The making of a restaurant: Zahav, Philadelphia

Anyone who can turn out a few decent dishes at home has heard the suggestion: “Why don’t you open a restaurant?”

Now, I have an ego that makes it touch-and-go whether I can fit in standard elevators. Sometimes I have to take the freight lift. But at least I have had the benefit of watching what people have to go through to open a restaurant. That’s why I know better.

The health regulations. The employee regulations, worker’s compensation insurance, liability insurance, snow removal, dishes and linens, leases, maintenance, sewerage backup planning. Hiring good people who will carry out your vision and not steal from you overly much.

We haven’t even mentioned the food.

So it was with great interest that I noticed a blog on the Philadelphia Inquirer site called “The Making of Zahav: Step by step, inch by inch, dollar by dollar, following a Philadelphia restaurant from inception to opening.”

The writer has better access to the inside calculations then you’re likely to see in almost any coverage of the restaurant business. I recommend you start from the end, which is the beginning, and work backwards to the present day.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a high-end restaurant and wondered why there aren’t more successful members of the species, I think you too will be fascinated.

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Filed under blogs, media, restaurants

5 responses to “The making of a restaurant: Zahav, Philadelphia

  1. Mike A

    Outstanding! as a two time offender ,this really is an outstanding insight into the frustration and stress of trying to open ,forget budgets and time schedules,just trying to get open any time is a huge accomplishment. THEN you have to stay open.Good Luck mto all at Zavah.

  2. dave-in-Rocha

    I only had time to read the first entry but it seems very interesting. I’ll have to get back to it later.

    I do have one question though. The restaurant profiled here is obviously going for an upscale approach. I can see why they need to hire an architect and spend all day browsing for chairs that they probably won’t actually buy. It seems like a gigantic headache. But are the issues faced in opening a small “mom&pop” place just as difficult?

    I know of a recent college grad here in Rochester who, after a year or two working in his schooled profession, said “screw it” and opened a tiny Tex-Mex joint. There’s room to seat maybe 25 people, he set the place up in a cool old building that previously housed a small restaurant, and seems to be doing well. To me this is the kind of place that comes to mind whenever people tell me that my homemade pizza is so good that I should open a restaurant. Are the hurdles just as high?

  3. Dave,

    I don’t think a mom-and-pop operation would worry about light treatments, or where they source their floor tile. But as I tried to follow along with an operator trying to open a place, I boggled at the fiendishly complex regulations, especially the health department standards for installing a new commercial kitchen. I mean, it’s a book.

    What’s this Tex-Mex place you’re talking about? Would it be any good, if it wasn’t your friend’s? Let’s hear about it.

  4. dave-in-Rocha


    Thanks for the info. Not that I’m planning on opening a place in the near future, but I will admit that there’s an itch in the back of my head….

    As for the Tex-Mex place, I actually am not acquainted with the owner, but I do know of his story. It’s called John’s Tex-Mex and it’s located on South Avenue, just south of downtown in the cool, becoming-more-hip South Wedge neighbourhood. You can find a few pics of the place, as well as links to reviews of it here:'s_Tex-Mex_Eatery.

    As for my take on it, it’s pretty good and I’ve eaten there several times. I’m a big fan of his chips and salsa and tacos. However I will admit that I’m actually a bigger fan of another Mexican restaurant down the street from this place. It’s called Paola’s Burrito Place, and a friend of mine from Mexico swears by it. This one is a counter-service place run by a Mexican family. They have free chips and salsa, with the salsa being of the blended, runny variety. Very tasty.

    Oh, then there’s Richport ( They have two locations, one in the Public Market (which is worth the trip on a Saturday morning on its own if you’re into food) and one right next to the river near downtown. Their tacos are served on corn tortillas with onions and cilantro, and their chicken empanada is amazing. Plus they’re a bakery too, so y’know, dessert….

    I could go on, but I think I’ll stop here. By now you’re already up to three trips to Rochester. Though I’ll be happy to fill you in on more food destinations if you’d like.

  5. Denise

    This restaurant was a complete disappointment from the food to the service. They must’ve wasted all their money on the appearance, and forgot to put money in the food and staff.

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