A couple of restaurateurs embrace the beverage tax and give back

Hawthornes owners Chris Fetfatzes and Heather Annechiarico say they're embracing the city's new beverage tax. They will match tax revenue from their restaurants and donate the money to a local school.

Most restaurant and corner store owners have responded to the new beverage tax with concern, outrage and vows to stop selling soda altogether.

But a married couple who owns three Center City restaurants is taking a different approach.

Starting this week, Chris Fetfatzes and Heather Annechiarico will be matching the sweetened-beverage tax revenue generated from their eateries - Hawthornes, the Cambridge and Tio Flores - and donating the money to a neighborhood school.

The 1.5-cent-an-ounce beverage tax is levied on distributors, who pay it to the city, but merchants track how much taxable beverages they sell.

Fetfatzes and Annechiarico will donate to the Andrew Jackson School, a pre-K-to-8th-grade public school at 12th and Federal Streets.

"It's law. You can't do anything about it other than get in the way of it or kind of get behind it," Fetfatzes said. "So we decided to kind of make lemonade out of it, and we're going to be good corporate citizens."

There's a more personal reason, too. The couple's 3-year-old son, Leo, will start pre-K in the fall, and their 1-year-old daughter isn't too far away.

The restaurateurs have previously raised funds for the Andrew Jackson School, which is not one of the pre-K providers receiving money generated by the beverage tax. The money will be donated through the Friends of Jackson nonprofit group, which works with the school.

"I'm still in happy shock. This has been news to all of us," principal Lisa Ciaranca-Kaplan said. "There's always something the school could use, and we're appreciative someone with multiple restaurants in our community is reaching out."

Hawthornes will hold monthly happy hours featuring soda-based cocktails to help bring in money. The initiative will run through the school year.

The couple's response is at odds with many in the food industry who say the tax will be crippling to business.

During the first week of the tax's implementation, it seems most stores and eateries have passed the tax onto consumers.

Corner stores have reported a drop in sales, triggering concerns for some that they might not survive given they rely on sweetened beverages for up to 30 percent of revenue.

Fetfatzes and Annechiarico don't believe their restaurants will be hit quite as hard. Hawthornes and the Cambridge are both known for extensive beer selections, although sweetened beverages and cocktails are big sellers, especially at brunch, which Hawthornes is famous for.

The cost of sweetened beverages will rise at all three restaurants, given distributors have passed the cost on, Fetfatzes said, but thirsty patrons can sip away knowing the added cents are going to a good cause. He estimates the restaurant will bring in several thousand dollars for the school.

"I'm from Philly, born and raised, went through public schools here," Fetfatzes said. "So I think the school system is pretty damn important in keeping with the growth of the city."

Mayor Kenney on Tuesday visited a pre-K center about two miles south of Hawthornes, where he spoke publicly on the tax for the first time since it was implemented Jan. 1. He decried those who have had a less welcoming attitude toward the levy.

"Your life doesn't depend on soda," he said. "So if you don't want to buy it, don't buy it. If you want to buy it in the suburbs, go buy it."

Kenney also lambasted stores that raise prices on untaxed items or instituted the tax before it went into effect.

"There are some people who are applying the tax to lemon juice. I mean, like, really? They're looking for every reason they can to make people angry, and eventually that anger will subside, and our kids will be educated," he said. "And our city, long after I'm gone, our city will be better off as a result of this."

jterruso@phillynews.com

215-854-5506

@juliaterruso

Staff writer Tricia L. Nadolny contributed to this article.

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