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Paris Baguette, NAM Vietnamese Kitchen, and Coney Shack were introduced to a new restaurant block near Hamilton Court with a grand opening on July 9.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

A new restaurant block near Hamilton Court on 39th and Chestnut Streets made its grand opening on July 9, introducing three new restaurants to University City: Coney Shack, NAM Vietnamese Kitchen, and Paris Baguette. 

Holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony with multiple Philadelphia and Pennsylvania government officials in attendance, the three restaurants celebrated their new flourishing businesses and a step towards normalcy after a difficult year with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While NAM and Paris Baguette had already opened their doors earlier this year, Lawrence Mach, Coney Shack's chef and owner, decided to extend his grand opening to the other restaurants on the block.

“It’s very beneficial for us to all show up together and have a grand opening, and promote this area as a food destination. I don’t expect people to come through Coney Shack every day – I just want people [enjoy] eating in this area, and come on by to give any of us a try,” Mach said.

Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes and City Representative Sheila Hess were among the crowd that attended the ceremony. Mach said he appreciated the gesture, and he hoped it would give the surrounding community a sense of normalcy. 

“The pandemic wiped out a lot of businesses, and having a block that actually opened up during the pandemic gives the city a little hope. The grand opening is a big thing – it puts people back [to] work and it keeps the city going,” Mach said. 

Mach had made his start in Coney Island, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, where he served his customers from a small food cart. Taking inspiration from traditional Southeast Asian flavors that his parents had used growing up and fusing it with classic American street food, he quickly found that his lunch items were a hit. 

Rising from the top Yelp-reviewed food cart in Coney Island to later opening a kitchen in the heart of Times Square, Mach eventually decided to branch off from New York to start his story in University City. 

“It’s been an emotional roller coaster. Cutting open the ribbon felt refreshing. I felt reborn again because I’ve been out for so long due to the pandemic,” Mach said. 

Mach’s top menu suggestions include the beer-battered crunchy fish tacos and the signature Mach dog. 

“Everybody deserves to have a little bit of Coney Island in their life and the only way to achieve that is to come try our food at Coney Shack,” Mach said.

NAM Vietnamese Kitchen, one of Coney Shack’s partners on the block, brings traditional Vietnamese cuisine with a modern twist to University City. 

Harrison Le, manager of NAM, appreciated Coney Shack’s welcoming invitation to the block opening and emphasized his excitement about the restaurant block’s outlook. 

“Right now, even with kids being gone for the summer, we’ve been doing great," Le said, but he looks forward to continued growth as Penn students return to campus for the fall semester.

Some of Le’s suggestions for first-time customers include the beef combo, Korean-style double-fried wings, and any of the platters. 

“Our goal is to open the doors for everyone to try different foods and to push people outside their comfort zones [with] the different entrees that we offer,” Le said.

Paris Baguette, a Parisian-inspired bakery offering a wide selection of cakes and pastries, rounds out the restaurant block trio. 

Jung Ahn, a franchisee and owner of this Paris Baguette location, appreciates the work that went into initiating the ribbon-cutting ceremony as well as the media coverage for the event. 

“We’ve received a lot of good publicity and a lot of positive feedback. So we’re just trying to do our best to give all of our guests the best product and service that we can possibly provide,” Ahn said. 

Ahn added that Paris Baguette provides a unique take on the classic bakery, providing options such as sausage- and hotdog-inspired pastries, as well as light and decadent desserts that are not overpoweringly sweet. 

“We have lots of selections, so feel free to ask us for any suggestions. Come back often and come hungry!” he said.

Residents of Hamilton Court have also voiced their fondness for the new restaurants opening on the block. 

“The food is great, and they have such nice studying spaces. Paris Baguette is open until 9 PM, so I work there late to get out of [my] room for a bit,” said Jenna Schulman, a rising junior in the College and resident of Hamilton Court. 

Amid the pandemic’s hindrance to new business growth, the grand opening of Coney Shack, NAM Vietnamese Kitchen, and Paris Baguette is a reminder to Philadelphia that post-pandemic life may just be around the corner. 

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