CenterCityTeam Category

Helping the Homeless One Slice at a Time in Center City

March 6th, 2015 Shannon O'Donnell Comments Off

When pizza slices cost just one dollar, it’s easy to order extra. Such is the premise behind a generous giving scheme at Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Center City, where customers foot the bill to buy slices of pizza for the homeless. NPR recently produced a story on the restaurant, which is doing its part to help feed the homeless in Center City.


Colorful Post-It notes greet customers at Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, where extra slices of pizza are purchased for the homeless. Photo credit: NPR.

Owner Mason Wartman explains the genesis of pay-it-forward pizza thusly: about a year ago, a customer inquired about buying a slice of pizza to donate to someone homeless. By way of accounting, Wartman stuck a Post-It note on the wall to signify that the slice had been bought. This kicked off a heartwarming tradition. Today, the walls of Rosa’s are covered with Post-Its from some of the 8,400 customers who have bought pizza for the homeless, as well as thank you notes from those that the restaurant has helped to feed. At some point the Post-It accounting system became unwieldy, Wartman says, and he started keeping track of the free slices at the register. Still, the notes are a lasting reminder that the kindness of strangers is still something that exists. Homeless people can come into Rosa’s and request a slice of pizza, which they are freely given. Wartman says that he hands out 30 to 40 free slices daily, and that there have always been plenty of donations to cover the costs.

Rosa’s is far from alone in the “pay it forward” approach to feeding the homeless. In Italy, a practice called “suspended coffee” happens when a customer pays for the coffee of someone who can’t afford it. And bakery/cafe chain Panera has opened five Panera Cares locations around the country where there are no set menu prices and the donations given by more affluent guests go towards paying for those who can’t otherwise afford their meals.


New Pub/Resto Comes to Center City

March 5th, 2015 Shannon O'Donnell Comments Off

Joining the expansive, varied Center City eating and drinking scene is U-Bahn, described as “a new underground stop for all things local — food, beer, and music.”


U-Bahn is serving up fun, fantastic food and great music.

This shrine to “Philly street food” will also thrill those who love their beer. The pub will sport eighteen brews on tap between two bars. A custom tower will serve Yards Philadelphia Pale Ale, Brawler Root Beer and three draft cocktails, while the remaining taps will rotate between various Philadelphia homegrown brews, with an emphasis on those of German style. The wine list is also Philly-centric, and the cocktail menu features drinks constructed from local ingredients. The selection of rye whiskey is to be fantastic.

As for the food? Expect a range of delicious treats: cheese boards, bar snacks, homemade pickles, and twists on classic Philly sandwiches. Owner Teddy Sourias points out that Philly has at least five or six signature sandwiches (while most cities have only one, if that), and he aims to celebrate that fact with delicious takes on traditional favorites. The kitchen at U-Bahn is under the care of Executive Chef Andrew Gaspar, who also heads up Sourias’ other restaurant, BRU Craft & Wurst. He excels at both classic German cuisine and delicious bar grub, the likes of which he’s served up with aplomb previously at Belgian Café, Brauhaus Schmidts, Stateside and Monks Café.

The venue features a stage, and local acts will grace it with live music on select days. The state-of-the-art sound system ensures that local talent really has a chance to shine.

U-Bahn is set to open today, March 5th.

Shop ’til You Drop At the Flower Show

March 4th, 2015 Shannon O'Donnell Comments Off

When you think about the Philadelphia Flower Show, what do you imagine? Do you think of simply strolling amongst beautiful flowers and literally stopping to smell the roses? Maybe you’ve heard of the extravagant, Hollywood-inspired displays at this year’s show and are looking forward to feasting your eyes on all the prettiness. Little do you know, however, that there is so much more than bud-gazing to do at the Flower Show. Namely, there is some outstanding shopping!Spread over 10 acres, the show is sprawling and massive!  The Flower Show Marketplace is the home to some 180 merchants peddling wares both for and inspired by the garden.


At the Flower Show Marketplace visitors have the chance to shop their hearts out.

First of all, it makes sense that you can buy things for your garden at the show. There are flowers for sale, including the brand new geranium varietal called “Ice Queen.” Looking to grow some kitchen spices like mint or nutmeg? You can buy them here, along with cute little pots in which to plant them. British designer Gaze Burvill will be present with some gorgeous oak garden furniture, perfect for taking a long moment to admire the fruits of your hard work gardening. There is an official garden bag and gloves, necessities that any gardener needs. Need help cultivating your green thumb? There are plenty of gardening guide books available.

That’s far from all, though. There are plenty of goods for sale that honor this year’s show theme, “Celebrate the Movies.” The show’s official scarf is for sale, as well as all sorts of delights reflecting the glamor and elegance of the silver screen. Lavish jewelry, antique botanical prints, herbal medicines and soaps, and clothing printed with natural designs are all available.

Philadelphia Sells Schools For Cash

March 2nd, 2015 Shannon O'Donnell Comments Off

How does a city simultaneously solve the problems of school budget deficits and unused school buildings sitting empty? Easy – it kills two birds with one stone and sells the schools for cash. Such is the case in Philly, where the school district has netted $42 million in the last two years by selling off 12 former schools. As many as 14 additional properties have sales pending.


What happens to old school buildings after they are no longer used for teaching students? The answer might surprise you.

A recent NBC10 article mentioned the sale of George W. Childs Elementary School, a building that formerly housed over 500 students. Having fallen into disuse in 2010, the century-old building faced an uncertain future. The city was able to sell it off, and now the building is slated to become a mixed-income housing complex. Old schools are a problem for both school districts and the city, as they tend to become big, ugly eyesores when they stop being used. In latter years, however, these buildings represent something new – a potential source of income for the school district, which is facing budgetary woes.

It’s not the easiest thing in the world to sell a school building. For one thing, districts often realize “much less than the actual sale value” of schools, thanks to legal technicalities such as the bonds that are involved in buying and maintaining the buildings. The bonds are taken out for capital expenses, and have to be paid for a building to change owners. Consequently, the district actually sold the 12 buildings for $67.6 million – but it only “brought home” the $42 million mentioned. Nor does the sale figure include any of the costs of closing schools, which include personnel, transportation, and administrative costs. In addition, the unique layout of a school building can make it a hard sell for repurposing.

By far the largest group of school building buyers are charter schools. Philadelphia, however, only sold five to charter schools. Many, many more buildings were sold in the name of real estate development. It’s just as well, because some public school advocates have accused the city of attempting to close schools in the name of “under-utilization” while expanding the growth of charter schools.

Still, despite the headaches, many buyers are willing to take a risk on school buildings. With real estate in Center City all bought up, the placement of some of these buildings make them highly attractive risks.

Philadelphians Asked to Open Homes For Papal Visitors

February 27th, 2015 Shannon O'Donnell Comments Off

With the Pope’s visit coming up in September, Philadelphia is expecting a considerable lodging shortage. The number of pilgrims and out-of-towners coming to see the pontiff hold a Festival of Families and a Mass service on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is expected to number in the millions, and it seems like every hotel room within two hours’ distance from the city is booked solid. This isn’t news – the lodging issue has been a topic of conversation since the Pope announced his visit. With February slipping into March and the days until the visit growing shorter, however, the urgency of the need for more places to stay grows ever more pressing.


Archbishop Chaput, seen here with Pope Francis, is asking Philadelphia to reach out to visitors coming to see the pontiff.

To that end, Archbishop Charles Chaput addressed the city – Catholics and non-Christians alike – and implored residents to open their homes to those coming into town to see Pope Francis. In his weekly address, Archbishop Chaput addressed the lodging shortage and implored those with any extra room to make it available for those coming into town.

The Church has set up a “Host a Family” program with its own website. Through the program, anyone with a furnished spare room, apartment, home, or vacation home within 120 miles of Center City can (either for free or for a fee of their choosing) offer the space to individuals or families seeking shelter for the papal visit. Those who sign up create a profile describing themselves and their family and listing details about their home: distance to Center City, number of bedrooms available, household rules, and any other pertinent items.

In short, the Church is challenging Philadelphians to put their money where their mouths are when it comes to the “City of Brotherly Love” motto.

Food Bloggers Tackle Center City

February 26th, 2015 Shannon O'Donnell Comments Off

Looking to whet your appetite, or just to indulge in some local food porn? You need look no further than 22nd & Philly, a food blog run by Center City couple Bradd and Kristy. The pair have built up a social media following out of visiting local restaurants and posting reviews with delicious-looking photos. Food blogging is a very 21st-century phenomenon, but is a platform with plenty of fans. Who doesn’t like to drool over pictures of yummy eats? Now, the foodies of Center City have their own source for great pictures and reviews.


Hot cocoa takes the spotlight in a pic from the 22nd & Philly website.

The blog was launched in 2008, says Kristy, but the pair only began regular posting in January 2010. That means that the couple have over five years of food reviewing under their (undoubtedly looser) belts! The idea apparently came to them whilst carb-loading for the Broad Street Run at a favorite Italian restaurant. They realized that they ate out often in the city but had no way of documenting where they’d been and what they liked.

What makes 22nd & Philly so unique is the fact that Kristy and Bradd pull no punches when it comes to reviewing eateries that they didn’t consider up to snuff. They give honest reviews, and that includes sharing not-so-great opinions of places that disappointed. Another big draw? The fact that the pair don’t stick to just the biggest restaurants in the city, but frequent “BYOB: and “beer festivals” as well, keeping things diverse.

Bradd and Kristy admit that they are partial to sandwiches – a great vice to have in Philly, where the sandwich is king! In addition to cheesesteaks, they have conquered hoagies and other sandwiches as well. One thing is for sure – the two are trailblazers of the adventure that is the Center City food scene.

This Year’s Philadelphia Flower Show Takes Inspiration From the Movies

February 25th, 2015 Shannon O'Donnell Comments Off

Didn’t get enough of Hollywood glitz this past weekend with the Oscars? Head on down to the Philadelphia Flower Show, which this year is taking its inspiration from the silver screen. With a theme of “Celebrate the Movies,” the show will take visitors down a red carpet and into an Art Deco theater – all constructed of flowers.

flower show

Beauty is in bloom at the Philadelphia Flower Show!

The Flower Show kicks off this Saturday, February 28th, and runs through March 8th at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Visitors will enter the show beneath a theater facade with a 29-foot high marquee adorned with over 200 neon lights. Accordingly, it will be all covered with flowers.

Fans of Disney movies will be especially gratified by the exhibits this year. The Flower Show features displays inspired by family favorites like “Frozen,” “Cars,” “Maleficent,” and “Cinderella.” Stoney Bank Nurseries will display a Chinese garden inspired by the film “Mulan,” filled with plants from both China and other parts of Asia.

There’s plenty to do at the show besides admire flowers! There will be two Hollywood-themed restaurants, DiBruno Brother’s (gourmet food with a “Godfather” theme) and Termini Brothers, which celebrates the Hollywood golden age of the 1950s. There will also be special guests on-site: Dan Aykroyd will be signing bottles of Crystal Head Vodka on March 6th and Ethan Wayne (John Wayne’s son) will be signing bottles of Duke Bourbon on February 28th. The Butterfly Experience is back, having doubled in size from last year. There will also be a display of classic Hollywood gowns, including some of Grace Kelly’s dresses.

Cell Companies Prepare For Pope’s Crowds

February 23rd, 2015 Shannon O'Donnell Comments Off

How exactly do cell companies prepare for the load of millions of people all using their phones at the same time? That’s the quandary currently being worked out in Philadelphia, which is preparing for a September visit by Pope Francis. Upwards of two million people are expected to jam the Benjamin Franklin Parkway as the pontiff holds both a mass and a Festival of Families. It’s logical to expect that these people will be snapping pictures like crazy and attempting to upload them to social media – will networks be ready to handle the overload?


The pope is swarmed by cell phones during a Vatican audience two days ago. Photo credit: CBS.

According to some major service providers, the answer is a tentative “yes.” CBS’s Philly affiliate interviewed representatives from a handful of cellular companies, and the unanimous response was that they are aware of the potential for service issues and are making plans to try and work around it. The piece on CBS’s website compared the volume of the pope’s visit to the equivalent of “25 Super Bowls.” That comparison really gives some perspective on just how many people we’re talking about here.

Verizon Wireless says that it is planning to try and install temporary equipment around town so that there are more cell towers available when needed. They are negotiating with landlords to place additional antennae and cell sites on rooftops, as well as planning to build additional structures where they can find space to do so. In areas of heaviest traffic, they will roll out Cells on Wheels (COWs) and Cells on Light Trucks (COLTs).

AT&T said that they will also be rolling out COWs, as well as “leveraging existing… WiFi hotspots.” With cell companies going proactive, hopefully you’ll be able to Instagram your pics of the pope in no time flat.

Ringing In the Chinese New Year In Philadelphia

February 20th, 2015 Shannon O'Donnell Comments Off

Chinatown is ringing in the Chinese New Year in high style this week! Yesterday marked the actual New Year, but a whole week of celebrations has been planned in Philadelphia’s Asian quarter. Expect parades, dancing, and plenty of food to mark the occasion.


Brightly-colored dragons are traditional symbols of the Chinese New Year.

On Sunday the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation will host the Philadelphia Suns Lion Dance Parade. Organizer Weiling Wang promises that the parade will bring good luck to all that attend. A few days later the Corporation will host a Chinatown New Year’s Banquet to which all (regardless of ethnicity) are invited to attend. Wang says that everyone is welcome to come out and enjoy the “real and traditional” feeling of the New Year’s celebrations. The festivities kicked off at midnight yesterday with fireworks and a parade to ring in the lunar new year. Holidaymakers braved the cold (it was about 13 degrees at the time!) to dance and make merry in honor of the celebration.

It’s the Year of the Sheep (or goat, depending on who you ask), whose gentle traits and likeability are celebrated. Flowers that honor the sheep are the primrose and carnation, and its lucky numbers are said to be three, four, and nine. Chinese astrology claims that green, red, and purple are lucky colors for those born under the sign of the sheep. Those born under the sign of the sheep are said to be polite, family-minded, and kindhearted. They are thrifty and have a good head for business. On the downside, they may be moody, vain, and indecisive. They have an especial appreciation for art and beauty in life.

Inside Channing Tatum’s Beverly Hills Home

February 19th, 2015 Shannon O'Donnell Comments Off

One can easily get jaded looking at pictures of beautiful homes all the time. After a while, you see a fantastic Hollywood mansion and it looks the same as just about every other one. An occupational ennui sets in, so to speak. It’s the only reason I can fathom why the writers at Curbed LA decided to call Channing Tatum’s new home “boring.”


There is nothing boring about the lovely outdoor space.

There isn’t actually anything boring about the home in Beverly Hills that Tatum bought with his wife, Jenna Dewan. It’s a 4,900-square-foot Cape Cod manse with six bedrooms and six bathrooms, sitting on a full acre of land covered with oak trees. Its shingled siding puts one in mind of the Hamptons, or some other classic seaside retreat. The ceilings are of double height, creating plenty of airy spaciousness. The master suite boasts an en suite bathroom, as does one other bedroom. The kitchen is of gourmet quality, turned out in country style. The public living areas are well-appointed, including the formal living and formal dining rooms and the family room. The presence of one of the bedrooms on the main floor makes for the perfect space for an office, studio, or home gym. There is a guest house off the basement that offers two additional bedrooms and en suite baths. One of the bedroom suites has a fireplace. The outside is just as lovely, with a pool, spa, and sitting area with outdoor fireplace.

Tatum, a perennially-popular actor, will soon be seen starring in the Magic Mike sequel, Magic Mike XXL. He has also starred in 21 Jump Street and the Step Up series of dance films.