Top Dog

From Wayne to LBI, Marty Grims is proving he’s a restaurateur to be reckoned with.



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Marty Grims inside Philadelphia’s White Dog Café. (Photo by Jared Castaldi)You’d think Marty Grims would be tired of fielding questions about the fate of his latest project, the much-talked-about White Dog Café in Wayne. And while other restaurateurs might lament the diminished credibility of a late opening, he shrugs it off. He’s been there before.

“We could’ve rushed it,” says Grims. “But with everything else that’s on the table, we didn’t feel the need to force it.”


Originally scheduled to debut last summer, the Main Line version of Judy Wicks’ iconic University City eatery has been held up by construction permit issues and should open this month. The suburban outpost was part of a deal between Grims and Wicks, who cashed in her leadership role—and majority holdings—in favor of more altruistic pursuits in early 2009. The burgeoning “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” movement, the explosion of community supported agriculture, and the wealth of farmers’ markets in the area all conspired to convince Grims that bringing the White Dog brand west made good business sense. The ironic part is the location. The new place is on Lancaster Avenue, directly across from Anthropologie, the hipster retail store owned by Urban Outfitters, which was co-founded by Wicks and first husband Richard Haynes.

As for Grims, you could say he’s the quintessential entrepreneur. A 1979 Episcopal Academy graduate and a product of Cornell University’s esteemed School of Restaurant and Hotel Management, the Berwyn resident is known for his fearlessness and thirst for challenges. He owns the restaurant and event space on the historic Moshulu tall ship at Penn’s Landing, Chew Man Chu and Du Jour Market & Café in Center City, and the original Du Jour location in Haverford. He’s a former co-owner of Passarelle and Bravo Bistro in Radnor, Central Bar & Grill and the Big River Fish (now Tango) in Bryn Mawr, and the now-defunct Basil in Paoli.

In New Jersey, he owns the Inlet in Somers Point, plus Daddy O Restaurant & Hotel and the Plantation on Long Beach Island. Pending projects include another Daddy O in Florida, and a yet-to-be-named Asian restaurant, his second in Philly’s Commerce Square.

“One of the things Marty was looking for was a project that would counter the seasonality issues facing his Shore properties,” says Ron Gorodesky, a consultant on the White Dog project via his Paoli-based Restaurant Advisory Services. “Obviously, they’re jammin’ in the summer, but the off-season is slow.”

Gorodesky had a 20-year history with Wicks, who was “incredibly concerned” about keeping the restaurant’s integrity and maintaining the social contract she’d built the business on—buying products from local farmers, serving only humanely raised meat and sustainably caught seafood, and recycling and composting as much waste as possible. “Grims had a genuine respect for the White Dog brand,” he says.

But while Grims embraced Wicks’ social and environmental integrity, he left the political agenda at the bargaining table. “Judy’s a true philanthropist, and I support her mission,” says Grims. “But I’m a hospitality guy. I’m more interested in quality food and service. We want to take that and make it better.”

The White Dog’s permit problems in Wayne have been a mixed blessing for Grims. The slowdown on the Main Line actually gave him more time to re-evaluate another twin: the Symphony House Du Jour—younger Center City sister to the upscale Haverford Square café and catering company he opened in 1999.
 

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