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Women Entrepreneurs Driving Philadelphia’s Food Culture

March 11, 2021

Philadelphia is recognized as a significant food destination not just for culinary diversity but for the talented chefs, restaurateurs and food entrepreneurs that call the city home. A group of women chefs and business owners – including Ellen Yin, owner and co-founder of High Street Hospitality Group, chefs Jennifer Carroll and Ange Branca, and Tess Hart, CEO of Triple Bottom Brewing – joined together amid the COVID-19 pandemic to create Let’s Talk Philadelphia, a support network to share ideas, resources and experiences. This alliance hosts food fairs, tastings and events, fostering collaboration among these small business owners.

PHLCVB talked to a few members of this collective to learn about their signature dishes and why they chose to open their restaurants in Philadelphia.

Nicole Marquis

“Philadelphia has a unique blend of cherished traditions and creative, progressive thinking and this is reflected in the restaurant industry as well.”

 

“Philadelphia restaurateurs and entrepreneurs are not afraid to try new approaches and diners allow them the space and receptive audience to do just that,” says Nicole Marquis. The Philadelphia native operates several plant-based restaurants, including HipCityVeg, offering fast food inspired vegan menu items made with organic non-GMO soy ingredients sourced locally. Cult favorite, Crispy Hip City Ranch, is a 100% plant based sandwich that according to Marquis, “opens up the possibilities of plant-based eating.” Lauding the “excitement and diversity of a big city” like Philadelphia, Nicole also appreciates the city’s “charm and hominess” of a small town. “I love to drink coffee outside, stroll around the home-grown shops and unique small businesses that fill our tree-lined streets like Pine and Spruce.”

HipCityVeg's Crispy Hip City Ranch is a 100% plant based creamy, tangy and, of course, crispy sandwich. Photo courtesy of HipCityVeg.

Tanesha Trippett

The family-run business, Brotherly Grub Café, owned and operated by Philadelphia-born Tanesha Trippett, stemmed from the chef’s family’s southern roots and a love of her hometown foods. A top seller is the smoked beef brisket, inspired by Tanesha’s family reunions in Georgia. “We select high quality, premium meats with just the right amount of marbling and each brisket is coated in our signature dry rub – a blend of woods to create a sweet, smokey savory taste – and slow cooked in our smoker for up to 15 hours. The end result is bursting with flavor, moist, tender and melts in your mouth.” Trippett owes her accomplishments to working with some of the most talented chefs in the industry in Philadelphia. “It’s only right that I give back to the community and people that contributed to my success.”

Brotherly Grub Cafe's brisket cheesesteak puts a southern spin on local classic. Photo courtesy of Brotherly Grub Cafe.

Sofia Deleon

Founded by Sofia Deleon in 2018, El Merkury serves Guatemalan, Salvadorian and Hondurean food from scratch. Not to be missed – tostada with hilacha chicken – uniting two very traditional dishes, plus made-to-order churros. The Guatemalan native established roots in Philadelphia due to what she calls the “sisterly love from the start. I have lived in many cities…none of them as welcoming as Philadelphia. After 5 years here, there is nowhere I’d rather be,” citing Philadelphia’s neighborhood feel and incredible diversity. “You can find everything from great African eats in West Philly to the best Puebla, Mexican food in South Philly.”

Photo by N. Santos for El Merkury.

Jezabel Careaga

Jezabel moved from Miami to Philadelphia to open her first restaurant in 2010. The Argentinian native showcases flavors of her home country at Jezabel’s Argentine Bakery & BYO with modern versions of traditional items such as alfajores, tender butter cookie sandwiches filled with dulce de leche and decorated with coconut. “I grew up making them with my mom since I was 5 years old. It’s such a distinctive Argentine sweet and I still use the same recipe.” Jezabel marvels at Philadelphia’s walkable neighborhoods and size. “Philadelphia is a great, growing city with incredible diversity. It’s manageable and affordable. You can have a good life.”

Alfajores photo courtesy of Jezabel Careaga.

Jill Weber

Drawing inspiration from her global travels and work as a professional archaeologist, Jill Weber opened Jet Wine Bar in 2010 on South Street, showcasing wines from less-typical regions and less-common grapes. “Our Ancient World Wines are from regions that were the first in the world – like the Republic of Georgia, Armenia, and Turkey – to domesticate and ferment grapes.” The founder of Sojourn Philly also operates Rex 1516 with southern-inspired cuisine, Café Ynez, serving flavors of Mexico, and Sor Ynéz, opening soon. For Weber, Philadelphia “feels like home. It is diverse and different, and so, so walkable. The murals, the quirky street art, the restaurants, the people… there is a tolerance in Philly that I never found anywhere else.”

Crawfish pot pie has been on the menu since Rex 1516 opened in 2012, and remains a guest favorite with crawfish etoufee, 3 cheeses, a bit of jalapeno for spice and a golden pie crust. Photo courtesy of Sojourn Philly.

Julie Vernick

When Julie and Greg Vernick decided to open their own restaurant, returning to Greg’s roots in Philadelphia was their first choice. Vernick Food & Drink launched in 2012 with a menu that evolves with each season featuring “honest, no-fuss new American” cuisine. Signature dishes include the wood-fire roasted chicken that has been on the menu since the beginning. At Vernick Fish in the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia, the crudos and sardines on sourdough toast is a popular treat. Vernick credits the strong restaurant community in Philadelphia for making the city shine as a national dining destination. “Philadelphia is a big city with a small-town feel – very collaborative, supportive and friendly.”

Vernick Fish is Greg and Julie Vernick’s version of an American Oyster Bar. Photo courtesy of Vernick Philly.

 

For more information about Philadelphia Women in Food and to attend an event, click here.

 

Cover photo courtesy of Jezabel’s Argentine Bakery & BYO.

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