Amis), Osteria, and Pizzeria Vetri.

Urban paid about $20 million for those restaurants, according to corporate records. The sale, announced in late 2015, closed in February 2016, sending operations from the Center City brownstone into Urban’s sprawling Navy Yard campus, and thrusting Vetri and Benjamin into executive roles within the $2.1 billion corporation. Benjamin became executive director/operations for Vetri Family, reporting to Dave Ziel, Urban’s chief development officer. “I have nothing but respect for him and [chief executive] Dick Hayne,” Benjamin said.

Urban reported Vetri food and beverage sales of $5.84 million for the first quarter of 2017, compared with $5.1 million for the first quarter of 2016. Urban stock is trading near its 52-week low.

For his part, Vetri said he had no plans to leave Urban. “I’m having fun,” he said. “Work is still interesting and challenging. When I look at the website and see all the restaurants, including the new Amis in Westport [Conn.], that excites me.” Benjamin’s departure, he said, would not affect their personal relationship or operations at the flagship restaurant. “We’re partners forever,” Vetri said. “I married him first.”

“For someone to start a business with nothing and do it all and then to sell it,” Vetri said, “not a lot of folks have that opportunity.” That said, “freedom is a beautiful thing.”

Benjamin, who with his wife, Melissa, has two children ages 12 and 14, said he wanted to devote more time to Vetri Community Partnership, which has obtained a grant for a second mobile teaching kitchen. He also is writing a book about his late father, with whom he shared a passion for the Chicago Cubs.

“I’m also going to enjoy being a professional dad,” he said. “That’s easy to say when I’m standing at low tide.”