In 2013, Food & Wine named Philadelphia’s East Passyunk Avenue one of the “Ten Best Foodie Streets in America,” and leading the list of reasons why was Fond. Started by three friends, two of whom honed their skills at the celebrated French restaurant Le Bec-Fin (and are now married), the inviting spot serves contemporary American fare with French influences. Diners can order a la carte from choices like foie gras sausage with pickled lobster mushrooms and housemade mozzarella or opt for a five- or seven -course tasting menu. Either way, save room for desserts like brown butter lemon pudding cake and malted milk chocolate ice cream, expertly crafted by co-owner and pastry chef Jessie Prawlucki.
Fond just celebrated its anniversary last week, and as one diner recently gushed, “After seven years, I am always thrilled with the creativity of chef Styer.” OpenTable talked with Fond’s co-owner and head chef Lee Styer about working with friends, keeping the menu fresh, and why they love running a restaurant in Philadelphia.
Congratulations on your 7th anniversary! How has Fond developed such a passionate and devoted following in Philly?
I think we have gained a successful following by offering a high quality of food and service while still allowing our guests to remain comfortable. We want our guests to come in and eat good food in a relaxed environment. We treat our guests at Fond like we would treat guests in our own home. I think people have realized that they can come here and enjoy a great meal and feel welcome without a pretentious vibe.
How have you kept the menu fresh and exciting over the years?
Our menu is ever changing, but we do keep a few of the popular items on the menu for a longer period of time. We also always have different specials that we run from week to week. We try to keep our product and menu consistent while changing the ingredients and techniques over the seasons.
Fond was one of the pioneers of East Passyunk Avenue, which has been called one of the best foodie streets in America by Food & Wine. What was the neighborhood like when you opened your doors, and what has changed since then?
Over 20 restaurants and food service establishment have opened in the last seven years since we opened. It’s great to see new places come into the neighborhood and offer a different dining option. The neighborhood has grown tremendously with increased foot traffic and additional families moving to the area. Services like the valet parking enable the neighborhood to sustain its steady growth.
What are the benefits and challenges of working with your spouse and friend?
When we opened seven years ago, Tory, Jessie, and I worked all day in a tiny restaurant space. Since then Jessie has moved into Belle Cakery and now is at home with our two small children, and Tory and I are now at a larger location at 1537 South 11th street. Working so closely with good friends has its ups and downs. Some of the positives are: all three partners are working for a specific goal, i.e. the success of Fond. Some of the challenges are that we may have different ways of reaching those goals. It had been a great opportunity to work with Tory and Jessie, but it has been also improved when each of us has had a little bit more room to expand our individual areas of focus.
Where do you find inspiration for your dishes and desserts?
The inspiration for the food comes from what is available and the ideas of our kitchen staff: myself, Rachel, Justin, and Ting Ting, and, of course, Jessie for desserts. We like to use combinations that we know people like and we make food that we would like to eat. We do not want our guests to think too hard about what they are eating. They should recognize what is on the plate and enjoy the simplicity of the food.
Philadelphia is a food lover’s haven. What do you love about running a restaurant here?
We love Philadelphia because the people are very genuine; if they do not like something, they will let you know. I like the honesty of the clientele. It helps us be as genuine as possible. We also really enjoy the relationship between other restaurants and chefs, especially on East Passyunk.
Regan Stephens lives in Brooklyn, New York, and when she’s not writing about food or beer, you might find her taking in all the great things about the city (restaurants, museums, plays!), reading on her Kindle, or eating ice cream. Probably the last thing. Say hi on twitter @reganstephens.