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Rick's Steaks Leaving RTM?


rlibkind
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Are you perhaps referring to this passage from the story in today's Metro?

Representatives for the board say they don’t know what to expect at today’s meeting with Olivieri, and Olivieri isn’t talking. But board Chairman Ricardo Dunston is says he’s surprised it’s come this far in the first place.

“We’ve been willing to talk anytime,” said Dunston.

According to Dunston, the rift between the market’s board and Olivieri — whose store has been in the market since 1982 — began in February after Olivieri showed distaste in leasing terms that he had helped negotiate in an e-mail sent to Dunston. They included rules about standard hours of operation, sales reporting and rent increases for certain types of merchants in the market.

“We thought we had a deal,” said Dunston. “I was kind of taken aback once I got that e-mail.”

If the impression I get from this passage is accurate -- namely, that Oliveri had managed to negotiate general lease terms both the merchants and management could live with, then balked at adopting them for his own stand -- then I'm afraid that the management's non-extension of his month-to-month lease was not only defensible but perhaps the only tool it had at its disposal to "force the issue," so to speak -- and it's abundantly clear that it did that.

If my impression's not accurate -- for instance, if there were still objections to lease terms on the part of a majority of market merchants that were significant enough to cause them to hesitate to sign leases, or if leases were offered to some merchants before all the details were agreed to in the larger talks between management and the Merchants Association -- then we might still have a problem.

Edited to add: I do have some further observations on the PR aspects of this fracas. But I will hold off on expressing them until either there is a denouement (which appears a bit more likely today than it did a few days ago) or until everything breaks down completely (which I pray does not come to pass).

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

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Yes, MarketStEl, your impression, based on that section, is accurate. However, since nothing Dunston says here is true, it is impossible to decipher the truth when all one has read is false.

Therefore nullifying anything that would one conclude based solely upon this article.

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Who is to be believed? Is RTM management and board trying to oust Rick's Steaks because, according to market spokesman Kevin Feely:

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:

"We decided to go with [Tony] Luke's because it makes the market more competitive. In our view, it's just serving the mission of the market. The board voted overwhelmingly to not renew [Olivieri's] lease," said Kevin Feeley, a representative on behalf of general manager Paul Steinke.

and:

Reading Terminal management said the move is more about the opportunity to bring in a more high profile client, Tony Luke’s

or is Board Chairman Ricardo Dunston a tad more candid / factual / truthier:

According to Dunston, the rift between the market’s board and Olivieri — whose store has been in the market since 1982 — began in February after Olivieri showed distaste in leasing terms that he had helped negotiate in an e-mail sent to Dunston. They included rules about standard hours of operation, sales reporting and rent increases for certain types of merchants in the market.

Where is the Daily Show when we need them?

“To some extent, there’s a question in my mind based on events ... whether we can make a deal that [Olivieri’s] going to live with,” said Dunston.

The implication is that Rick Olivieri will not "live with" whatever deal the RTM board and Rick's Steaks might negotiate and agree to. Perhaps Dunston could spell out the past experiences with previous Rick's Steaks leases that have led him to such a pessimistic statement. One thinks that lease violations, if there were any, might have been leaked / spun during earlier RTM management and board statements.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

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Another update here, from The Metro. In it, Rick opines some degree of optimism.

Please note the conditional in the following comment:

If, as earlier reported and speculated, Rick was trying to get a better deal for himself than the merchants on whose behalf he negotiated, and as the end result of this brouhaha he commits to what the merchants association agreed, then both Rick and the RTM and, most important, those of us who shop for groceries there, win. If Rick doesn't commit to that and he leaves, well, the RTM and those of us who do our grocery shopping there win, Rick loses his gamble, and tourists and office workers will have to "settle" for another cheesesteak seller.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

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Make that a really big If

I do see that the Pennsylvania Dutch Festival is listed as an upcoming event on the Reading Terminal Market website. I suppose that could be interpreted as either a) a "premonition" that negotiations are going well or b) an "omission" that the website has not been updated to reflect the recent cancellation of the festival.

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FWIW, I ran into an acquaintance who works for a Market merchant earlier this evening.

While this person is not privy to all the details of the game, one possibly salient point I picked up in the course of conversation is that many of the merchants are supporting Rick not because they are fond of him -- apparently some of his fellow merchants think as highly of him as the RTM board appears to -- but because of the principle involved. That principle being that absent a breach of the lease, existing tenants should not be evicted without first being given an opportunity to re-up.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

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

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Reading Terminal Market management and its board has turned down Rick's Steaks' request that the RTM renew his lease. And just when I thought things couldn't get any sleezier - word has it that Rick Olivieri was told he could stay another month if he didn't tell the press.

One wonders if the board has any grasp of reality. What genius sitting at the table came up with the idea, "Even though we're taking away the livelihood of a long term merchant who was instrumental in salvaging the market at its low point, maybe he won't tell the press if we offer him a one month extension on his lease."

As I said in my first post to this thread - The RTM management and board's treatment of Rick Olivieri and Rick's Steaks is total bullsh*t. They have demonstrated that they have no loyalty to the market merchants and to the market's tradition. It is the board and the management that should be kicked out and not Ricks Steaks.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

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And just when I thought things couldn't get any sleezier - word has it that Rick Olivieri was told he could stay another month if he didn't tell the press.

It's my understanding that the Board Chair personally communicated to Rick this afternoon that the board will not revisit its vote not to renew his lease. The chair also communicated that it would work with him so he could exit in an orderly fashion (in other words, if you need another month or two, you can have it), but that if Rick was going to act like a jerk about it, he will be evicted July 31.

Is this much different from what Holly reported? No. But there are lots of ways you can convey a message. All depends on your point of view.

The part of Holly's report that I find difficult to believe is that RTM told Rick not to tell the press. The word is going to get out there -- indeed, if I were the PR counsel to RTM, I'd tell them to get it to the press before Rick did. What I understand they told him is that they would work with him if he didn't make a stink about it, and that's slightly different from simply not informing them.

Rick's not going to win the legal battle. He could, if he wishes, hold a rally. But it would be a one-day wonder. He can either tilt with windmills, or he can move on. Although I do not believe he will succeed in keeping his RTM venue, as I've said before Rick is a good operating guy and he'll find another location where he can prosper. It may not be as sweet a deal as he's had at the RTM, but he'll do well once he concentrates his energies.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

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I have faith in my source(s) of information.

I also have faith in good attorneys. I suspect that, with or without the RTM board's so-called "benevolence," come August 1 and come September 30 there will still be a Rick's Steaks at Reading Terminal Market.

Edited to add:

I also have faith that the power of public opinion occasionally trumps arrogant, unjust management stances.

And I am still hoping that Tony Luke will do the right thing and back out of the deal rather than risking damage to his image and rather than willingly walking into the mare's nest of management v. merchant relations that Reading Terminal Market will become if the RTM board and management is successful in ousting Rick's Steaks. Talk about being the unpopular new kid in school ...

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

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I also have faith in good attorneys; but you can have good attorneys on both sides, and unless they settle before a verdict is rendered or an order entered, one of them has to lose. Rick may have a good attorney; I know RTM has a good one.

As for public opinion trumping "arrogant, unjust management stances," not everyone holds the same opinion as you. Public opinion doesn't give a damn who makes their cheesesteak; it only counts to a couple of score of crazy foodies like us. Rick will get a one-day shot with the media come July 31 (or August 1), and then the press and public opinion will move on. In the words of George Washington Plunkett, "Reformers are only morning glories."

You need to talk to more of the merchants, Holly, including those who haven't been quoted by the press. While all the signatories to the ad certainly would rather RTM management had handled this better, many also believe that Rick was hardly a model of virtue and planted the seeds for his own demise. They support him . . . to a point. What matters more to each individual merchant is what RTM management does to help their individual businesses.

As for Tony Luke, (1) I doubt he will care much what the other merchants think and (2) I don't think most of the merchants will think less of TL for taking advantage of an opportunity. I doubt any one of them, if offered, would turn down the opportunity to take over a cheese steak stand at Rick's location. More than one merchant has told me he covets the ability of Rick's business to mint money.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

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I also have faith that the power of public opinion occasionally trumps arrogant, unjust management stances. 

And I am still hoping that Tony Luke will do the right thing and back out of the deal rather than risking damage to his image and rather than willingly walking into the mare's nest of management v. merchant relations that Reading Terminal Market will become if the RTM board and management is successful in ousting Rick's Steaks.  Talk about being the unpopular new kid in school ...

I wish I had your faith. As time passes and the dust settles everyone will adjust to the injustice and carry on with their day-to-day business.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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And I am still hoping that Tony Luke will do the right thing and back out...

Yeah, right, let's line up for golden goose sammies on Oregon Ave. as we watch RTM give the franchise to Pat's or Geno's.

Charlie, the Main Line Mummer

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I also have faith in good attorneys; but you can have good attorneys on both sides, and unless they settle before a verdict is rendered or an order entered, one of them has to lose. Rick may have a good attorney; I know RTM has a good one.

With our court system finality takes time. Quite often, lots of time.

As for public opinion trumping "arrogant, unjust management stances," not everyone holds the same opinion as you. Public opinion doesn't give a damn who makes their cheesesteak; it only counts to a couple of score of crazy foodies like us. Rick will get a one-day shot with the media come July 31 (or August 1), and then the press and public opinion will move on. In the words of George Washington Plunkett, "Reformers are only morning glories."

Or not. Depends on the framing of the issue. The issue is not cheesesteaks. The issue is that Rick Olivieri is being deprived of his livelihood of twenty five years. The issue is that Rick Olivieri is one of the few merchants who came into the market when it was a dark, dank grungy embarrassment and who played a key role in making it into the grand showcase it is today. Rather than being respected by the board for his impact on the market's success, he gets screwed by the Reading Terminal Market board just because they can.

You need to talk to more of the merchants, Holly, including those who haven't been quoted by the press. While all the signatories to the ad certainly would rather RTM management had handled this better, many also believe that Rick was hardly a model of virtue and planted the seeds for his own demise. They support him . . . to a point. What matters more to each individual merchant is what RTM management does to help their individual businesses.

One of us needs to talk with more merchants, perhaps. The large majority of merchants who signed the petition to save Rick's Steaks is impressive. That the Amish merchants unanimously backed Rick's Steaks by canceling the Dutch Festival is stunning. I would also be surprised if the majority of merchants had elected a fellow merchant who was "hardly a model of virtue" to be president of the RTM Merchant's Association for so many years.

As for Tony Luke, (1) I doubt he will care much what the other merchants think and (2) I don't think most of the merchants will think less of TL for taking advantage of an opportunity. I doubt any one of them, if offered, would turn down the opportunity to take over a cheese steak stand at Rick's location. More than one merchant has told me he covets the ability of Rick's business to mint money.

I have tremendous respect for Tony Luke for what he has achieved in South Philadelphia and for the quality of his product from his restaurant. I also believe that he is the kind of straight-forward person who does business walking through the front door rather than sneaking in the back door. Yes, Rick's Steaks occupies some of the most valuable real estate in the market. Yes, whoever goes there is going to make a lot of money. But sometimes people choose the honorable over the profitable.

What I understand they told him is that they would work with him if he didn't make a stink about it, and that's slightly different from simply not informing them.

Sort of like the warden telling a death row inmate ready to walk the Long Green Mile, "If you are a good boy and don't fight the guards taking you to the chair, I'll make sure they wet the sponge they put on your head."

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

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A few times here I've raised the issue of Reading Terminal Market directors applying regional shopping mall strategies to management of the Reading Terminal Market. Maybe I should have said regional shopping mall and international airport retail strategies.

According to the City Paper, the Chairman of the Board, Ricardo Dunston is

The Reading Terminal Market Corporation is a nonprofit created by City Council, but controlled by the mayor. Ricardo Dunston, selected by Street to chair the corporation, also manages retail franchises at the airport. Dunston's company reportedly gave $100,000 to the mayor's re-election.

Maybe if Rick's can hang in there until the new administration takes over city hall ...

Holly Moore

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"But sometimes people choose the honorable over the profitable."

I'd hope so.

But if not, and I may be in the minority here, I will definitely not be getting anything at Tony Lukes at the market locale just on principle.

Kinda like not shopping at WalMart- I may be just one person, but I'd like to think that if everyone thought that way it may add up to be a measurable difference.

You may say I'm a dreamer....

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Holly, I think we'll just have to agree to disagree on some of our interpretations of "facts". But many of the issues you raise don't appear out of the mists as if by magic; they are real and important concerns which cause the high levels of passion we've witnessed.

The most critical is the one most recently raised and succintly put by bluehensfan, but stated by you and others previously: Who's Next?

That is what, imho, drives all the merchants who signed the petition. The very point you raise about taking away their livelihoods, and the perception (correct or incorrect) that it is being done to Rick in a cavalier manner creates an atmosphere of mistrust and fear. Although I do not impute all the dark, evil motives you do, clearly the burden falls upon market management to demonstrate that they are acting in the best interests of all the market's constituencies, merchants included. Management must assure merchants they will not use the nuclear weapon of non-renewal lightly; when they do, as they have in Rick's case, they've got to forthrightly explain why. Through this point in time, market management has been either unable, unwilling, or constrained from doing so.

Even before the dust settles on this episode, whatever the outcome, market management must allay those merchant fears and rebuild trust.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

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I also have faith in good attorneys; but you can have good attorneys on both sides, and unless they settle before a verdict is rendered or an order entered, one of them has to lose. Rick may have a good attorney; I know RTM has a good one.

As for public opinion trumping "arrogant, unjust management stances," not everyone holds the same opinion as you. Public opinion doesn't give a damn who makes their cheesesteak; it only counts to a couple of score of crazy foodies like us. Rick will get a one-day shot with the media come July 31 (or August 1), and then the press and public opinion will move on. In the words of George Washington Plunkett, "Reformers are only morning glories."

You need to talk to more of the merchants, Holly, including those who haven't been quoted by the press. While all the signatories to the ad certainly would rather RTM management had handled this better, many also believe that Rick was hardly a model of virtue and planted the seeds for his own demise. They support him . . . to a point. What matters more to each individual merchant is what RTM management does to help their individual businesses.

As for Tony Luke, (1) I doubt he will care much what the other merchants think and (2) I don't think most of the merchants will think less of TL for taking advantage of an opportunity. I doubt any one of them, if offered, would turn down the opportunity to take over a cheese steak stand at Rick's location. More than one merchant has told me he covets the ability of Rick's business to mint money.

I think the merchants have it exactly right. They're not backing him because he's a saint or a jerk. They're backing him because, as Sandy pointed out earlier in this thread, ". . . of the principle involved. That principle being that absent a breach of the lease, existing tenants should not be evicted without first being given an opportunity to re-up."

This notion that Rick will survive and thrive elsewhere obscures the issue. If RTM can do this to Rick with the thinnest veneer of a business case, what would stop them from doing this to any other merchant in the Market? The other merchants are smart enough not to buy the "Rick had this coming" line. That's just today's excuse. What will tomorrow's be? Rick's behavior is a footnote to the other merchants because they recognize abuse of power when they see it.

I don't have as much faith in human nature as Holly does but I share his hope. And I hope Rick doesn't go down without a fight because I believe -- his behavior notwithstanding -- that he is right. As futile as it might seem, I think a principle is worth fighting for.

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Now that it's all over but the shouting, which may or may not get louder in the next month or two, I think it safe to comment on the public-relations aspect of this issue.

As should be clear by now, I have a more benign view of the current Market management's approach to operating the institution than I believe Holly does, though I acknowledge his point that "mall management" could just as easily damage this precious gem as polish it. But I do believe that management -- especially the current General Manager -- understands the market's special mission, and that its actions are by and large taken with that mission uppermost in mind.

Which brings us to the public-relations debacle. Part of the problem began with a public justification for the non-renewal that just about everyone could see through: there was clearly something else going on besides "an opportunity to strengthen the market" by bringing in a Big Name. I harbor no illusions that the management could have avoided an outcry with a different PR strategy -- given the stakes and parties involved, that would have been impossible. But the lessons I take from similar PR debacles is that more, and more detailed, information is always better than less, and that a more honest explanation of the issues is better than an excuse. (Edited to add: The gold standard in crisis communications remains Johnson & Johnson/McNeil's handling of the contaminated Tylenol problem.) Not knowing the details of what had been going on over the past few years leading up to this event, I cannot presume to second-guess the people who made these decisions, but it does seem to me that a more plausible and defensible explanation for the action could have been made by referencing the Market's mission, and the importance of having it remain a source for fresh food in general and local fresh food in particular, explicitly -- and how the leases the management advocated would advance that mission.

My former employer got a lot of heat from some quarters, including many members of its own staff and faculty, for the moves it made to reshape University City over the past 15 or so years, but in general what Penn has done since ~1990 has been far better received than what it did in the 1960s because they could place it in a context of neighborhood stabilization and renewal. RTM management, to be blunt, did a pretty poor job of placing the Rick's non-renewal in a larger context that could have made sense to some people.

But this is all Monday morning quarterbacking. What's important now, as Bob said, is for the Market management to rebuild trust and harmony with its merchants. I hope that this task can be completed in time for the 2008 Pennsylvania Dutch Festival.

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

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Now that it's all over but the shouting, which may or may not get louder in the next month or two...

If that is the case, the Board wins. But the market loses. Each remaining merchant in the market loses. The community loses.

The board and current market management refused to offer Rick's Steaks a new lease, at the same time arrogantly stating to merchants who objected that while there will be some public outcry it will blow over quickly - just like the last time, when the board and management booted out other merchants at the end of their lease, taking away those merchants' livelihoods too.

"Who is next?" is a great question - one that speaks directly to the board and management's intended intimidation of remaining market merchants.

Here are two more questions.

Why is a Philadelphia institution, boasting the tradition and sense of community that is the Reading Terminal Market, being shepherded by a board that choses to manage through intimidation rather than participation?

Should a Philadelphia institution that is primarily a sum of its merchants have but a single merchant voice on a board of directors that is composed primarily of lawyers and the politically connected - a board that has total discretionary power over each merchant's continued existence no matter how much contribution a merchant makes to the market?

The Reading Terminal Market has been around a lot longer than the current board and management structure born out of political finagling tied into the construction of the Philadelphia Convention Center. At the time many Philadelphians feared that the city's and the convention center's long range goal was to reduce the Reading Terminal Market to a mere extension of the convention center - just one more selling point as to why organizations should choose to hold their conventions in Philadelphia. Bringing Tony Luke's into the market is a step in that direction.

What's important now, as Bob said, is for the Market management to rebuild trust and harmony with its merchants.

... thereby keeping things calm until the next time that the board and the management arbitrarily decides to not renew other merchant leases.

The meek may eventually inherit the earth, but their days at the Reading Terminal Market are surely numbered.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

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While I agree that the Rickviction doesn't quite smell right, the reaction makes me wonder about a few things.

Where was the outrage when the last market tenants (A.A. Haltemann, Braverman, etc) were not offered new leases? Were those vendors not counting on those market stands for their livelihood? What's special abut Rick? Braverman's had been there through the dark days, hadn't they? Was there a Braverman's rally we didn't know about? Did the Amish cancel a festival in protest that we didn't notice?

It's harsh, but isn't this the way the world works? As Mummer mentioned earlier, it's not always fair, but sometimes businesses make changes. Stores lose their leases all the time, or are forced to give them up due to new conditions. New circumstances cause businesses to do things like change their computer networks (and they can't always keep the guy who's been running it for 25 years, just because he's been running it for 25 years...)

One can certainly argue about the wisdom of the various changes that have been made, and will be made, but are we really arguing that no changes should ever be made unless the vendors want to go?

I don't have a strong opinion about the quality of Rick's steaks, I haven't had one in years, but I don't dislike him or his product. We've had a couple of reports here on eG that recent samplings indicate that he makes a perfectly passable cheesesteak, and that's fine, but when visitors post on these boards and ask about what to do at the Reading Terminal Market, or even what to do in Philly, I don't recall a SINGLE time that any of our number has recommended that they stop by Rick's.

If people ask where to get a good cheesesteak while they're in Philly, Tony Luke's is often mentioned.

I honestly have no idea what the motivations of the RTM management were for wanting to replace Rick's with Tony Luke's, but isn't it at least plausible that it could have something to do with that? If the general sense is that Rick's product is OK, but not thrilling, and they could get someone who makes the same thing and receives raves, doesn't that strengthen the market? Is that any different than replacing Braverman's with Flying Monkey?

Wouldn't it be nice to tell a tourist that they could get a really rocking good cheesesteak within a few steps of their convention, or within an easy walk from many touristy destinations? Really, when's the last time any of us suggested Rick's to a visitor as the place to get a steak? Holly, your website, with lots of cheesteak reviews, doesn't mention him - why not?

I'm not trying to be an apologist for the RTM management, I don't think they handled this really well, but part of the clumsiness of their response could be due to them being surprised that anybody really cared. I mean no insult to Rick's, but I never had the sense of people cherishing that stand as a local treasure. It's possible that they expected a response like when Braverman's was moved out: some folks were disappointed, some remain so, but most visitors to the market see that there's still a bakery, and that's fine.

I agree that it really feels unfair that someone can run a successful business, do nothing wrong, then lose his lease. But it happens. Whether it's a commercial landlord simply wanting to move in a better-paying tennant, or a nonprofit board looking to "strengthen" or merely change the balance of a location, it's within their rights. I'm not sure there's indisputable proof that the RTM board has dark motives, that they're motivated merely by a desire to punish an uppity merchant.

Should there be a stronger vendor presence on the board? A community/customer voice? Maybe, those might be good ideas, and should probably be suggested to the Mayor or to City Council. In the meantime, complaints on forums like these, petitions, protests, cancellations of festivals, etc. might have some impact, and perhaps the board will be more cautious, and seek more input before making changes. But in the end, these decisions are up to the board. If you're sure they're ruining the market, you need to tell the Mayor to change the board.

(edited typo)

Edited by philadining (log)

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I don't recall a SINGLE time that any of our number has recommended that they stop by Rick's.

In addition, as noted upthread, at least one regular on this board has steered visitors away from Rick's.

FWIW, re: the Amish killing this year's Pa. Dutch fest, one of their number decided it would be all right to participate in today's ice cream festival created by RTM management. So much for moral outrage.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

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So Rick is Philly's biggest martyr since David Marston.

Remember the pair of photos in Philly mag at that time? This one's David Marston, that one's Jesus Christ.

Charlie, the Main Line Mummer

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I don't recall a SINGLE time that any of our number has recommended that they stop by Rick's.
In addition, as noted upthread, at least one regular on this board has steered visitors away from Rick's.

I have a new mantra. "It is not about cheesesteaks. It is about RTM management, with no justification, taking away a man's 25 year livelihood, the sort of business a father builds to leave to the generations that follow. It is about RTM management ignoring the contribution of a key merchant for 25 years. It is about "who is next?""

I had my first cheesesteak at Rick's yesterday. Let me be the first on eGullet to say, "If you are in Center City and you want a good, representative, South Philly cheesesteak, go to Rick's Steaks."

Now can Rick's stay?

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

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