Last week, a throng of workers were nailing wooden beams, hanging tiles and installing lights, all to make way for Riverton’s newest restaurant, District 611, slated to open Nov. 10.
This will be the third restaurant to prevail in the corner storefront within the brick-faced mall behind Beneficial Savings Bank on Broad Street. Tara’s Cafe and Frankie’s Home Cooking, the two prior eateries, both seemed to open with some spark, but couldn’t keep the fires burning.
But this time, it looks like the new owners might have a recipe for success, as three experienced foodies and one local builder have come together in a kind of serendipity.
One night last July, building owner and developer Jim Brandenburger, 46, went to restaurateur Stephen Starr’s Continental restaurant in Old City with friends. Brandenburger, who built and has owned the strip mall since 2007, was getting itchy for a new tenant after Frankie’s Home Cooking had shuttered.
When talk drifted to Brandenburger’s vacancy, someone offered a suggestion: Did you talk to Brian?
Brian Baglin, 47, had been working for the Starr corporation for six years, after starting his restaurant career at the age of 15 in his hometown of Washington, D.C. A place of his own was indeed appealing. And a spot already equipped and furnished as a restaurant piqued Baglin’s interests more. But a real chord struck him a couple of days later.
“When Jim drove me around Riverton, I just fell in love with the town, and I told him I would really like to do something here,” recalls Baglin, who lives in Northern Liberties. “I then discussed the opportunity with Cathy.”
Baglin’s co-worker Catherine Piotrowski, 33, had also been a longtime Starr employee, beginning as a server and rising through the ranks into management during her eight years with the company.
“It was just the right timing, and everything fell into place,” adds Piotrowski, who shortly thereafter opted to join forces with Brandenburger and Baglin.
And recently, David Perini, 35, the third Starr alum, became the executive chef and fourth partner of District 611—the name, a nod to both Riverton and Center City's Broad Streets. Not to mention, Philly's Broad Street turns into Route 611 beyond the city limits.
With three employees leaving his restaurant enterprise at almost the same time, what did Starr think?
“He was very supportive, and he told us that he was proud of us,” says Piotrowski. “He even helped us with the name.”
Although District 611 will be serving pizza—Neapolitan-style pizza that is, which will be fired in a brick oven—a mix of signature dishes by Chef Perini like steak frites, spring rolls and breakfast potato skins (part of the weekend brunch menu) will be on the eclectic menu. Salads and sandwiches will be available, too.
Perini says they plan to carve out a separate niche from other restaurants locally, and they will be looking to area farms, like Hunter’s Farm, for local ingredients.
“We are aiming for a sit-down place with good food and fair prices,” says Perini of the 120-seat space.
No doubt, the draw will be the food given the culinary experiences of three of the restaurant’s partners, but the appeal of this establishment might also begin with the more than $1 million that’s been invested toward a loving and unique transformation, which includes doubling District 611’s size from that of its two predecessors.
“Wherever we could, we’ve used recycled and salvaged pieces,” says Brandenburger.
Gnarled wood planks were salvaged from an old chicken coop, and the distressed wooden doors that separate the rustic party and dough rooms came from a barn in Berks County, Pa.
Comfy banquettes with reclaimed table tops will sit beneath the living wall, a tricked-out assemblage of planted herbs. More seating will be in black booths, all atop a concrete floor.
An aerial map of Center City Philadelphia designed in white and grey tiles that showcases popular landmarks like City Hall, the Kimmel Center, the Reading Terminal, and Rittenhouse Square is showcased in the center of the main room.
The quartet are hoping their new dining establishment will lend an atmosphere of friendliness, with a touch of intimacy.
“Getting ready has been really exciting,” says Brandenburger. “We’re looking forward to being a mainstay in the community.”
For more information about the restaurant visit www.district611.com or to apply for a job call 856-829-1552.