Meet the Philly food editor who quit to open his own restaurant
People laughed when Alex Tewfik said he wanted to open a restaurant. Now at 30, as the industry changes, he said, “if not now, when?”
The itch. It could not be satisfied with hydrocortisone, calamine, or even an oatmeal bath.
Alex Tewfik, food editor of Philadelphia Magazine, wanted to open a restaurant from the time he was “all doe-eyed and in love with the industry,” he said. Back then when he shared his goals, people laughed at him. Repeatedly.
Reality then set in as he met lifers with addiction issues and worked for some abusive bosses — the well-documented ugly side of the business. He found his way to food journalism, his way of keeping a foot in the door, and in his words, being “a part of our restaurant world without being in it.” Among his oeuvre: a 2019 article headlined, “Philly is the worst city in which to open a restaurant.”
Back then, he also struck up a friendship while working for Joncarl Lachman and Bob Moysan, who own Noord, the Northern European-inspired BYOB at 11th and Tasker Streets, across from the Singing Fountain on Passyunk Square.
Recently, while he was listening to Lachman and Moysan ruminating about the future of Noord, Tewfik’s old itch returned. The restaurant scene is changing, Tewfik reasoned, at least in terms of working conditions and the industry’s new sense of entrepreneurship. “We can’t go back to what it used to be,” he said to himself. “I want to be part of a new world.”
And at 30, he said, “If not now, when?”
He gave his notice at Philadelphia Magazine, wrote a column about his career change, and picked up the lease at Noord, which is winding down operations before closing at the end of December. Tewfik said that he would leave the magazine at the end of the year and that he would make every effort to avoid any conflicts of interest.
With the backing of friends and relatives, Tewfik plans to open Mish Mish in February 2022. The restaurant, which will have a bar, will not hew to a specific cuisine. “It’s not over-concepted,” he said. “Just like a nice, little 32-seat restaurant with a tiny wine list and simple foods. Easy, breezy dishes. Grilled seafood, vegetables, fried things. No tweezer food. I’ve always maintained that Philly has been missing a middle class of restaurant.”
The name is a nod to the Arabic proverb “bukra fil mish mish,” which translates to “you can have apricots tomorrow” — basically, a reference to one’s pipe dreams. (Tewfik’s father is Egyptian.)
“I’m excited to do this thing,” he said, conceding that he was shaking as we discussed his move. “Terrified.”
But, as he said, “laugh at me all you want.”