World-renowned chef Marc Vetri has signed a “letter of interest” with Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) to open a fine dining restaurant at Moorestown Mall should referendums approving liquor licenses pass next month.
Vetri, a James Beard Award and Iron Chef winner, already owns and operates three acclaimed high-end, Italian-style restaurants in Philadelphia. His flagship, Vetri, was named one of the 50 best restaurants in the country by Gourmet Magazine in 2006 and received the Philadelphia Inquirer's highest restaurant rating, along with a host of other accolades.
PREIT president Joe Coradino made the announcement Thursday, calling it “not just a home run; it’s a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to win the World Series.”
“If you had your fantasy conclusion to what you want to put at Moorestown Mall, this is a game-changer,” Coradino said.
Coradino has tried to stamp out speculation that the type of restaurants PREIT would look to bring to the Moorestown Mall, if the referendums pass, would be chains of the Applebee’s and Ruby Tuesday’s variety. He’s said the caliber of restaurants he has in mind would be “at a higher level” than even those at the Cherry Hill Mall. Thursday’s announcement of an agreement with Vetri seems to back up that claim.
PREIT plans to announce over the next few weeks the other three restaurants it hopes to open. Coradino—and by extension PREIT— for four liquor licenses at the mall upon passage of the referendums, and would presumably sell those licenses to the restaurants for the same price.
All the agreements with those restaurants will likely take the form of letters of interest, said Chris Russell, spokesman for Property Tax Relief for Moorestown, since PREIT can’t get them to commit until or if the referendums pass.
A letter of interest is non-binding, he said, and represents a “formal expression of interest in pursuing a deal.”
Coradino put it in plainer terms when asked what the letter means: “I think it means if we get a ‘yes’ on the liquor referendums, we’ll get Vetri. I think it’s as simple as that.”
In a release put out by Russell, Vetri states, “Moorestown will provide us with our first opportunity to bring a member of the Vetri Family of restaurants to a sophisticated, suburban audience, many of whom are already guests in our Philadelphia locations … We are hopeful that the referendums pass and look forward to a wonderful partnership with both PREIT and the people of Moorestown.”
Coradino believes the addition of a Vetri restaurant to Moorestown Mall will attract customers from across the area, not just the township, who will no longer have to venture into the city to experience the kind of high-end, epicurean dining his establishments offer.
“Think of it this way: All of the people who drive to Philadelphia and battle parking, and have to walk from parking to his restaurants, now can park in front of his restaurant,” Coradino said, “and experience the food in a much more convenient fashion.”
Resident William Cox—whose lawsuit against the township and the county clerk pursuant to the referendums —said PREIT’s announcement is “a calculated strategy to parcel out the information … They understand it’s better to parcel out this information than put it out there all at once.”
But he’s not so sure the announcements are having an impact.
After speaking with a number of people at the festival this past weekend, Cox said, “I think most people have made up their minds already.”
Judge Ronald Bookbinder will hear Cox’s case at 2 p.m. Friday at the courthouse in Mount Holly. Follow Moorestown Patch tomorrow afternoon for the outcome.
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