Halal Guys and Bonchon to open U City outposts as W. Philly district grows

Artist's rendering of retail space being built on ground floor of Hamilton Court apartments on Chestnut Street in University City, as seen from 19th Street.

The Halal Guys, a Middle Eastern fast-food joint, and Bonchon, a Korean-style fried chicken shop, will open their second Philadelphia locations in University City, aiming to serve the area’s youthful population of internationally minded foodies.

They are among five new restaurants coming to the ground floor of Hamilton Court apartments, a 116-year-old former hotel just off the University of Pennsylvania campus at 39th and Chestnut Streets that Philadelphia developer Post Bros. is renovating.

The eateries will help invigorate a block that has seen little of the heavy retail development occurring in other parts of the area, as its population of workers, residents, and students expands, said Andrew Stober, vice president for planning and economic development at the University City District, a business association.

“We’re really seeing food and beverage work to keep up with that employment growth and that student growth and that residential growth,” Stober said.

Joining New York-based Halal Guys and Seoul, South Korea-based Bonchon will be I-CE-NY, which sells Thai rolled ice cream; Tea Do, a bubble-tea shop; and Steve's Prince of Steaks, a sandwich shop with locations in Northeast Philadelphia and Center City. Halal Guys, Bonchon, I-CE-NY, and Tea Do currently have locations in Chinatown.

Michael Pestronk, Post Bros. chief executive and cofounder, said in an interview Tuesday that he subsisted on slices from a pizzeria near the Drexel University campus while a student there, but that today’s young people have more sophisticated tastes.

“These restaurants are international. It’s interesting stuff,” he said. “It’s not just all Drexel Pizza.”

Post Bros. is hoping to have the spaces ready for occupancy by late summer, in time for the start of the 2017 school year, barring construction delays, Pestronk said.

The streets around Hamilton Court have seen less intensive restaurant development than areas just to the south and east, where trendy quick-service eateries such as Shake Shack, Honeygrow, and Sweetgreen have opened.

But more activity is coming to the immediate neighborhood. Recent additions include Spread Bagelry at 36th and Chestnut Streets and the Herban Quality Eats and Schmear It locations at the recently completed 3601 Market apartment building.

 Beiler's, the Reading Terminal Market doughnut shop, meanwhile, plans to open a branch at the Chestnut Hall apartments at 3900 Chestnut St. in February.

The restaurants come as University City, bounded by Spring Garden and Market Streets to the north and Woodland Avenue to the south between the Schuylkill and 50th Street, attracts more potential customers.

The area’s population rose 8.8 percent to 52,864 in 2015, from 48,589 in 2010, according to data compiled by the University City District. The number of area jobs increased 15.5 percent to 74,952, from 64,893, over that period, while student enrollment rose 4 percent to 43,908, from 42,218.

The Hamilton Court restaurants and other nearby eateries also are poised to serve workers and residents in the uCity Square mixed-use complex being developed just to the north, Stober said.

Halal Guys franchise operator Jung Ahn said that he sees plenty of business coming from the broader University City population, but that the restaurant’s late-night hours — until 4 a.m. on weekends — and affordable menu should be especially appealing to Penn and Drexel students.

“Hamilton Court is really prime for us because it’s right between the two universities,” he said. “We wanted to offer students late-night eating, year round.”

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