The operators of Xfinity Live, planning an expansion earlier this year, wanted something new to complement its collection of bars.
Spectrum Grill, the chophouse at the entertainment center at the South Philadelphia sports complex, was on the way out. But what to do there?
Glenn Sutch, who oversees the restaurants at Xfinity Live, thought of a bar/restaurant that he frequented in Old City when he lived there: The Gaslight. He found that The Gaslight's chef, and a partner in the business, is Jason Cichonski, who also co-owns Ela, a more polished bar-restaurant in Queen Village. Cichonski also had a brush with fame from a short appearance on Bravo's Top Chef series.
Sutch says he called Cichonski. They chatted. Cichonski says he asked his chef friends who have made the leap from operating smaller restaurants to putting their reputations on the line by also running restaurants that seat upwards of 300 - people like Nicholas Elmi (who while owning the tiny Laurel also seasonally oversees food at the behemoth Morgan's Pier).
It so happens that before he walked in the door for early meetings that he had never been to Xfinity Live. "My preconceived notion had it as more of a party place," he said.
Now, Cichonski, 31, is in the first few days of a soft opening at 1100 Social - the name combining Xfinity Live's street address and the social atmosphere that Entertainment Consulting International, Sutch's company, is trying to create. Cichonski is also learning to delegate more as he juggles three kitchens.
1100 Social, a 300-plus-seater at the corner of 11th Street and Pattison Avenue, has been brightened from its days as Spectrum Grill. Xfinity Live's valet stand, out front, has been pulled out in favor of outdoor dining that will really kick in next spring, when a food truck is parked outside to serve the picnic tables.
The food is entirely different. Sutch says Cichonski was given a free hand. Cichonski says he knew he wanted to go with higher-end pub food but was not sure of a concept initially. Knowing what else is offered at Xfinity Live, he wanted something else. The food had to fit a bar concept.
Perhaps Mexican? Perhaps Asian? "There's a familiarity there," Cichonski said.
The menu at 1100 Social bops merrily around the globe. Most dishes (such as the street corn and Korean meatballs) have clear roots. The fun is in the fusion: chipotle-tamarind BBQ spare ribs are topped with peanuts. "Mariachi Dragon Club" guacamole features large chunks of pork belly, as well as corn, kimchi salsa, and black truffle créme. The kitchen has a tortilla machine among its tools.
Jasper Alivia, an alumnus of Cuba Libre, is running the show on a day-to-day basis.
This also is Cichonski's first brush with the corporate world, an aspect of the restaurant business that fascinates him. The parent company ECI, like all large food companies, codifies every aspect of the business - whether it's creating training manuals or photographing every dish to instruct cooks on each dish's presentation.
Ela, he said, now has a training manual. "And it's helped," Cichonski said. "We had a new guy [start in the kitchen] and he knew right away everything that was expected of him."