After closing temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CO-OP Restaurant and Bar — a high-end restaurant serving mid-Atlantic cuisine — is reopening only a few blocks from Penn’s campus.
Located on the corner of 33rd and Chestnut Streets, the restaurant accompanies The Study, a hotel chain marketed towards academic visitors. The dining area is adjacent to The Study lounge, which is open to the public.
The restaurant features a preliminary menu produced by Executive Chef Kyle Berman, who hopes to expand the dining options as his team becomes more acquainted with their new kitchen.
According to General Manager Nicole Bell, the restaurant's food and drink options are meant to reflect the cultural diversity of the mid-Atlantic and to support the region by sourcing products locally whenever possible.
“There’s a lot of different people and historical significance in these seven states from New York down to West Virginia,” Berman said. “People from South-Eastern Asia have come here; people from Europe; people from Italy. I can pull from a lot of different cuisines like American cuisine often does,” he added.
Due to the restaurant's proximity between Penn's and Drexel's campuses, Bell emphasized that they are making it a priority to connect with the University City community.
“We hope to create an environment where guests can come, whether you’re a faculty [member] or student or neighbor, and have a great meal with a great cocktail, warm service, and just sort of make it feel like an extension of your home,” Bell said.
Berman also emphasized the importance of striking a balance between providing an elevated dining experience and catering to the nearby student populations.
“We’re on two college campuses, but we’re also in a hotel,” he said. “So no matter what, I want to make sure the menu has a little something for everyone.”
He understands that college students may be reluctant to try more unique dishes, but is determined to find a way to appeal to them. To this end, he developed a strategy that he refers to as creating “reference points.”
It starts with classic Italian linguine and clams — what Berman calls a “South Philly staple” — to foster a regional touch. However, he builds on this familiar foundation to create a pasta dish that guests won’t find anywhere else.
“That’s the hardest part,” Berman said. “You have the reference point that everyone loves, but then you put a twist on it to make it more interesting.”
Bell is also encouraging students to apply to work at the restaurant, with staffing proving to be one of the most significant challenges she's faced during its reopening.
College first-year Talyah Pierce said that she enjoyed her experience at CO-OP after dining there for lunch, describing it as a “comforting atmosphere with high-quality food for relatively affordable pricing.”
Pierce was confident that she would go back to CO-OP in the future, though she is not planning to work it into her daily routine.
“I think that CO-OP is better than fast food chains for special occasions,” Pierce said. "I would go there for birthdays or family visits, but maybe not for a quick meal in between classes.”
Bell has both short and long-term visions for the future of CO-OP.
In the short term, Bell expects CO-OP to roll out delivery on mobile ordering sites such as DoorDash. In the long term, she hopes to expand catering services and partner with Penn for social or academic events.