My Friend’s Tavern
315 E. Main St.
COLLEGEVILLE — For a guy who claims he’s not a motorhead anymore, Joe Vuotto is as fired up as a ’68 Mustang 428 Cobra Jet about Sunday’s 15th Annual “Main Street Drag” in Collegeville.
“I did have a ‘66 Mustang once and I sold it … and now I kick myself every day for doing that,” said the man who runs the popular My Friend’s Tavern with his dad, Tim Vuotto.
Besides the gratification in helping to promote what he sees as a community-oriented gathering, Joe’s excitement is understandably motivated by some pecuniary anticipation as well.
Like a retailer on the brink of Black Friday, his small restaurant that is sitting handsomely in the heart of an event that will attract thousands of hungry spectators is poised for what could easily be its busiest day of the year.
“The car show has been great for us; this will be our fourth one,” Joe said. “How much business are you normally going to do in the middle of the summer on a Sunday afternoon? An event like this is a wonderful thing. We really look forward to it. The day after the show we start talking about the next year, getting all our ducks in a row. A lot of car guys hang out here. They can sit on my patio and watch their cars. There will be people here from early morning waiting for me to open up.”
Tim Vuotto opened My Friend’s Tavern in 1983 in the Collegeville Shopping Center, then anchored by Acme market.
Ten years later he and his son relocated the business to the nearby shopping center where Redner’s market holds forth, further invigorating the MFT legend.
But with a solid following developed, it was at long last time to ditch the renter’s mentality and buy the East Main Street building that was once the home of Satchmo’s restaurant in 2010, Joe said.
“It was time for a change. The place we had in the Redner’s center was four times the size, but we knew it was time to stop renting and time to downsize. We bought this building and renovated it … put in hardwood floors, built the bar, ceiling, new electric, everything. It took over a year to get it done.”
Luckily, longtime fans of the bar-restaurant renowned for its Cattleman’s prime rib in three cuts (14 ounces, 21 ounces and 32 ounces) were more than willing to navigate the sometimes crazy Collegeville traffic to find a renewed MFT across the road, offering seating for 40 with a warm pub ambience, several local craft beers on tap and in bottles and savory signature fare ranging from steak melt wraps (($9.95) and Riverside Saloon Burgers (fried onions, garlic, green peppers and provolone cheese; $8.75 for the 8-ounce version) to Chesapeake Crab Cakes ($16.95).
“We had such a great following from all those years, so we had that to build on, plus we have a lot more exposure on Main Street, so we’ve gotten a lot of new customers,” Joe said. “And we were only open two months when we got this car show crowd three years ago. We had a thousand people stopping in. I was handing out menus all day. That was a real boost.”
Joe credits much of the eatery’s following to longtime chef Jim McGuire.
“Most people know this guy and realize the product he puts out is so good. He’s not just a guy who can make a good sandwich … all his dinners are freshly prepared. Nothing is ever out of a can. And with other restaurants, they get new chefs all the time and the food is always different, but we have the consistency because of him.”
Tim proudly points out that My Friend’s Tavern was recently ranked number one by travel website TripAdvisor.
“It feels really good to be number one out of 57 restaurants,” he said, grinning, as McGuire arrived to snip some fresh basil from the huge terra-cotta pot on the front patio.
Father and son regularly field a lot of inquiries about their operation’s curious name.
Folks may be hoping for a truly compelling yarn, but the truth is that Tim just needed to come up with a name on the fly for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
“Someone said, well, you have a lot of friends in town,” Tim recalled. “So he said, ‘why not just call it My Friend’s Tavern?’”
Follow Gary Puleo on Twitter @Mustangman48