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Rick's Steaks Leaving RTM?


rlibkind
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Another public brou-ha-ha between Reading Terminal Market management and merchants bubbled to the surface this week. That's because of a petition "To Save Rick's Steaks" some vendors are asking customers to sign. According to the petition, customers are being asked to oppose the purported refusal of the market to offer Rick's a new lease, thereby forcing the eviction of the vendor. I found the petition at Godshall's, and expect other merchants may have it as well.

I was unable to reach either Market GM Paul Steinke or Rick's Steaks proprietor Rick Olivieri today, though I am seeking comments from both. It's difficult to believe (but not impossible) that the market failed to offer Rick a new lease. What's easier to believe is that a lease was offered and Rick found the terms unacceptable.

In the most recent round of lease renewals, Steinke has been seeking to restructure the lease terms and to track vendor sales, which is anathema to many of the vendors, particularly the high-volume lunch stands. All market merchants pay what is referred to as CAM, for "common area maintenance". And for virtually all merchants that figure is much larger than the separate "rent" fee. Indeed, merchants who are "purveyors" (sellers of foodstuffs for cooking/preparing at home, i.e., produce, fish, meat, etc.) don't pay rent at all, just the CAM. It's one of the mechanisms the RTM's uses to fulfill its mission of being a public market rather than a food court. Likewise, knowing the sales revenue of the vendors would enable management to charge them rents more in line with their ability to pay.

I'll post as soon as (or whether or not) I hear from the parties directly involved.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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I was just heading over this way to post about this, too. I was approached in the market this morning by an employee of Rick's, asking to sign the petition. Uninformed as I was, I signed anyway because I like Rick's and I'd prefer to see them stay at RTM. The employee who approached me was conveniently uninformed and I suspected there was more to the story than was being shared in the verbiage of the petition. I hope Rick's and RTM find a way to solve this that is fair to both parties. It would be a shame to see them go.

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Since starting this topic I've received two separate PMs reporting a rumor that Tony Luke's was going to replace Rick's. One of the correspondents thought Rick Olivieri was being singled out by market management because Rick opposes Sunday hours. The other said Olivieri refused to sign a new lease because the rent was being raised.

I have no way of knowing whether the Tony Luke rumor has any basis in fact. Although I am not privy to any lease negotiations between RTM and Rick's Steaks, I would be surprised if RTM failed to increase Rick's rent at lease renewal time.

Here are some thoughts on all of these rumors. Keep in mind they are worth no more than you paid for them. which is zilch.

I doubt Rick's purported opposition to Sunday hours has anything to do with the lease stalemate. He's certainly not the only merchant who opposes Sunday hours (so do all the Amish vendors, as do Pizza By George/Mezza and others). And if Rick did oppose Sunday on principle, why is he open at Citizens Bank Park for Sabbath afternoon ballgames?

Let's face it, this is about money: who gets it, who pays and how that money is deployed.

Replacing Rick's with Tony Luke's is not beyond the realm of possibility, but so what?

One of the PMs thought this would be terribly harmful to Tommy DiNic's. I doubt it would undermine Tommy's business. The RTM supports more than one hoagie outlet. Last time I looked, Carmen's, Salumeria, and Spataro's all competed to offer hoagies. And although it's not a hoagie shop, The Original Turkey can easily be considered a competitor. So can Mezze and its sister shop, Pizza By George, which sell "Euro" sandwiches. A cold meat sandwich is a cold meat sandwich; they are all competing with what is, in essence, an interchangeable product. My guess is there's plenty of business for both DiNic's and Tony Luke's. As it is DiNic's and Rick's compete today (both are selling hot meat sandwiches) just like Carmen's, Salumeria and Spataro's compete. Heck, Rick's competes with Spataro's, too, since Spataro offers cheese steaks these days.

If they were any real concern that a TL operation would put DiNic's out of business, a lease agreement for Tony Luke's could be written to limit the operation to steaks (and prohibit DiNic's from adding steaks). TL's would either accept or reject the lease on that basis.

Now let's talk capitalism. Assuming Rick's rejected paying higher rent, it stands to reason that the RTM would seek to replace him with a similar vendor willing to pay a higher price. If a Tony Luke's, or a John's or any other cheesesteak vendor is willing to pay a higher rent, well, that's what makes markets.

Now let's talk socialism. Why would RTM management seek to increase rents from vendors like Rick's? The critical reason would be to assure affordable rents for the purveyors of fresh foods (fish, meat, produce, dairy). They, not the hoagie and cheese steak vendors, are the heart and soul of the Reading Terminal Market.

If RTM management could not generate additional revenue from those with the highest profitable volumes (predominantly the lunchtime sandwich and meal vendors), rents would have to be raised across the board. This would harm the OK Lee's and Dutch Country Meats of the market much more than the Olivieri's and DiNic's. If the rents were based solely on square footage (rather than footage and revenue, which is what the market management is trying to implement) most of the fresh food purveyors would be priced out.

Who owns a cheese steak stand makes a big difference to the vendor, but it is of only passing interest to me. What I fear much more would be the deterioration of the Reading Termnal Market into just another food court. That's the likely outcome if increased revenues from vendors who can afford to pay are not captured to support the fresh food purveyors.

Goodbye Boston mackeral at $2.49. Hello $8 cheese steaks.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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Confirmed: Tony in, Rick out out

Rick Olivieri, proprietor of Ricks Steaks, and Paul Steinke, Reading Terminal Market General Manager, both confirmed today that no lease renewal was offered Olivieri. Rick's Steaks is scheduled to vacate its stall when the current month-to-month lease extension expires July 31. The RTM has sent Tony Luke's a formal proposal to take over the space.

The RTM board voted 6-1 not to renew Olivieri's lease and instead offer the space to Tony Luke's. No deal with TL's has been signed yet, and Steinke wouldn't hazard an estimate as to when they would begin RTM operations.

Olivieri said if he had been offered a lease, he would have signed it. "I've been in the market for 25 years, I've spent my life here."

Steinke said Rick's Steaks probably would have been offered a new lease if Tony Luke's had not expressed an interest in coming to the market.

Olivieri and at least one other merchant think his advocacy against mandatory hours as president of the RTM Merchants Association was, at the very least, a contributing factor to the decision not to renew his lease. (Olivieri points out that he is open most Sundays, even though Sunday hours are not mandatory.)

Steinke said that had nothing to do with the board's decision. He acknowledged the differences he's had with Olivieri and other merchants over mandatory hours and other issues, but said the decision was based on the chance to bring to the market a strong local operator who is regarded as the best in the business.

"Tony Luke's is a big draw," said Steinke, noting the recognition its sandwiches have received from both local and national news media. The RTM manager, after acknowledging the impact lease decisions have on individual merchants like Olivieri, emphasized that "the Board believes Tony Luke's will make the market stronger."

He added that the recommendation was brought to the full board by its own leasing committee.

Tommy Nicolosi, proprietor of DiNic's, and several other merchants appealed for the decision to be reversed when they met with the RTM board Monday.

Nicolosi said today that although Tony Luke's would not put him out of business, he's unsure how much impact it would have, especially if TL offered roast pork sandwiches, directly competing with DiNic's, as well as cheese steaks. Nicolosi observed that he doesn't have the space to add a grill for cheese steaks. His menu offers roast pork, veal, chicken, sausage and beef sandwiches.

Steinke said that in bringing any new vendor to the market his goal is to do it in a way that will not undermine the business of existing merchants.

Nicolosi and his son, Joe, said my earlier analysis of the hoagie competition at the RTM was fine as far as it went, but didn't go far enough. Father and son observed that only Carmen's relies on the hoagie business and benefits from the overflow of customers at Rick's. (A situation, I might add, that would no doubt continue or grow if Tony Luke's takes Rick's space.) Salumeria, they said, does a higher volume in cheeses, olive oils and other Italian grocery products than it does in hoagies, and Spataro's hoagie sales are secondary to its breakfast and cheese steak business.

* * *

Those are the facts and views expressed by the identified parties. What follows is pure, unadulterated opinion and speculation. (And, just to remind everyone once again, you get what you pay for.)

Olivieri won't go quietly into the night, as his petition drive demonstrates. It's unlikely he hasn't consulted his lawyers, and I'm sure articles will start appearing soon in the Inky, Daily News and the center city weeklies. The goal would be to create sufficient public and political pressure to have the board (whose membership includes direct representatives of the mayor and city council) reverse itself.

Such a reversal is unlikely. But if it happened, think about how that impacts the ability and authority of Steinke, or any other manager, to do their job. More important, what would be the implications to the market's historic mission of providing a public market while preserving its financial viability.

The merchants don't like it, but mandatory hours (especially the requirement that merchants stay open for business until 6 p.m. weekdays) are essential. How else can you attract office workers to make a stop for produce and protein after work or compete with Whole Foods? Although I don't work in Center City and would rarely take advantage of later hours, I think extending them to 7 or 8 p.m. would be even better given the increasing residential nature of the neighborhood.

While there may be some impact on DiNic's if TL offers roast pork sandwiches, it's likely to be negligible. TL would be much better off devoting resources to cheese steaks because (1) there's only minor competition and (2) that's what the tourists and most of the office workers who populate the RTM at lunch time want. Even if TL sells pork, it would be a minor part of the volume (except among dedicated eGulleters).

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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I don't know about that. One word: broccoli rabe (yes, I know).

Seriously, name recognition alone would be a serious competitive advantage. Even if the actual sandwiches weren't, you know, better.

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The guy's name is Olivieri, as in he is related to the inventor of the cheesesteak. Olivieri has been in the market for twenty five years. He was sufficiently respected to be president of the merchant's association. There do not appear to be significant lease violations. And he is being kicked out just because Tony Luke has expressed an interest in coming into the market --- because Tony Luke's is a bigger draw???

Total bulls..t. Total lack of loyalty to the longterm merchant tenants whose presence helped to turn around the market.

It is the RTM board and Stenike that should be kicked out. Not Rick Olivieri.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

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The guy's name is Olivieri, as in he is related to the inventor of the cheesesteak.  Olivieri has been in the market for twenty five years.  He was sufficiently respected to be president of the merchant's association.  There do not appear to be significant lease violations.  And he is being kicked out just because Tony Luke has expressed an interest in coming into the market --- because Tony Luke's is a bigger draw??? 

Rick's getting kicked out solely because Tony Luke's wants in? You don't need to be a brain surgeon to figure out that there's much more than this than meets the eye. Any merchant who has been in a place like the market for 25 years should be given some more consideration, particularly when they are bringing in literally hoardes (they were four rows in line deep this past Saturday) to the market. It is not like Rick wasn't paying his rent or was serving up an inferior product like prior tenants who vacated.

I also think that Tommy at DiNic's has a very valid reason to be concerned. Face it, you and I know that if Tony Luke's is permitted to sell roast pork, that this will adversely affect DiNic's business unless Tony Luke's is restricted to selling just cheese steaks. I do know that Termini's is not permitted to sell truffles at the RTM location because of the fact that they are sold across the aisle at Mueller's, so these agreements do exist...

I just hope that the folks at Capogiro don't express an interest in the market and send Bassett's out to the pasture. Maybe Stephen Starr can figure out something to do with the Down Home Diner. Not that they serve an inferior product or anything like that...

Edited by Bluehensfan (log)
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Well, now I'm very glad I signed that petition on Saturday (not that I imagine it's going to have any impact). I was curious on Saturday; now I'm angry.

This whole thing reminds of a middle-aged guy who, all of a sudden, wants to leave his wife of many year for a younger women. RTM's whole rationale seems to add up to "She's prettier!" It stinks!

What if RTM can't consummate a deal with Tony Luke's? Stranger things have happened. Does RTM go back to Olivieri and beg forgiveness? And, yes, I think DeNic's has good cause for concern. What is their crime in all of this? The whole thing seems so arbitrary and, frankly, irresponsible.

I dearly love the food at Tony Luke's but they don't need to be everywhere. This is just plain wrong.

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A quick search of the PA board shows exceedingly little written about Rick's. Among regular posters to the PA board, I've probably made the only comment that possibly could be construed as not negative, calling it "acceptable" in two different posts. In one of these threads, which asked for suggestions while visiting the RTM, one regular poster to this board was dismissive of Rick's and vehemently urged that it be avoided. You can find that comment here.

The only outright positive mention I could find came from a North Jersey visitor, here.

What's even more interesting is how infrequently Rick's is mentioned at all compared to other cheese steak emporiums. I manually searched the "The Hoagies, Cheesesteaks, Pork Italiano / Show Us What You got thread" here and failed to find a single reference.

If anyone can point to any other substantial comments about Rick's, please post them here. But I can only conclude that the eGullet members active on the board don't consider Rick's Steaks worthy of recommendation.

Edited by rlibkind (log)

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

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If anyone can point to any other substantial comments about Rick's, please post them here. But I can only conclude that the eGullet members active on the board don't consider Rick's Steaks worthy of recommendation.

I think that the cheesesteaks at Rick's are better than those I've eaten at Pat's and much better than those at Jim's. However, I am not a cheesesteak afficionado (and probably a lousy speller at that) and my opinions are heresay as I am admittedly a roast pork kind of guy. However, I can honestly say that I have tried a number of other prepared foods at the market (no need to mention names here) that were much, much, worse than a sandwich from Rick's.

Rather than debating the merits or lack thereof of Rick's cuisine, I think what is upsetting to myself and many merchants at the market is the fact that the rug (and the lease) has been pulled out from under Rick. And the reason has nothing to do with his food but rather (apparently) his opinions.

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Rick's business has to be coming from somewhere - tourists, people who work in the area, people who shop in the market. Sales don't seem to be an issue.

Rick's isn't on HollyEats. Good reason. In my 30 years as a Philadelphian I have never eaten there. I don't know if they serve a good, great or lousy cheesesteak. I'm not sure I will ever get a cheesesteak there. I doubt I will eat at a Tony Luke's in the market either. Historically Tony Luke's has never been able to duplicate their South Philly experience. I don't see that changing within the walls of the market. There are too many other places that interest me more than Rick's or a Tony Luke's at the market.

All that is moot. Rick's has been a contributing part of the market for years. They have successfully filled the cheesesteak demand. They have evidently lived up to their lease responsibilities.

Above all, Rick's is a part of the Reading Market tradition that must be respected for the role they have played in the market's history and the market's turn-around. It is that simple.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

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At the risk of beating the "younger, prettier woman" analogy into the ground, I think speculating about how good Rick's cheesesteaks are is like asking if the current wife is pretty enough.

Cheesesteak's are IMHO one of those very subjective things -- like pizza. I like Steve's; you may like Jim's. Again, it's principle here. Rick's cheesesteaks may be dead average but, in this context, it shouldn't matter.

He's been a member of that community for 20+ years, presumably in good faith. Business is not hurting in the market and, even if it were, who is to say that Rick's is the reason. You don't toss a lease out just like that without a reason. What's the real reason? It smells political to me.

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I don't know about that. One word: broccoli rabe (yes, I know).

Seriously, name recognition alone would be a serious competitive advantage. Even if the actual sandwiches weren't, you know, better.

DiNic's would offer broccoli rabe, but the clientele (read as tourists and more finicky locals) doesn't order it.

Or at least that's what he said when I mentioned it to him years ago.

I'm also in support of Rick Olivieri in this particular instance, given the facts as I understand them based on this thread.

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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Rick's business has to be coming from somewhere - tourists, people who work in the area, people who shop in the market.  Sales don't seem to be an issue. 

Agreed, sales are not an issue. Anyone who can offer a decent cheese steak at that location will sell a lot of units. That's because the location is (1) convenient to nearby office workers and (2) within two blocks of about 3,000 hotel rooms.
There are too many other places that interest me more than Rick's or a Tony Luke's at the market.

Yes. That's why, as an eater, I'm agnostic on whether Rick's lease should have been renewed. (In the course of 25 years of shopping at the RTM, I think I've had Rick's cheese steaks about half a dozen times.)
They have evidently lived up to their lease responsibilities.

Yes. But that's irrelevant. Once a lease expires the landlord has no obligation to renew, nor does the tenant have an obligation to stay.
Above all, Rick's is a part of the Reading Market tradition that must be respected for the role they have played in the market's history and the market's turn-around.

Longevity alone hardly matters, though Rick has certainly made contributions both as a merchant and as a leader of the merchants association. But the "Reading Market tradition" is not about cheese steaks and lunch counters. It's about meat, fish, poultry and dairy products. I mourned the departure of Siegfried and Margarums a few years ago much more than I would the substitution of one cheese steak vendor by another. And if the RTM doesn't sign a suitable replacement for Foster's, I will lament that as well.
At the risk of beating the "younger, prettier woman" analogy into the ground, I think speculating about how good Rick's cheesesteaks are is like asking if the current wife is pretty enough.

Olivieri and the RTM have a business relationship, not a marriage. And I don't think anyone has been "speculating" about liking or disliking Rick's cheese steak. That's not a matter of speculation, it's a matter of taste. The comments I linked to were clearly judgements by people who actually tasted Rick's steaks.
Rick's cheesesteaks may be dead average but, in this context, it shouldn't matter.

Why not? If market management believes that another operator can provide what both media and consumers perceive as a superior product, why should they not act on that belief?
Business is not hurting in the market and, even if it were, who is to say that Rick's is the reason.

Business is not off at the market; indeed, traffic is as high as it's ever been. (Although, because merchants don't want to report their revenue, it's difficult to know if the traffic converts to constant dollars.) I don't think anyone has ever suggested that Rick harms RTM traffic levels.
You don't toss a lease out just like that without a reason.  What's the real reason?  It smells political to me.

Hey, even one of Rick's most ardent and vocal supporter told me he doesn't see a conspiracy. Besides, what would be the politics here? Non-profit boards, especially those whose members depend on the kindness of politicians for their positions, rarely seek out political risk. But the RTM board, by not renewing the lease, took on more political risk than they would face in renewal. They made a determination that the potential reward outweighed the risk. That reward, they say through Steinke, willbe a strengthened market and ability to support the fresh food vendors.

Whether or not that evaluation is correct can be debated, as we are doing here, but I don't see acting on that evaluation as harmful to the market's central mission.

Since politics is often personal, is this personal? Well, from Olivieri's point of view, absolutely: it's his livelihood we're talking about and, from the way he tells the story, he was blind-sided. Steinke's point of view is, no surprise, different. He says it's not personal, but an action designed to strengthen the market.

We need to pay attention to tradition and longevity, as Holly says, but I'm not sure this situation meets that test. I don't think anyone involved fails to care about the impact this has on Rick Olivieri, his family and his employees. Still, I have little doubt that Rick will come up roses. He's a knowledgeable business person with brand recognition and a product people line up to buy. It will be tough at first, but Rick will find another location (though perhaps not with the same level of foot traffic as the RTM) and prosper.

The bottom-line to me, as a regular market shopper, is whether or not RTM management is doing all it can to preserve and promote the fresh food purveyors. Most of what I see management doing supports that mission. I don't know whether booting Rick's and bringing in Tony Luke's will accomplish that, but the RTM board has the right (indeed, the obligation) to try.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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"Sorry Frankie, it's just business." Gunshots. One man falls to the ground, dead. Two men walk away into the night.

Outside of the mob, "It's just business," translates to "I know it is not the moral thing to do and I want you to know that elsewhere I am one heck of a nice guy, but we're closing the factory, or we're laying you off, or we're not renewing your lease." More simply put, "It's just business translates to 'it's not fair, it's not right, but it's legal and that is all that matters to me.'"

A scarier cliche, "For the greater good." "For the greater good we are condemning the home you have lived in for forty years so big developer person can build a shopping mall." "For the greater good we are taking away the right of habeas corpus so 'they' don't attack us over here." For the greater good of the RTM we are getting rid of a booming business run by long term tenant to bring in a more famous business that may attract more people to the RTM.

Even that logic is lame. Assuming Tony Luke's is able to transpose the quality and personality of their South Philadelphia operation to the market, where is their business going to come from? Primarily, the same customers who patronized Ricks. Secondarily, existing customers who are lured away from the other sandwich shops, cutting into the sales of those shops but not bringing any more overall revenue or customers to the market. And way back in a distant last place, Tony Luke's may bring a few new customers to the market.

The availability of Tony Luke's over Rick's will make absolutely no difference in a visiting conventioneer's decision to eat lunch at the RTM. The availability of Tony Luke's over Rick's will have little if any influence on a meat, produce and/or fish shopper deciding to shop at the market rather than Whole Foods. I'm not sure even area office workers will lunch at the market more often just because Rick's has been replaced by Tony Luke's.

Ousting Rick's at the end of the lease is either political payback and maneuvering, an ego trip by a puppet master reshaping the market in his image, or management revenge for either Rick's power as head of the merchant's association or his refusal to pay a percentage of gross lease with the resulting auditing of his books by management.

Otherwise it just does not make business sense to not renew the lease of a long term tenant who has run a good operation. Yes, to do so is legal. But it is dumb business to replace a known, long term positive tenant with a new tenant just because the new tenant has a bigger name. Not only does it expose management to the unknown performance of a new tenant who may not adapt well to the Market's rules. Such an action also creates a "who's next" fear, dampening the morale of the remaining tenants.

Such cold management tactics may work well for a regional shopping mall. They are a slap in the face to the tradition of the Reading Terminal market.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

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Wasn't one of the issues Bob raised in his initial post the lease terms for the prepared-foods purveyors? ISTR that post also mentioned that management wants to offer them leases in which their rent is based on a combination of square footage and percentage of gross sales -- and (quite possibly to that end) management has been asking merchants to report their sales.

This issue was raised in the one grumble posted about this to Phillyblog too.

I also STR that Rick Oliveri was one of those merchants who strongly resisted reporting sales figures to management. If another vendor expresses interest in doing business and a willingness to abide by the new lease terms, while an existing vendor is unwilling to do the latter, while it may be unfair to the existing vendor, the property owner is within his rights to refuse to renew the existing vendor's lease.

A relevant tangent: The Village Coffee House across the street from me closed at the end of May. Its loss was mourned, as the owners had managed to transform it into a popular neighborhood hangout and social space that also served great coffee. The closing arose from an impasse in lease negotiations -- the Village's proprietors wanted a clause in the lease guaranteeing the same rent to anyone who bought the business from them before the lease's term expired, and the building owner was unwilling to agree to such a clause. Rather than risk having an (obviously contemplated) sale go sour, the owners chose to close.

From where I sit, these new leases do advance the Market's core mission by allowing fresh food vendors, whose margins are thinner than the prepared-foods folks, to rent space for less than they might otherwise and thus remain in business there. The presence of office workers and the Convention Center both make it real easy for the RTM to become a glorified food court absent deliberate countermeasures -- "mall management," if you will.

I'm sure some of you may find the mall-management approach Steinke is taking to the RTM's overall operations off-putting or even distasteful. But it strikes this observer as a perfectly defensible response to the competitive and physical environment in which the RTM finds itself. If, as I suspect, the non-offer of a lease to Rick is actually connected to the problems Paul is having getting sales figures on which to base a new rent amount for the space Rick occupies, then while it is sad to see a longtime merchant kicked to the curb, it is entirely understandable why he is going.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

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Wasn't one of the issues Bob raised in his initial post the lease terms for the prepared-foods purveyors? ISTR that post also mentioned that management wants to offer them leases in which their rent is based on a combination of square footage and percentage of gross sales -- and (quite possibly to that end) management has been asking merchants to report their sales.

This issue was raised in the one grumble posted about this to Phillyblog too.

I also STR that Rick Oliveri was one of those merchants who strongly resisted reporting sales figures to management. If another vendor expresses interest in doing business and a willingness to abide by the new lease terms, while an existing vendor is unwilling to do the latter, while it may be unfair to the existing vendor, the property owner is within his rights to refuse to renew the existing vendor's lease.

A relevant tangent: The Village Coffee House across the street from me closed at the end of May. Its loss was mourned, as the owners had managed to transform it into a popular neighborhood hangout and social space that also served great coffee. The closing arose from an impasse in lease negotiations -- the Village's proprietors wanted a clause in the lease guaranteeing the same rent to anyone who bought the business from them before the lease's term expired, and the building owner was unwilling to agree to such a clause. Rather than risk having an (obviously contemplated) sale go sour, the owners chose to close.

From where I sit, these new leases do advance the Market's core mission by allowing fresh food vendors, whose margins are thinner than the prepared-foods folks, to rent space for less than they might otherwise and thus remain in business there. The presence of office workers and the Convention Center both make it real easy for the RTM to become a glorified food court absent deliberate countermeasures -- "mall management," if you will.

I'm sure some of you may find the mall-management approach Steinke is taking to the RTM's overall operations off-putting or even distasteful. But it strikes this observer as a perfectly defensible response to the competitive and physical environment in which the RTM finds itself. If, as I suspect, the non-offer of a lease to Rick is actually connected to the problems Paul is having getting sales figures on which to base a new rent amount for the space Rick occupies, then while it is sad to see a longtime merchant kicked to the curb, it is entirely understandable why he is going.

FWIW, I've eaten Rick's steaks. They're merely okay, probably on a par with his relatives' steak place in South Philly or a bit below it. Unless Tony Luke blows it, I imagine he will offer a better product.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Just now watching the Fox29 "Ten O'Clock News", which is running a feature story on the Rick's Steaks ouster.

Rick Oliveri is quoted in the report as saying that it's political and motivated by his outspokenness as president of the Merchants' Association, and the reporter (whose name I didn't commit to memory) mentioned that Rick's is on a month-to month lease while the Market management is pushing to get merchants to sign long-term leases "that could significantly raise their rents." Kevin Feeley is the RTM spokesman in the report; he responds to Rick's charge by saying that if it were political, they could have done this long ago. (I guess he's all right as a spokesperson--he was Ed Rendell's when he was Mayor of Philadelphia--but I would have liked to see Steinke himself in this role here.)

The frame in which the Fox report placed the dispute is the ongoing efforts to raise the Market's profile -- the report notes that traffic at the RTM is up -- and the need to respond to competitive pressures (the report's closer). On the whole, a fairly balanced report that didn't sensationalize the matter.

More on this should 6ABC, CBS3 or NBC10 follow suit.

Edited to add: NBC10 teased the story in tomorrow's Inquirer on its newscast (the two have a content partnership).

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

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you know, i haven't had a steak from rick's in the last ... i don' t know how many years. i don't eat a lot of cheesesteaks, and i may have had one back in the day but i sure don't remember it, which may be saying something in and of itself.

i think i'll remedy that this weekend. why not, after all.

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The issue has reached both the Inquirer and the Daily News today.

It's interesting that the folks at Tony Luke's were "approached" at some point in time a while ago to come to the market.

My beef is still this, if this was truly about getting Tony Luke's to to come to the market, there are a heck of a lot of other places that they could put their stand other than at Rick's where the business is up. For example, the Down Home Diner seems spacious enough and given their history of health code violations (see page 27) maybe they should be shown the door?

Edited by Bluehensfan (log)
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At the very least, Rick should be able to tie things up some in court. Good for him. When did "too high profile to pass up" become a keystone of the Reading Terminal Market's mission statement?

Kevin Feeley, a spokesman for general manager Paul Steinke, insisted that Olivieri's departure had nothing to do with his often thorny dealings with management as head of the Reading Terminal merchants group.
And Walmart doesn't fire an employee who tries to unionize one of its stores. The Inquirer didn't observe whether Feeley managed to say this with a straight face. If so, I hear Attorney General Gonzalez is looking for a new press spokesman.

The board vote was 6 to 1 in favor of ousting Rick's Steaks. Anyone taking bets that the one board member voting in favor of keeping Rick's was the lone merchant's representative on the board?

Evidently RTM board could not come up with a more typical reason for not renewing Rick's lease - reasons such as disobeying market rules, health violations, poor sales, missed rent. They had to invent a brand sparkling new reason. "Higher profile." Let's see, John's Roast Pork is the darling of Laban and won a Beard award. Time to get rid of DiNic's. As someone else pointed out, Capogiro gets all the ice cream press. Bye bye Bassett's. I'm thinking a Tastykake retail outlet instead of Termini's. And, in a while, when the time is right, some golden arches can carve just a small chunk out of the Amish section - nothing higher profile than that. And those Amish don't cooperate with the market management - only opening Wed through Sat.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

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