University City is set to see a surge in its number of restaurants over the next year, creating more dining options for the Penn and West Philadelphia communities.
Five restaurants — Dig Inn, Raising Cane’s, Five Guys, El Taco, and Amma’s South Indian Cuisine — will be opening new locations near Penn's campus, coinciding with Philadelphia's ongoing economic recovery after local businesses took a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dig Inn, Five Guys and El Taco will open under Penn's Facilities and Real Estate Services, which operates as the landlord of several stores on and around campus. As a landlord, FRES manages leases and provides establishments with allowances to spend towards their opening.
While FRES does choose retail offerings to cater to the needs of students, it also hopes that the West Philadelphia community, as well as Penn faculty and staff, will benefit from the opening of these new locations, Penn’s Executive Director of Real Estate Ed Datz said.
Five Guys is set to open before the fall semester ends or at the start of the spring semester, Datz said. Five Guys declined to comment on its opening timeline, stating in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that, "there are too many unknowns concerning permits to know a realistic timeline."
The new Five Guys location will replace Beijing Restaurant, which closed its Spruce Street location last year. Datz said a primary reason FRES pursued Five Guys is because Penn lost its on-campus burger restaurant two years ago when Bobby's Burger Palace closed its Walnut Street location.
Dig Inn is set to open on 36th Street in January or February 2022, Dig Inn Chief of Staff Ben Kopelman said, adding that the company is still working out final details about leasing. The location will replace Cosi, which declared bankruptcy in 2016.
Dig Inn, a healthy fast-casual operation out of New York, will offer a range of build-your-own bowls, vegetables, and comfort food options. The company already runs a location in Rittenhouse and has several restaurants by college campuses in New York City and Boston, Kopelman said.
Kopelman said that Dig Inn’s menu aims to serve “a student body as well as the student community,” and is committed to providing locally-sourced, vegetable-driven meals.
“What makes it special is that we can serve so many different eats. If you’re a vegan, we've got you covered, and if you’re looking for a rainy day lunch to make you feel good, you can grab our Mac and Cheese bowl,” Kopelman said. “We’re not for a certain kind of customer or certain kind of mood, we are for everyone.”
El Taco is set to open at 3716 Spruce St. within the next two to four weeks, depending on the result of its upcoming health inspection. The Mexican restaurant has operated a location on Drexel University's campus since 2018, and has established itself as a favorite among the Drexel community.
With three new restaurants under its landlordship on the way, Datz said FRES is continuing to explore new retail options in University City, adding that it wants to expand the number of apparel or accessory establishments on campus.
“We think that the opportunities are there to bring in good quality operators that'll go ahead and be attractive to the student population and the population at large” Datz said.
Amma’s South Indian Cuisine will open its second Philadelphia location by the end of November. Amma’s, a full-service restaurant that will seat 65-70 people, will replace Steve’s Prince of Steaks at 3836 Chestnut St.
Sathish Varadhan, the owner of Amma’s, opened a location at 1518 Chestnut St. in January 2019. After noticing that many of his customers were Penn students, he looked into opening a second location in University City, although the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily stalled his plans.
"[Students] personally texted me and they personally called us to say, ‘Please try to open in University City,’” Varadhan said.
Varadhan added that Amma’s will be the area’s only South Indian restaurant, which he says differs from traditional Indian fare in its more frequent use of coconut bases, lentils, and spices. Authentic South Indian food is “very rare to get in the U.S.,” he said.
Raising Cane’s, a Louisiana-based fast-food chain specializing in chicken fingers, will open its first Philadelphia location at 3925 Walnut St. The space was formerly home to Bobby’s Burgers Palace.
Raising Cane's plans to open its Philadelphia locations in April and May of 2022, although those dates are subject to change depending on “construction schedules and other factors,” the company wrote in an email to the DP.
The upcoming burst in restaurant openings may be attributed to the economic recovery in West Philadelphia as the area's COVID-19 restrictions have loosened and campus life is back in full swing, Post Brothers Retail Development Associate Grant Grundlock said. Post Brothers manages the businesses which operate under Hamilton Court Apartments.
“I think that [COVID-19] definitely stifled a lot of the traffic, but now that everything's coming back to a little bit of normalcy, a lot of extra attention has been paid to University City,” Grundlock said. “Now that everything's back in full swing and students are on campus, there's life back.”