Stephen Starr, the multiconcept operator whose trendsetting restaurants are widely credited with helping change Philadelphia’s culinary landscape, has been selected by Restaurant Hospitality magazine as the 2013 recipient of its Richard Melman Innovator of the Year Award. He will be honored during the MUFSO Super Show in Dallas Sept. 30.
“We are so excited about giving this year’s Melman Award to Stephen Starr,” said Michael Sanson, Restaurant Hospitality’s editor-in-chief. “There are a lot of people and groups around the country opening interesting and lucrative restaurants, but few can come close to opening the types of restaurants that Starr creates. Everything he does is incredibly hip, and [his restaurants’] very presence brings tremendous energy and vitality to the neighborhoods they occupy. He breathes the same rarefied air as Richard Melman.”
Melman, who is best known for his innovative work as founder and chairman of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Inc. in Chicago, echoed the sentiment.
“Stephen Starr is a great choice for the Innovator of the Year Award,” he said. “He’s very creative, has done some very exciting projects, and I’ve long admired his work.”
Starr, the owner and founder of Starr Restaurants in Philadelphia, has more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality and entertainment industries. His lifelong passion for music and pop culture is often reflected in the dramatic flair of his popular restaurants, many of which feature edgy designs and high-energy dining areas.
At the age of 21, Starr opened his first club, Grand Mom Minnie’s — a diner that also featured live comedy shows. His next venture, Stars, was a cabaret-restaurant that showcased such young talents as Jerry Seinfeld, Richard Belzer and Pat Benatar. His Ripley Music Hall venture hosted such artists as U2, Eurythmics, Cyndi Lauper and Bruce Springsteen. Starr later created The Concert Company to bring high-profile musical acts to Philadelphia. Through that venture Starr was responsible for Philadelphia shows by Madonna, Lionel Richie, George Michael and others.
Starr branched into the restaurant market in 1995 when he opened Continental Restaurant & Martini Bar in Philadelphia’s Old City. The retro cocktail lounge is often credited with sparking a renewed local desire for high-concept, high-energy nightlife.
Following Continental’s success, he launched a series of restaurants in Philadelphia, each with its own style. Among them are Buddakan, a smash-hit Asian concept; Pod, a futuristic Asian restaurant; Alma de Cuba, featuring all things Cuban; the popular Morimoto, with its contemporary Japanese cuisine; Jones, serving American-style comfort food; El Vez, offering modern Mexican cuisine; and Barclay Prime, the city’s first and only luxury boutique steakhouse.
Today, Starr Restaurants’ portfolio includes more than 30 restaurants. While the majority are in Philadelphia, the group also has operations in Florida, New Jersey and New York City. Le Diplomate, a French brasserie, is set to open this spring in Washington, D.C.
Starr also owns Stephen Starr Events, an upscale catering and special events division, managing projects like Rat's Restaurant at Grounds for Sculpture, a Hamilton, N.J., museum and sculpture park, as well as dining and catering services for the New York Historical Society and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The Richard Melman Innovator of the Year Award recipient was selected by the editors of Restaurant Hospitality, a leading resource for full-service restaurant knowledge. Other award recipients include José Andrés, Todd English, Danny Meyer, Michael Mina, Drew Nieporent and, last year’s winner, Joachim Splichal.
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