The Washington Square West neighborhood has seen a restaurant boom since the coronavirus pandemic.
Five newcomers are offering takeout and delivery, seeming to buck the experts forecasting a steep decline of the dining industry.
But look closely at your delivery app. Six restaurants share the address 1107 Walnut St., across from the Forrest Theatre. Besides Top Tomato Bar & Pizza, which for 12 years has served beer, cocktails, and pizza, there’s Outlaw Burger, Philly Burgers & Shakes, Firebelly Wings, Grilled Cheese Society, and a chicken joint called Mother Clucker.
They’re one and the same. One storefront, one kitchen, one owner.
And it appears to be a trend, as restaurateurs look for every edge to compete as dining rooms are closed for the foreseeable future.
Top Tomato owner Shmuel “Sam” Cohen, who says his bar had been packed for sports events and happy hours before the pandemic, added the brands on delivery apps such as Grubhub to lure more customers.
“It’s going to take time to get back to where we were,” Cohen said from his open facade, where he now sells $3 mimosas since the state allowed cocktails to go.
The brand names also are simple and direct, which helps with search-engine optimization. Where “Top Tomato” may vaguely suggest pizza or Italian food, “Firebelly Wings” and “Grilled Cheese Society” may catch the eye of a hungry Center City Googler. A seventh brand, Philly Pizzas & Steaks, will be added soon.
The fact that delivery apps collect 30% in commissions and fees does not bother Cohen greatly. “It is what it is,” he said.
All totaled, he said, business was about the same as it was before the pandemic. Relatively speaking, that means he is doing well.
If one kitchen can become multiple restaurants, why not expand into other cuisines then?
Chef Art Cavaliere, who more than a decade ago was chef at El Vez in Center City, is adding Tibu Tacos, a virtual taqueria, to In Riva, his Italian restaurant in East Falls. This cobranding starts Friday. They’ll share the kitchen. “If it gets legs, I’ll put it somewhere else,” Cavaliere said.
Cavaliere is also consulting with Jon Myerow and partners at Tria Taproom near Rittenhouse Square, which has shifted from its bar theme to a takeout and delivery operation called Joyride Beef & Ale, which serves fried chicken sandwiches and roast beef sandwiches, plus canned beer to go.
Chains are going virtual, too.
Now devoid of screaming 5-year-olds, Chuck E. Cheese has expanded into the delivery-app world with Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings. Boston Market has diversified with Rotisserie Roast. Applebee’s has created a virtual brand called Neighborhood Wings. All use the parent brand names in fine print.
A Grubhub spokesperson told CNN that restaurants are asked to offer a different menu than the brick-and-mortar locations.