Philadelphia restaurateurs branch out nationally

AUTOMAT13
The Horn & Hardart Automat.

Philadelphia restaurateurs including Stephen Starr, Jose Garces, and Marc Vetri are only the latest entrepreneurs sharing their brands with the rest of the country.

In 1912, Center City restaurateurs Joe Horn and Frank Hardart dazzled New Yorkers with the concept they had developed a decade before at 818 Chestnut St.

The Horn & Hardart Automat ushered in the fast-food era: Drop in a nickel, open a glass door, remove a plate of food. (Alas, fast-food competition helped to kill the Automat by the early 1990s.)

Today's major Philadelphia exporters have joined a class of national companies that can insert a restaurant brand wherever a hot metropolis is identified. Most of them hew to Amtrak routes and easy East Coast flight destinations.

In fact, the Philadelphia-based company that created City Tap House, Pennsylvania 6, and other restaurants has changed its name from Public House Investments to Table 95, as it operates along Interstate 95, including in New York, Washington, D.C., West Palm Beach, and Boston.

Washington is now a darling of the expansionists, especially among the fast-casuals popular among the District's enormous millennial population — branches of Pizzeria Vetri (opening June 17, following its expansion last fall to Austin), HipCityVeg (June), and Honeygrow (two) are all on the way, joining La Colombe coffee. Now there are Starr (with the Parc-like Le Diplomate) and Garces (with Rural Society, a steakhouse, and a future outpost of Village Whiskey).

Atlantic City, an hour from Center City, has been a logical first step to expansion. Barry Gutin, Larry Cohen, and chef Guillermo Pernot are in their 12th year with Cuba Libre at the Tropicana, one of Atlantic City's longest-running restaurants. Cuba Libre is also in Washington, D.C., and Orlando and is planning a fifth in another East Coast city.

Starr, who went to Atlantic City in 2006, is opening his sixth New York restaurant; (New York Buddakan's opening chef Michael Schulson of Center City's Sampan and Double Knot, opened Izakaya at the Borgata in A.C. in 2008.)

Garces, planning to announce a return to Atlantic City after being shut out of the failed Revel, opened an Amada in New York last week. Four of Garces' 14 restaurants are in other cities (one in Washington, D.C., and two in Chicago).

Dave Magrogan has opened and closed Kildare's Irish Pubs in South Bend, Ind., and Chapel Hill, N.C. He lately hitches his wagon to Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar, which has an out-of-market location in Harrisburg and another on the way in Sea Isle City, N.J.

These restaurants do not necessarily say "Philadelphia," Table 95 partner Brian Harrington said.

"While we promote as many local beer companies as we can, we don't serve cheesesteaks or anything like that," he said.

mklein@philly.com