Philadelphia-based, internationally renowned restaurateur Stephen Starr has forever vacillated between high-concept kitsch, white linen-laced cuisine and carefully-considered, always original outlooks into multi-ethnic and diverse regional menus.
However, his latest move is a bit different.
Starr is looking toward the local and the corporate with his new partnership with Aramark Corporation. Known as Aramark, the Philly-based, nearly-century-old giant of commercial food service — with clients in education, healthcare, business, prisons, and arena-stadium complexes — would hardly seem a fit for Starr. When you think of Starr Restaurants, you think Porterhouse steaks, rare raw fish and sake flights, not hot dogs and hamburgers.
Yet, last week at Aramark’s test kitchen at 2400 Market Street, Starr and Marc Bruno (COO U.S. Food and Facilities, Aramark) and their respective corporate chefs enjoyed a tasting for the first fruits of their Philly partnership—a Rockwell Group-designed sit-down restaurant concept at Wells Fargo Center.
“Sports are such an integral part of the culture and community in Philadelphia, and the Wells Fargo Center is at the heart of it all,” Starr wrote to Metro. “I’m excited to partner with Aramark to introduce a brand new, full-scale restaurant concept to the iconic arena. Together, we’re going to bring a truly unique, elevated dining experience to Philly sports fans.”
Due to replace The Grille at Wells Fargo Center —home to the Philadelphia Flyers and Philadelphia 76ers — the restaurant is slated to open in October at the start of the 2022-23 NHL and NBA seasons as part of the sports and concert complex’s $300+ million transformation project.
The Starr/Aramark team will offer what they’re calling a “Global Cuisine” experience of Dirty Taco Bowls, Jackass Burritos and Guacamole Carts, all of which will become available immediately at other Aramark-based locations around the country and thoroughly customizable to fit each venue and region.
Starr-branded food at nearly every stadium and concert facility around the U.S.? Why not? To go with this stadium collaboration, the Starr/Aramark marriage also opens the door to virtual, fast-food and small, easily-constructed brick-and-mortar stores for “Frito Pie” Burritos made with ground beef, cilantro-lime rice, black beans and Fritos or Baja Shrimp burrito with avocado on college campuses, workplaces or any busy neighborhood.
“Aramark’s partnership with Stephen Starr and the talented culinary team at Starr Restaurants is an opportunity to leverage their creativity and expertise in cultivating unique dining experiences with our ability to bring innovative ideas to scale as we serve thousands of clients and customers nationally,” wrote Bruno from Aramark. “For us, this is truly an investment in the people we serve, and just one more way that we can demonstrate Aramark’s culinary agility and aptitude for providing customized, best-in-class dining concepts across our business areas.”
Considering Starr has the high-end culinary skill and Aramark has the reach and means to get into the hands of every consumer in the U.S., an investment of this magnitude in South Philly’s Stadium District makes the Starr/Aramark collaboration historic.
“Stephen Starr is synonymous with culinary excellence, here in Philly and all around the world, and this new restaurant concept at Wells Fargo Center is just one more way to ensure our arena remains cutting edge and world class for decades to come,” said Valerie Camillo, Wells Fargo Center’s President as part of a statement. “Our ongoing Transformation Project is all about honoring the great history of Philly sports– while also celebrating the latest and greatest that Philadelphia has to offer. That’s what this restaurant is all about, recognizing the best of the city’s world-renowned culinary offerings.”