Everybody Eats Philly, the Black chef-led nonprofit group dedicated to increasing food security in the region, cuts the ribbon at 11 a.m. Feb. 5 on its most ambitious project to date: a food hall in Chester.
Vittles Food Hall is a sprawling space with counters offering Mexican food, Southern soul food, burgers, salads, seafood (Perfect Catch, operated by Charles Bowie), and a breakfast-lunch spot called Ray’s Diner, run by a former chef at Denny’s named Raymond Tillery (“call me R. Tillery,” he said, relishing the military pun).
Vittles will serve two purposes: It will provide low-cost food to people in an underserved community and become a home base for Everybody Eats Philly. The group is hoping to mentor, train, and employ 20 local residents.
This week, a community fridge was installed outside to allow locals to take food that they need. Sharing Excess, a group that distributes surplus food, will make weekly deliveries of fresh produce and prepared meals.
The food hall solves a logistics issue for the group, whose directors are Aziza Young, Stephanie Willis, Malik Ali, Kurt Evans, and Gregory Headen.
Though they work out of an office in Philadelphia’s Kensington section and have done pop-ups (such as Bok Bar in August 2021), the chefs needed a kitchen to store food and handle prep work for its events, or “activations.”
“We’re always scrambling,” Willis said. “Here, we’re in close enough proximity to the city.”
In this new location at 801 Sproul Rd., two minutes off of I-95, Everybody Eats has not one but three kitchens, plus ample communal seating, a drive-through, and a walk-up window for Vittles customers. Hours will be 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday.
Everybody Eats Philly grew out of a movement designed to help people in West Philadelphia heal from the unrest in spring 2020 that followed peaceful protests of the murder of George Floyd. Businesses, including the ShopRite supermarket, had been trashed and residents lacked access to basics.
The reckoning weighed heavily on the minds of chefs of color, who saw the protests as a chance to make their voices heard. “We have to be the change,” said Willis, a private chef, at the time.
Willis rounded up other chefs on Instagram, using the hashtag #cooksfortheculture. Days later, on June 5, 2020, Willis, Evans, Young, and other volunteers had whipped together the first Everybody Eats event, handing out lunches, fresh food, sanitary supplies, and dry goods to 600 people while a DJ spun in a lot on 52nd Street.
Everybody Eats found the food hall last year through a friend of Willis’. But with the pandemic raging, “we just weren’t in a position to come to Chester to take over something like this,” Willis said. “But now we’re where we need to be.”
Everybody Eats’ goal is sustainability, and it has been getting support from government officials and private donations. The group has been working with Chester schools to teach kids about the food business.
“We started very humbly, and with every activation, we’ve just gotten bigger and bigger, and we just want to continue to do that,” Willis said. The group had been stymied in obtaining grants because it was new.
“We haven’t qualified for a lot,” Young said. “We have no problem working for it, though.”
Evans, whose personal mission is ending mass incarceration, said Everybody Eats wants to become “a global organization. That’s the end goal. We don’t just want to be in Philadelphia, but we want to be in several major cities all over the United States doing more of this work.”
“So with this coming to Chester, it helps us help a community in need,” Evans said.
“It helps us be able to give communities access to healthy food that they deserve. That’s a basic human right. We believe that everyone should have access to this type of food.”