Stephen Starr - the TV repairman's son from South Jersey who runs an empire of 30-plus restaurants in Philly, New York, South Florida, Atlantic City and Washington, D.C. - has won Restaurant Hospitality magazine's Richard Melman Innovator of the Year Award.
Restaurant Hospitality editor-in-chief Michael Sanson said in a statement: “There are a lot of people and groups around the country opening interesting and lucrative restaurants. But few can come close to opening the types of restaurants that Starr creates. Everything he does is incredibly hip and their very presence brings tremendous energy and vitality to the neighborhoods they occupy."
Starr will get the prize - named in honor of Richard Melman of Chicago's Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, the company that basically invented the concept of dining-as-fun (Maggiano's, Joe's Crabs, M Burger, Big Bowl) - at the Multi-Unit Foodservice Operators Super Show on Sept. 30.
Previous winners include José Andrés, Todd English, Danny Meyer, Michael Mina, Drew Nieporent and last year’s winner, Joachim Splichal.
"I am incredibly honored by the Melman Award," Starr said. "I'm proud to be in the company of such iconic restaurateurs."
Starr began in the biz at age 21 when he opened Grand Mom Minnie’s, a diner that served food by day and comedy at night. Next came Stars, a cabaret/restaurant that featured new acts such as Jerry Seinfeld, Richard Belzer and Pat Benatar, and the Ripley Music Hall venture showcased new talent such as U2, The Eurythmics, Cyndi Lauper and Bruce Springsteen.
His latest restaurant, Le Diplomate, opened last week in D.C. His next - sometime this spring - will be Serpico, a showcase for chef Peter Serpico, at 604 South St. in Philly.