Three summer restaurant projects to be announced

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Spaghetti tomato & basil is a signature dish from Scarpetta.

This week alone will bring the announcements of three significant restaurant projects planned this summer by out-of-town operators: Scarpetta, a splashy Italian out of New York, coming to the Rittenhouse Hotel; Tasty Tuscan, billed as a four-star Italian (by Italian businessmen) with a marketplace, coming to the former Tashan space at 777 S. Broad St.; and, if scuttlebutt is correct, P.J. Clarke's, an offshoot of the century-plus-old New York City saloon, setting up in the Curtis Center on Washington Square.

The churn is helping to ramp up the price of liquor licenses, a bellwether of the business climate. In June, a restaurant license in Philadelphia would sell for about $120,000. Nowadays, said Bill Morrin, a lawyer who specializes in licenses, the going rate is approaching $190,000. The higher the price, of course, the fewer small-time chefs can get into the game.

New Yorkers, in particular, find Philadelphia attractive, said Jacob Cooper, a partner with MSC Retail, a real estate company. And not only because of cheaper rents. "Sometimes it takes longer to get from Brooklyn to Penn Station [Manhattan] than it does from Manhattan to Philadelphia," he said. "From a regional expansion standpoint, Philadelphia makes total logical sense."

Openings

Snap Custom Pizza, a locally founded assembly-line pizzeria, has opened at 1504 Sansom St., replacing 500 Degrees, the burger shop. Snap - no connection to the new-in-town chain of Snap Kitchen packaged-health-food shops - allows customers to customize personal-size pies with a range of sauces, vegetables, meats, oils, and other toppings for one price - $7.99, or $4.99 for kids. A plain cheese is $5.99. Customized salads and grain bowls are a dollar more. Snap grew out of Peace A Pizza, the chain founded by Pete Howey, who converted his PAP shops in Ardmore and Exton into Snaps. Rob Wasserman, who operated 500 Degrees and owns the nearby Rouge, is now a partner. This DIY/assembly-line pizza concept is growing. Blaze Pizza, a franchise out of Pasadena, Calif., just opened a shop near Temple University's campus, and Seattle-rooted MOD Pizza has opened several shops in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey suburbs.

SUGA (1720 Sansom St.), the modern Chinese bistro from Susanna Foo and her son Gabriel, is now in soft-opening phase, with dinner nightly in a lively atmosphere.

Changes

Elizabeth Halen, owner of Flying Monkey Bakery at Reading Terminal Market, is part of the team opening a stand called Condiment, which will act as a bridge between the market's fresh-food vendors and its customers by creating store-made sauces, marinades, doughs, and even butter and mayo. (Buy chops at Martin's, or salmon at John Yi's, or a bunch of carrots at Iovine's, and Condiment will vacuum-seal it with an appropriate marinade.) Opening is targeted to Memorial Day.

David and Janie Auspitz have sold the Famous 4th Street Cookie Co., the carb lover fantasy they built three decades ago in the Queen Village deli they formerly owned. The buyers - restaurateur Brian Phillips and his wife, Tina, and lawyer Michael Untermeyer - say they plan to do little to change what both men call a Philadelphia institution. The store at Reading Terminal Market will remain, as will manager Cathy Burns, a 19-year veteran, and staff. They plan to move the bakery from Fourth Street in Queen Village to a new facility, in a former liquor store in East Falls.

Tony Mallamaci has sold the Mayfair location of Tony's Place, which he has owned for 46 of his 68 years. Philly.com's Tommy Rowan says the buyers - three Bucks County businessmen who will take over Monday - plan no changes. Mallamaci said his son's shop - Tony's Place Bar & Grille in Ivyland, Bucks County - is not being sold.

Nick's Roast Beef has been around since 1938, when it opened at 20th and Jackson Streets in South Philadelphia. Over the years, other branches have sprung up - most under the control of the founding DeSipio family. The Nick's Roast Beef location on Second Street in Old City, open since 1969, has been in others' hands since at least 1989. The owner for the last four years, Joseph "Joey Dog" Schultice, is adding a menu based on house-smoked meats while keeping the signature roast beef and burgers. He also is performing a light redecoration. Changes, due to be completed March 31, have prompted a subtle modification of the name to Nick's Bar & Grille.

Just shy of two years old, Petruce et al. at 1121 Walnut St. shut its doors. The restaurant, specializing in wood-fired cookery, won critical accolades. Last fall, Justin Petruce - one of two brothers who founded it - had decamped for a chef's job at Sbraga & Co. in Jacksonville, Fla. Until a sale is finalized, his brother Jonathan will use the space for collaboration dinners and other one-off events, said Vincent Stipo, a broker with MSC Retail who is marketing the space, liquor license, and equipment.

More restaurant news at www.philly.com/mike