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Dig, a vegetable-focused cafe with a mission (and deep pockets), plants its flag in Philly

Dig, opening in January, has one-to-one relationships with 100-plus growers and cooks everything from scratch.

Dig, a fast-casual restaurant that focuses on responsible sourcing of ingredients, is at 1616 Chestnut St.
Dig, a fast-casual restaurant that focuses on responsible sourcing of ingredients, is at 1616 Chestnut St.Read moreCOURTESY DIG

The fast-casual dining chain Dig, whose earnest mission has attracted high-profile investors such as restaurant kingpin Danny Meyer, is opening its first Philadelphia cafe in January at 1616 Chestnut St., next to the Old Navy store across from Liberty Place.

Though the opening date is TBD, you will see activity starting as Dig hosts community days for certain nonprofits (and random walk-ins). On Dec. 27, it will have a kitchen table at Broad Street Ministry, which is largely supported by the city’s hospitality community.

Dig, which has more than two dozen locations in New York and Boston, does cooked-to-order, vegetable-centric food from scratch in a large, open kitchen using a French brigade system with four stations. There are no freezers, no microwaves, and no can openers.

Customers line up at a counter and build a healthful meal of veggies, proteins, and hot and cold sides. It’s a setup similar to that of Philly’s Real Food Eatery, whose flagship is around the corner on 16th Street. There are options for Whole30 followers as well as vegans.

Sample from Dig’s menu: Charred chicken thigh, charred broccoli with lemon, roasted sweet potatoes, brown rice with parsley, and garlic aioli dressing.

Dig goes a step farther than most queue-’em-up bowl concepts in that it operates a farm in Upstate New York and sources its food (8 million pounds of vegetables alone last year) directly from 100-plus small-scale and minority-owned growers rather than distributors. This, says founder Adam Eskin, improves accountability and quality, and keeps costs down.

Among Dig’s local suppliers are Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op, Chiques Roc Organic, Kennett Mushrooms, Happy Valley Meat Co., and Lucky Ridge.

Eskin believes that serving locally sourced food on a large scale can disrupt the food system in a positive way. His lightbulb moments in the food business were prompted by visiting an asparagus farm and reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Eskin, 38, who grew up in the Boston area (and, he says, is not related to Philly sports talker Howard Eskin), was working for a private-equity firm that backed New York’s Pump Energy Food’s five locations. In 2011, he shifted into day-to-day operations and rebranded to Dig Inn. Last summer, it became simply Dig. Along the way, Dig has received tens of millions in capital, including $15 million in its last round last spring from Meyer’s Enlightened Hospitality Investments.

Not only the vegetables will be local. So is two-thirds of the chef leadership at the Rittenhouse location. Josh Jastrzembski (an alum of Savona, Verdad, and Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant) carries the title of chef operator, and Anthony Gargano (Hungry Pigeon, Di Bruno Bros., and Barbuzzo) is a chef de cuisine. New York-raised Lenin Tello is the other chef de cuisine.

Hours will be 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Stay tuned for the opening date.