In mid-September, an electrical fire destroyed Monti’s Cheesesteaks in Lincoln Square. While no one suffered injuries, after enduring the turbulence that comes with the pandemic, it would be hard to blame ownership for throwing in the towel for 2020. But Philadelphia isn’t just known just for cheesesteaks, it’s known for being gritty. Monti’s management would visit 15 sites before finding a new home as one of the tenants inside the Rockwell Food Center, a cloud kitchen building that serves a virtual base for restaurants like Chick-Fil-A.
Monti’s, which only started delivery in 2019, is now a virtual restaurant that relies on third-party couriers. The logos of Grubhub, Caviar, and Uber Eats are stenciled on the building. While owner David Weissner says he intends to rebuild at the site of the fire, 4757 N. Talman Avenue, he’s feeling blessed in finding a kitchen space that limits contact with customers while and allowing his staff of five to observe social distance rules.
“It really had been a community effort,” Weissner says. “And there’s been a focus on the safety of the team.”
Monti’s is a quintessential neighborhood establishment that draws families and sports nuts for a quick bite and a beer. It opened in 2012 and has become a community pillar. But the pandemic strips away much of the interaction essential to a neighborhood restaurant. That’s what made moving to a cloud kitchen easier, Weissner says: With COVID-19 there’s no need for a dining room. The food center’s management had been courting Monti’s for months, so they agreed to relocate.
“This had not been my first choice had we not been in a crisis situation,” says Weissner.
Before the fire, there were plans to open a second location, says Katy McLaren. McLaren is a restaurant veteran who’s now “the face of the restaurant,” Weissner jokes. She’s been instrumental in keeping operations together since starting at Monti’s. McLaren is hopeful a second location could open after the pandemic.
The fire happened around 9 a.m. on September 15 and Weissner blames old wiring. If the fire happened later in the day and workers were present, they could have put out the flames and limited damages, he says. Restaurants have been struggling with business interruption coverage during the pandemic — that’s a policy that pay businesses if they can’t operate. While many restaurants are suing their insurance companies over pandemic disputes, Weissner says insurance dealings have been smooth for Monti’s. They tell him it could be six to eight months before they can rebuild and reopen on Talman.
Whatever changes Monti’s made, Philly cheesesteaks are one of those foods that fans are particular about. Monti’s isn’t messing with recipes.
“I’ve come to learn you don’t want to piss them off,” McLaren says of Philadelphians. “They know their stuff; they’re so loyal.”
Monti’s, inside Rockwell Food Center, 4131 N. Rockwell Street, order online for pickup or delivery.
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