Posted on: July 20, 2022 Posted by: TigerWebs Comments: 0

Chef Jose Garces has closed Distrito, saying the upscale-casual Mexican restaurant “just couldn’t support itself financially” during the summertime business lull in University City and given rising food costs.

Garces said he hoped to reopen when students return in late August but acknowledged that it would be difficult to gauge, given economics. “We’re definitely reevaluating the business and taking this time to ensure that we have a solid business plan going forward,” he said, adding that special events and catering obligations would be honored.

Distrito opened in 2008 on two levels at 40th and Chestnut Streets with a bold design, including a wall of lucha libre wrestling masks and VW Beetle convertible seating for four people.

Although employees had been told that the restaurant would shut down for repairs at some point during the summer, the closing after service on July 9 was abrupt, prompting complaints on Instagram from a former worker who accused Garces of not caring about his people by making the decision from his vacation home.

In an interview Friday, Garces said he and his managers “came to that hard realization [about the viability of the restaurant] at the very last moment, and our payment obligations to our staff and vendors just required immediate action.”

Garces said a job fair would be held from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday at his seafood restaurant the Olde Bar at Second and Walnut Streets for all 25 to 30 employees. He said they would be guaranteed jobs at his other restaurants, including the Olde Bar, the Spanish flagship Amada, the bar Village Whiskey, the pizzeria Hook & Master, and the smaller fast-casual Mexican taqueria Buena Onda.

Garces plans to open Buena Onda locations later this summer in Radnor and in the former Tinto space near 20th and Sansom Streets in Philadelphia.

Garces said he was seeing less so-called occasion dining, prompting the shift to concepts that cater to what he called habitual dining.

When Distrito opened in the summer of 2008, Garces was riding high with Amada and Tinto, and he was on his way to cinching a TV deal on Iron Chef. He opened other restaurants in the interim, including Chifa.

A Distrito location in Moorestown Mall opened in 2014 and closed four years later on the eve of his filing for bankruptcy. Ballard Brands bought his company, and most of the restaurants, in Bankruptcy Court in 2018. Garces owns Distrito outright, though he said Ballard collaborates on operations.

As the restaurant industry has begun to come out of the pandemic, Garces pointed out rough economic conditions, including high costs, the availability of goods, staffing challenges, and “lower visitation to the city from the suburbs.”

“As a group, we’re always assessing our concepts and business ventures to understand and adapt according to what we’re experiencing and what we anticipate in the future,” he said. “I imagine other restaurateurs will find themselves in a similar spot and we’ll continue to see similar activity and change across the market.”