What’s eating Philadelphia?

Dave Landau

As your car rolls up to the front door, a young man who is working valet promptly approaches your car door and another escorts you to the entrance.

You walk through what may seem like the pearly gates, for one night at least, and find yourself greeting a hostess with a beaming smile.

Already your mouth seems to be dripping with rapture as you see a waiter float by swiftly with tonight’s special.

Your eyes are in a fantasy world filled with people, fine food and elegant yet striking décor that pulls and pushes you in and out of a trance.

Can you see it now? Just where is this heavenly place? Where are you?

The fact of the matter is that if you are in the Philadelphia area, you could be just about anywhere. With the myriad restaurant choices that can make your eyes and your stomach say, “Ooh yea,” you are in the right town for a fabulous dinner date.

Whether you are eating at one of Stephen Starr’s 13 masterpieces, having Philadelphia’s best sushi at Margaret Kuo’s, dining artfully with Susanna Foo in one of her two stunning successes or living the fine life at George Perrier’s Le Bec Fin, there is no doubt you will need to loosen your belt a notch before you leave. And while you are at that, you can open up your wallet wide too.

Though beautiful and choice restaurants like these look like smoothly run operations on the outside, the chaos on the inside actually makes everything come together.

Owning one of these masterpieces is hardly a simple task. In fact, restaurants are the most difficult business to make profitable. Running a restaurant requires inordinate amounts of time, effort and money.

So what is the key to owning and running successful restaurants?

“I could talk for hours on this subject, because for me, there is a whole ring of keys to owning and operating a successful restaurant,” says Jim Lukens, owner of four restaurants, three of which are in the Philadelphia area.

“Restaurants have a higher rate of failure than any other business. If I had to summarize the most important key, it would be consistency – the ability to consistently provide the same food, service and environment.”

Lukens started his restaurant journey just out of college when he worked as a shift manager at a 24-hour truck stop. He then quickly shot ahead of the game and worked for Truck Stops of America through his job in a marketing firm. As he traveled the 50 states to all of the locations of the company, he gathered experience and expertise. J.B. Dawson’s, his newest eateries, are a hit with locals in the area who find themselves religiously drawn to the delightful all-American treats that Lukens and his crew passionately whip up.

As for advice to newcomers: “Don’t aspire to be a restaurant owner,” Lukens says. “But if you must, then know the odds are against you, prepare to work hard and learn as much as you can. Work for someone who is successful for as long as you can before setting out on your own.”

Best Sushi – Margaret Kuo’s

Best Atmosphere – Buddakan Best Cheesesteaks – Pat’s

Cheesesteaks, Gino’s Steaks

Best Food Art – Susanna Foo’s Chinese Cuisine

Best History – The Waterfront