Restaurant veterans Jeff Benjamin and chef Kevin Sbraga will have leadership roles in the Fitler Club, a high-end private membership club expected to open in 2019 at 2400 Market St., the former Marketplace Design Center overlooking the Schuylkill.
Benjamin, who with his business partner Marc Vetri built a restaurant empire over the last two decades, is Fitler's executive vice president, supervising general managers running the fitness facilities, fine dining, hotel rooms, coworking offices, and event spaces. Benjamin said he would retain his role in the Vetri Family, which is expanding to Las Vegas in fall 2018 with a Vetri Cucina.
Benjamin had been feeling perhaps a touch under-employed since August, when he stepped away from his role at Urban Outfitters. In late 2015, he and Vetri sold their interests in all the restaurants, except for the flagship Vetri Cucina, to the retailer, in a deal valued at about $20 million. Vetri himself remains affiliated with the Urban-owned restaurant group.
Benjamin said he and Michael Forman, an investor with FS Investments, had long been bouncing around ideas for high-end hospitality projects. When Forman partnered with hotel financier David Gutstadt to create the Fitler Club, Benjamin said, he jumped at the chance. "From my first meeting," Benjamin said, "I was saying, 'This is going to happen.' "
The move is a return to full-time employment for Sbraga. He shot onto the food radar after winning Season 7 of the Bravo series Top Chef in September 2010. He then opened five restaurants in under five years — the fine-dining namesake Sbraga, two locations of the Southern eatery The Fat Ham, the 1980s-themed restaurant Juniper Commons, and Sbraga & Company in Jacksonville, Fla. — all of which closed.
Since the closing in June of the last restaurants — Sbraga and The Fat Ham in King of Prussia Mall, Sbraga has been consulting and cooking private dinners.
Though opening is at least a year and a half away, Sbraga said he was busy setting up the five concepts, including two restaurants open from breakfast through late night.