[Photo by BRADLEY MAULE]
FOOBOOZ: Once one of Philadelphia’s most talked about restaurateurs, Neil Stein has spent his time rather quietly since his January 2007 release from SCI Schuylkill, where he served a yearlong sentence for tax evasion and wrote about the prison food. But now the man who was at the helm of a restaurant revolution and brought us the concept of outdoor dining is ready for his comeback. This morning, Stein confirmed that he plans to open a restaurant at 1801 JFK, a space currently occupied City Garden, the Chinese restaurant. MORE
RELATED: There’s an old saying: You can always tell who the pioneers are. They’re the ones with arrows sticking out of their backs. Neil Stein–the bad boy of Restaurant Row, the dandified darling of the Rittenhouse jet set, the man who brought you the world-class four-star fabulousness that is Striped Bass, the Center City block walker who fought tooth and nail with the city to allow sidewalk seating for Rouge and years ago jumpstarted the rebirth of Delaware Avenue with Rock Lobster–well, he has a lot of arrows sticking out of his back these days. Let’s see. There’s one from the IRS, which is investigating him for tax evasion to the tune of $4.5 million, as well as for mail fraud and bankruptcy fraud. There’s one from the state, which has presented him with a whopping unpaid bill for back taxes. Likewise, the city is looking for its share, including a whole lot of unpaid liquor taxes. Then there’s just about everyone who used to work for him at the now-shuttered Avenue B, who say they are owed back pay and tips, not to mention unemployment compensation. There’s a long line of unpaid food suppliers and assorted vendors with their hands out, hoping to get their share from the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings that have put Striped Bass and Rouge in court-ordered Chapter 11 limbo. Then there’s that nasty little drinking and drug problem that sent him to rehab, causing him to miss the bankruptcy hearings. All told, Stein is $7 million in the hole.
Still, he remains the unflappable master showman–a guy who could “take a leaf on a tree and make Central Park,” as his childhood pal and former Striped Bass partner Joey Wolf likes to say. And even with all his current trials and tribulations, his priorities haven’t changed: Image is still everything. So despite the heat from the feds, the state, the city, his vendors, his creditors, his employees and god knows who else–not to mention the fact that Stein is calling PW from inside a rehab clinic where, until last week, he had been drying out and kicking a Percocet habit–his primary concern is what photos we’re going to use for this article if he agrees to cooperate. He insists that PW use some shots from a Nic D’Amico photo session for a Philly Style stroke-piece published last spring. And it’s easy to see why: Simply put, he looks fabulous. And in Stein’s world, if you look good, you are good. And these days Neil Stein is trying so very hard to be good. MORE