86 an unprotected Avenue

Philadelphia Police Department 3rd District Captain Frank Milillo stood with East Passyunk Avenue chefs at Monday’s event.

– Staff Photo by Bill Chenevert

Walking into Paradiso Restaurant, 1627 E. Passyunk Ave., on Monday, I found an exceptional amount of activity (like most restaurants, it’s not open on Mondays). But today’s a special day – it’s the East Passyunk Chef Collaboration Dinner. And chef and owner Lynn Rinaldi was playing Maitre D with Joncarl Lachman from Noord Eetcafe, 1046 Tasker St. She wore a flattering, form-fitting dress while Lachman was in a suit and Rinaldi ferried a bucket of ice from the kitchen to the bar.

It’s a special occasion: “The dinner will help subsidize additional police presence on the Avenue during the summer months, helping to ensure that our neighborhood remains the safe, vibrant community that it is” read the event’s description on the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District’s (EPABID) website.

“We’re having a party for a good cause, something we’ve been doing on the Avenue for the past four years,” Rinaldi explained. Safety on the Avenue’s “so far, so good,” she added, “and we want to keep it that way.”

She and the EPABID recruited an all-star cast of chefs to participate, cooking a seven-course meal for $200-ticket-paying patrons: Lee Styer from Fond, 1537 S. 11th St.; Christopher Kearse from Will BYOB, 1911 E. Passyunk Ave.; Tod Wentz from Townsend, 1623 E. Passyunk Ave.; Luke Palladino from Palladino’s, 1934 E. Passyunk Ave.; Nick Elmi from Laurel Restaurant, 1617 E. Passyunk Ave.; Joe Cicala from Le Virtu, 1927 E. Passyunk Ave., and Brigantessa, 1520 E. Passyunk Ave.; and Sam Jacobson from Stargazy, 1838 E. Passyunk Ave.

“I love all the restaurants on the Avenue, I just wish some of them were open on Mondays,” Rinaldi, who calls 17th and Porter streets home, joked. “It was nice watching it all grow. It seemed like it took forever and then just boom – it happened overnight.”

She opened Paradiso in 2004 after opening a café at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and attending The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill in her spare time.

“I looked at spaces for a good two years, and I grew up in the neighborhood,” she said, referring to her childhood on the 1500 block of South 12th Street. “What better place to open a business?”

For a competitive restaurant economy in South Philly, these chefs sure seem to have each other’s backs.

“We want to spend money to keep the neighborhood safe and to have more of a police presence – it’s obviously a great cause,” Elmi, who’s poised to open a small bites and cocktail bar next door in about five to eight weeks, right next to his booming BYO, reasoned. “We’ve built a great community down here, and we want to maintain it as a safe haven. We look out for each other. Everyone knows each other and we want to keep it that way – we want the people down here to live safely.”

“It’s part of being in the neighborhood, it’s our little village,” Lachman concurred with a smile. “I cooked in New York and Chicago for 10 years. I was happy with my restaurants in Chicago, but I never had these kinds of relationships. We recommend each other’s restaurants – it’s very familial, it really is.”

“We do our best to work with the residents and businesses. It’s a nice little balance we have to keep and it’s a great partnership that I hope continues,” 3rd Police District Captain Frank Milillo said.

He’s been at the 3rd District, 11th and Wharton streets, for just a couple years but he’s a lifelong South Philadelphian.

“I grew up in South Philadelphia – I remember back in the late ’70s and ’80s, you didn’t have that many restaurants, you had more retail. The restaurants have just revitalized this whole strip, and it’s phenomenal. It’s good for South Philly, and it’s good for the city of Philadelphia.”

Capt. Milillo, who grew up near Ninth Street and Snyder Avenue, currently lives “down near the Stadiums,” and came from the 6th District in Center City, where he was a Lieutenant. He credits the EPABID with being dedicated to the Avenue’s success.

“In the summer months, with the high volume of patrons, the Business Association hires and pays overtime for police,” the captain said. “[They’re] truly dedicated to making sure this area’s vibrant and that the people coming here get the impression that it’s safe.”

It’s officer John Smyl who’s the main eyes on the Avenue. He’s the segway cop who’s been on this beat for more than 25 years.

“We’re very family-oriented. When the beat needs me, I’m here for them,” Smyl, a Southwest Philly product, said. “In my opinion, we’re in one of the safest parts of our district [but] in a perfect world, we’d have a cop on every corner.”

He’s noticed that the majority of crime in the area is petty stuff, minor crimes involving break-ins, cell phone swipes and such.

“Renee [Gilinger, executive director of the EPABID] just sent out an excellent email to remind your servers it’s al fresco days. We try to nip things in the bud,” Smyl explained.

“Just because we’re not flooding this area doesn’t mean we’re not paying attention to it,” Milillo added.

He also noted that EPA restaurants are good at not “turning into nightclubs” when the kitchen closes, which could lead to much more chaos and crime.

With approximately 50 paying ticket-holders, the event raised a sizable five-figure amount that goes directly towards safety of the 11 restaurants’ visitors. Rinaldi said the valet parking on the Avenue has helped a lot, too. She laughed and remembers seeing an ironing board out on the Avenue protecting a spot, while she and her husband (who runs Izumi, 1601 E. Passyunk Ave.) circled for parking years ago.

“The valet is awesome, it’s just great. It’s really helped around here. It was needed,” she said, and notes that an increased police presence on the Avenue doesn’t just benefit her customers, but also her peers. “You don’t want [anything] to happen to someone you know that works in one of the businesses or one of the guests that visits our businesses.”

Meanwhile, Smyl, who often feels like a “small-town sheriff,” gets some needed support protecting an incredibly diverse and booming community.

“From Old South Philly to the modern-day hipster,” he smiled, it’s “great to have a big melting pot and mix of patrons, merchants and residents.”

Contact Staff Writer Bill Chenevert at bchenevert@southphillyreview.com or ext. 117.

EPA restaurant fans and neighbors invested in the Avenue’s safety shelled out $200 for a star-studded seven-course meal Monday night, with the proceeds funneled into beefing up a police presence in the coming summer months.
– Staff Photo by Bill Chenevert