After 14-plus years innovating Philadelphia’s restaurant scene, preeminent Italian chef Marc Vetri will open his first restaurant outside the city when he brings Osteria to the Moorestown Mall later this year.
Vetri opened the original Osteria, located on North Broad Street in Philadelphia, in 2007, nine years after opening the eponymous Vetri. Osteria (pronounced “O-stuh-ree-a”) describes itself as a traditional Italian eatery specializing in “homemade pastas, thin crust pizzas or wood grilled meats and fish.” Philadelphia Magazine named Osteria its No. 1 restaurant in 2008 and 2012, and it’s landed in the top 15 every year since it opened.
Vetri—who, according to the restaurant’s website, spent years working in “some of the finest kitchens in Italy and the U.S.”—has been named one of Food & Wine magazine’s “Ten Best New Chefs,” and in 2005, he won the James Beard Award for "Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic.”
We had a chance to chat with the acclaimed chef about his plans for the Moorestown Osteria, why he chose Moorestown and when South Jerseyans can expect to enjoy his award-winning cuisine (without having to hop across the Delaware).
Moorestown Patch: What made you pick Moorestown?
Marc Vetri: I’ve been looking over there for a while now. I have some friends who’ve opened up restaurants there, Zeppoli (in Collingswood, run by former Vetri chef de cuisine Joey Baldino), and my partner (Vetri sommelier Jeff Benjamin) lives over there (in Cherry Hill). He’s always talking about, number one, there’s not a lot of restaurants to eat at over there, and two, the restaurants that he does eat at are usually all pretty full. We had been talking to PREIT about some other locations and they had mentioned that they’re planning on redoing the Moorestown Mall. And we went out to look at it and we were pretty impressed on their vision of it, and also what the opportunities could possibly be out there.
Patch: Why Osteria?
Vetri: We’ve always been thinking of taking the Osteria concept out into other areas. We had negotiated to do Osteria at Revel (in Atlantic City). That never panned out. We just always thought that was the most approachable of all of our restaurants. Everyone loves the wood oven, and the energy and everything. I just think Osteria is just a great restaurant to duplicate somewhere else. There’s nothing really like it over there.
Patch: Did the demographics of Moorestown play into your decision to bring Osteria here?
Vetri: Sure. Moorestown, and the surrounding areas, a lot of working families live around there. And everybody eats out. The demographics there, with regard to the ratio of restaurants, is pretty amazing when you look at it. And now, all those folks have to come to Philadelphia.
Patch: It probably goes without saying, but is it your expectation, or your hope, that this will become a regional attraction, so to speak? That all those South Jersey residents who come to Philly for your food will now go to the mall?
Vetri: Sure. The goal is basically to build an energy at the mall there. They’re going to have this incredible movie theater. They’re going to revamp the mall. They’re going to make it into somewhere where people want to hang out again. With all these little pieces—the restaurants, the retail, the movie theater—that starts to build an area where there’s energy and community.
Patch: All your restaurants up to this point have been in the city. Did you have any reservations about opening at a mall?
Vetri: I really never had any. We kind of made it a habit never to buy into that location model. That was never anything that we’ve bought into. From when I first opened Vetri, everyone told me, you don’t want to be on the east side of Broad Street. There was not really any restaurants around there. When I went up to North Broad, everyone’s like, "Oh, you’re opening up a restaurant in Nowheresland." When we opened up Amis, we’re at the opposite end of 13th Street, but all the action is down at 13th and Sansom. The standard practice is “location, location, location.” My theory is, make something that people want to go to and they will come.
Patch: How much will the Moorestown Osteria resemble the one in Philly? Is it going to be—in terms of the menu, in terms of the decor—a carbon copy? Or will there be some differences?
Vetri: The menu’s going to be pretty much a carbon copy. We’re going to maybe have some different things. We’re going to do pretty much the Osteria menu there. We’re naturally taking a lot of the signature looks from Osteria, with the wine boxes on the wall, and the colored cement floor. There’ll also obviously be a different layout, because it is the suburbs. We’ll probably have a larger bar area. We’re definitely going to make it a little different. But lots of similarities.
Patch: Do you have an anticipated opening date, or month?
Vetri: We don’t. I would probably say the fall. We’re in design mode. That always takes longer than you think. And then once we start building it, it shouldn’t take more than four to five months. But we like to have everything laid out first.
Patch: Will Osteria have a tasting menu or a prix fixe menu?
Vetri: No, that’s not what Osteria’s all about. It’s all about family style eating. I mean, maybe in some of the private rooms, we’ll offer a tasting menu. But it’s not something that we’re really thinking about right now.
Patch: Do you know how big the restaurant will be—how many seats—or is that still being hashed out?
Vetri: That’s still being hashed out. The restaurant’s about 5,000 square feet.
Patch: I assume you circulate among your restaurants in Philly (Vetri, Osteria, Amis, Alla Spina), with most of your time spent at Vetri. How often do you anticipate being at Osteria in Moorestown?
Vetri: I’m always roaming around, but the good thing about our organization is that I’m not the only chef … We’re going to have lots of trips there, and I’ll also be making the rounds there a lot also.
Patch: Do you anticipate opening any other restaurants in Jersey, or in the suburbs of Philadelphia, or do you just kind of have your eye on the ball with this?
Vetri: We’re just kind of rolling with what happens. You never know. We’ll see.
Patch: Are you excited to get this restaurant open?
Vetri: We’re really looking forward to it. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do, and now that it’s coming to fruition we’re all pretty excited.
Patch: One of our readers commented that you and your partners were honored recently by Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for your dedication to childhood cancer awareness. One of the things that’s important to people in Moorestown is having good corporate neighbors.* Do you have plans to do that here?
Vetri: We’ve been talking with the school district in Camden about possibly launching one of our school lunch programs there … We have our own foundation where we do healthy school lunches, and we basically do a family style lunch. We’ve named it the Eatiquette program. It transforms the lunch into a family style learning lunchroom. We head into the schools and we work with the chefs there and we have the whole menu that’s already laid out. And we teach them how to order and to organize the kitchen a little bit more … After that, there’s a whole front of the house interaction we work with also. We have some of the students get there early and they help to set up the tables. And then they get the food and they leave it on the table. They eat like a family, and they learn how to share. They learn to serve each other. To respect those who have prepared their food. And also to appreciate how healthy food can make you feel … We’re in six schools in Philadelphia now, and we’re probably taking on another six this year. But we have been in talks with the Camden school district, and we would love to get more involved there.
*The Vetri Family of Restaurants donates 5 percent of all profits to the Vetri Foundation for Children.