Departing Reading Terminal Market chief Paul Steinke reflects
When Paul Steinke arrived in 2001 to become the new general manager of the Reading Terminal Market, the beloved Philadelphia institution was in need of a delicate update and future vision. To remain relevant, one of the oldest continuously operating publi
When Paul Steinke arrived in 2001 to become the new general manager of the Reading Terminal Market, the beloved Philadelphia institution was in need of a delicate update and future vision. To remain relevant, one of the oldest continuously operating public markets in the country had to evolve without losing its diversity or historic character. Thirteen years later, the market has been significantly reshaped by expanded hours, a major redesign, and several bright new tenants. Visitors since 2003 have increased by 30 percent, to 6.2 million people a year. As he prepared to step down, Steinke, 50, reflected on his Reading Terminal days, the market's future, and his plans to run for City Council.
What's your favorite breakfast at the market?
Probably just to tuck into a booth at the Down Home Diner for poached eggs and scrapple. It's the comfort-food breakfast of my youth in the Burholme section of the Great Northeast. My dad loved being the short-order cook on weekends: eggs, bacon, sausage and scrapple was always the menu. Our brand was Habbersett.
Is that how the Market's Scrapplefest was born?
Scrapplefest really germinated from an event in the 1990s that had languished, gone into hibernation, and we revived. It's such a unique Philadelphia dish, something identified with the city: What better place to celebrate that as an event? We've helped to rehab scrapple's image somewhat. I'd like to think so, anyway. We'd invite both big manufacturers and offbeat producers, including a hog farmer from Pennsylvania last year who sold humanely raised hog scrapple, which addresses one of the concerns many people had.
Biggest headaches in running the market?
The hardest part of this job is making the determination that it's time for a particular tenant to go. Turnover happens for a lot of reasons, but on average about three or four a year (out of 77 vendors) leave. I also think about how crowded it can be in here - almost 80 merchants doing business in an average of 500 square feet. The lack of space, even though we cover almost two acres, is a headache.
What about your biggest triumphs at the market?
I'm proud of working to get the market open Sundays. But I think the biggest one was conceiving and executing the renovation [of the market's eastern end]. I'll look back on that with pride, because it improved the appearance of a dismal part of the market, we got larger and better restrooms, and needed more tenant space for local independent food merchants. Our new multipurpose "Rick Nichols Room" has been a godsend to accommodate larger groups that want to stay together.
Your favorite Reading Terminal Market lunch?
It's hard to isolate just one. But since Asian tends to be my favorite type of food, the grilled salmon at Little Thai Market has been my long go-to. Go on Saturdays, because a lot of their following are downtown workers who are off. The weekend crowd is less likely to go there.
What kind of vendors does the market still need?
Right now we don't have any vacant space, but we have gaps in the ethnic mix: Caribbean or Russian or Latino. Or like what's happening [with artisanal, sustainable meat butchery] up at Kensington Quarters [in Fishtown].
What do you think the priorities of the next manager should be?
They need to be mindful of changes going on in Center City and in particular Market East, which is on the verge of a rapid transformative change with redevelopment of the Gallery, and new development at 12th and Market, which brings more residents. But also more competition.
Why City Council?
I've long been interested in public office and I'm a true believer in my hometown. I want to be part of Philadelphia's continued accelerated growth. Running the market is good training. It's a little political and you have to deal with people of all different kinds. It's like managing a small town, in some ways. I'll address the specifics of my agenda when I officially launch my campaign in mid-January.
Favorite Reading Terminal market dessert?
Ummm . . . the truth is, I don't often indulge. But when I do, it's usually an apple. I'm not making this up. I like to try different varieties.
You must have one weakness.
Well, it's not a dessert, but I'm a total soft-pretzel addict and everyone here knows it. Just a little bit of mustard and I'm happy.