AMBLER >> If Chad Rosenthal, the owner of barbecue joint The Lucky Well, has anything to say about it, his restaurant will soon represent a lot more than Memphis-style comfort food. It will be a symbol of philanthropy.
With plans to expand The Lucky Well underway — a second location is expected to open in Philly’s Spring Arts District this summer — Rosenthal also intends to open a connected commissary dedicated to making his personally designed BBQ sauces and dry rubs.
And who will staff the new Lucky Well Commissary? If everything proceeds according to Rosenthal’s vision, roughly 10-15 Philadelphians experiencing homelessness.
The commissary employees wouldn’t work in the main restaurant (at least not at first), but they would earn a steady income producing some of the restaurant’s most notable ingredients. They’d also earn some valuable work experience.
Rosenthal said the idea to employ people affected by extreme poverty came to him while he was volunteering at a shelter over Thanksgiving. He said he met roughly 40 people that day — one of whom was a former chef — and felt moved to help them in some way.
“I got to meet some of the these people and it just came to me,” said Rosenthal. “There’s so many people out there in need. And they just don’t know how to take that next step and find these opportunities, to get work.”
Then and there, Rosenthal, who also owns two short-order banh mi restaurants in Montgomery County, resolved to find a way to make The Lucky Well a humanitarian operation.
He thought, “Maybe I can build something that’s going to help my concepts while at the same time give back and be able to help people. I think it would be a win/win if we could make it work.”
Hiring a full staff of men and women experiencing homelessness is a somewhat unorthodox idea, though, and will take some up-front capital to become reality. That’s why Rosenthal is hoping to attract community donations through a Kickstarter campaign.
The fundraiser has so far brought in more than $13,000 in donations, but with a tight deadline of Feb. 13 to reach a $125,000 goal, the chef stressed that he needs more than “likes” and “shares” on social media — he needs cash.
“This thing was shared like 300 times,” said Rosenthal, who is known to many for his appearances on Food Network programs like “Chopped” and “Food Network Star.” “But I don’t think people understand that I need the money to make it happen.”
“If everyone that said how much they love this idea opened their wallet and put 25 dollars on a credit card, we’d be halfway to our goal right now,” he said.
Katie Everett, founder of My City Gives, the nonprofit working with Rosenthal on this endeavor, said she’s excited about The Lucky Well Commissary project because it’s “something the restaurant industry doesn’t tend to do. What he’s trying to do is really, really unique.”
“Philadelphia is America’s poorest big city,” Everett said. “It’s kind of held that title for the last 10 years. Over 25 percent of the population is living below the poverty line.
“One of the reasons this opportunity is so important is that the biggest barrier” for people experiencing extreme poverty or homelessness “is access to career and employment opportunities. It’s the biggest barrier to self-sufficiency.”
“Sometimes all you need is one great experience to build your confidence again,” Everett added. “By creating this space and this opportunity — it’s going to change lives.”
The $125,000 Rosenthal is raising would go to every facet of the Lucky Well Commissary, from building the kitchen, to buying the necessary vehicles, to training and hiring people.
As for the new, full-service Lucky Well restaurant and bar, Rosenthal said patrons can expect a slightly different experience from his Ambler spot.
This location will be more cafeteria-style, with folks lining up and choosing their proteins, “and then we’re going to cook ‘em right there in front of you,” said Rosenthal. “It’ll be a little grittier, a little more hipstery. Little bit quicker service. I love it. I love the area.”
The new Lucky Well will be located at 990 Spring Garden St., Philadelphia.