Heirloom Kitchen opens pop-up restaurant in Philly after COVID-19 shatters dreams of a permanent location in the city

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When rumors of a potentially highly transmissible virus began almost two years ago, no one could have foreseen the vast implications it would end up having.

In particular, the service industry is feeling the worst economic times than at any time in recent history, and countless people have seen their businesses and their lives run in nerve-wracking limbo.

But now, with faint glimpses of a twinkling light visible at the end of what has been a long, dark tunnel, restaurateurs David Viana and Neilly Robinson are back in the proverbial saddle.

The two are partners in Heritage cuisine, the popular, North Jersey, chef’s table and cooking school concept in Old Bridge, County Middlesex. Robinson, a Drexel graduate, is the owner and operator of the restaurant, and Viana, James Beard nominee in 2018 and former Bravo’s Top Chef nominee, is in charge of the kitchen.

Restaurateurs were set to expand with a location in Philly, and weeks before they were set to sign a lease for restaurant space in Callowhill, COVID-19 closures and stay-at-home orders came in in force.

The pandemic has ruined plans for a permanent location, but Heirloom Kitchen has managed to make it to Philly with a temporary pop-up restaurant that is open until December 19 in 931 Spring Garden Street

The award-winning restaurant prides itself on its ‘polite and unpretentious’ approach to all things culinary, and offers an ever-changing, seasonally-focused menu where almost everything from bread to mustard is made from scratch. internally.

Robinson founded Heirloom together with his mother, Judy.

“My mom was figuring out what to do with herself because my dad fell in love with golf. Her name was a golf widow,” Robinson joked. “I was really entrepreneurial, I wanted to do something around food and I wanted to start my own business.”

Heirloom started out only as a cooking school and retail space, where they taught classes and sold an organized selection of various kitchen items.

However, the business model was not working exactly as expected, so Robinson looked to evolve and brought in Viana to start an elevated weekend supper club.

“I was at a point in my career when I first met Neilly where I was almost about to stop cooking,” Viana said. “I had worked for what I thought were unfair people. This is the part of the industry that people don’t talk about, bad ownership and abuse. I was really at that precipice where I envisioned really not to do it anymore. “

He cooked alongside Bobby Flay and Michael White and honed his skills at some of the best restaurants in the world, including Eleven Madison Park and the two Michelin star Villa Joya in Portugal.

“It was a last chance to team up with someone I had professional and creative interests with,” said Viana. “I thought he was someone who trusted me and that we had a synergy and if that didn’t work, I really wasn’t meant for it.”

The couple quickly met with remarkable success, so they embarked on the debut of what was a long-standing dream for the two of them, opening a restaurant in Philadelphia.

Robinson and Viana savor their free time, savoring the extraordinary food that can be found all over town. So they thought it natural to expand and test the notoriously critical waters of the local food scene.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in the time that we’re collaborating and working together in Jersey and cultivating something really special,” said Robinson. “Philadelphia was just talking to us. It was like a city we would naturally fit into without having to be something we are not.”

They found a space to house what would have been Heirloom Kitchen’s new flagship restaurant at 930 Spring Garden St., and after a year and a half of planning it all finally fell into place.

Then, two weeks before they were about to sign the lease, the COVID-19 pandemic put the world on hold, everything stopped and their aspirations were put aside.

“I was gutted,” Viana said. “It was quite devastating.”

They quickly had to shift gears and focus on keeping their original location afloat, putting their Philadelphia restaurant plans on hold.

“We cried and got over it and then got busy growing our business, almost like we somehow forgot about it,” said Robinson.

As things calmed down and life took on the appearance of something akin to normal, the owner of their future permanent location approached them with the idea of ​​a pop-up.

After playing around with the thought, they came to see it as the perfect opportunity for a try.

“For us, it felt like an opportunity to scratch that itch, to see if we really belong in Philadelphia,” said Robinson.

The pop-up is across from Spring Garden Street in Callowhill from where they planned to plant roots. This is the site of the old W / NW / N Coffee Bar.

By the end of December, the kitchen will cook a thoughtful, three-course pre-fix meal for $ 55. The menu will feature some of Heirloom’s beloved dishes in an effort to show why they have won such a host of fierce admirers.

They brought in a friend and frequent collaborator Ricardo Rodriguez, known for his work at Miami’s Broken Shaker, to create a list of unique cocktails.

With the first week already under their belt, Robinson and Viana say business has been great and a large number of friends and community leaders have come by to show their support.

“We are really happy with the current situation, it is going better than expected, we feel lucky,” said Viana. “We definitely feel the love of Philly and we are so grateful.”

With just over a month to go, the team is focused on the present, working diligently, and enjoying something that is long overdue.

“Right now, even with no idea what the next five weeks are really going to look like for us, I feel like it was meant to be,” said Robinson. “We’ve been chewing on it for a month in a row to open this thing up and it’s been extremely intimidating, it’s been a wild ride.”

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