At Their Best

Exclusive interviews with local legends and legends-to-be, from Shane Victorino and Tory Burch to young actress Patricia Raven and beer guru Lew Bryson.




Shane Victorino

Best Pro Athlete
Page 2



 

Lew Bryson

Best Beer Guru
Page 3



 

John and Lisa DeBella

Best Unconventional Power Couple
Page 4



 

Chris Craft

Best Under-the-Radar Media Mogul
Page 5



 

Patricia Raven

Best Budding Teen Sensation
Page 6



 

Villanova University Department of Theatre

Best Theater School South of New York
Page 7

 

 
 

Tory Burch

Best Hometown Fashion Statement
Page 8



 

Jeffrey Gaines

Best Singer/Songwriter/Artist
Page 9




 

 

Shane Victorino at his favorite sushi spot, Blue Fin in Plymouth Meeting. (Photo by Jared Castaldi)Island Fever

Shane Victorino is a world champion, an MLB All-Star, a two-time Gold Glove centerfielder and even a former Eagle Scout. Within hours of this interview, our Best Pro Athlete will launch his Flyin’ Hawaiian All-Stars, an arm of his Shane Victorino Foundation. He won’t disappoint on the field either, homering in a 4-0 Phillies win over the St. Louis Cardinals. But the real winner is the Boys & Girls Club of Nicetown, which is undergoing a three-year, almost $1 million remodeling and eventual renaming. Next up: the Boys & Girls Club of Maui, on Victorino’s native island. On Aug. 16, his nonprofit for underprivileged youth, here and in Hawaii, will stage an All-Star Celebrity Fashion Show at the Union League. November brings his third annual charity golf tournament in Maui. For now, he’s just inked a three-year contract and has been scouting homes, perhaps in Blue Bell near teammate Ryan Howard, and not far from one of his favorite haunts, this year’s Best Sushi winner Blue Fin in Plymouth Meeting.

MLT: You’re a switch-hitter, so what hand do you eat sushi with?
Shane Victorino:
Both hands. Whichever one’s open at the time.

MLT: You’ve always been charitable, taking on Alzheimer’s in honor of your late grandmother and also childhood cancer in your home state. Why start a foundation to help less fortunate kids?
SV:
My father always said that, if I was ever in a position to help others, I should do it. It’s embedded in me. Kids impact the future. I have my own healthy children (his third is due in October). My kids are privileged—but look at the underprivileged, like those in Nicetown who have had a hard place to grow up in. I remember what the Boys & Girls Club meant to some of my friends. You might not think we have one [in Hawaii], but poverty lives everywhere.

MLT: Who would’ve thought Philly would fall in love with a Hawaiian Eagle Scout born in November 1980, a month after the Phillies won what looked like it might be their only World Series title?
SV:
To be one of their’s, all you have to do is play the game the right way, work hard, run, hustle and have a love of the game. It’s also my competitive nature—and here, that’s what they want. You can go 0-for-4. As long as you’re busting your butt, they’ll love you. One father said he tells his son to watch me because he wants him to play like me. That means more than being an All-Star or a world champion. He tells him, “Play like Shane.” To be voted in (as a 2009 All-Star with a record-breaking 15.6 million votes) was amazing. It’s why I wanted to re-sign here.

MLT: When you signed your three-year, $22 million deal, you said you felt like “one of the guys.” What did you mean?
SV:
You can go year to year and wonder where you fit in the picture. But now, for the next three years, I know I’ll be here—that I’m counted on—and that creates a sense of belonging. [Phillies GM] Ruben [Amaro] has done a tremendous job locking many of us up. I’m playing somewhere where we’re going to have a shot at a championship every year.

MLT: What does Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract mean to you and others on the team?
SV:
Great players are due what they are due. Ryan is one of the top five hitters in baseball—collectively. He’s hit .300 before, and he can hit .300 again. His power has been there every year. He was due. It sends the right message to all of us. Is it out of control? How can I say no?
I’m a player, so I want to make as much money as I can. But it’s also why it’s easier for me to give back.

—J.F. Pirro

To learn more, visit shanevictorino.com.

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Photo by Jared CastaldiMicrobrews Under the Microscope

The fact that this savvy Pennsylvanian fashioned himself a career out of writing about and, better yet, drinking beer and whiskey is reason enough for Lew Bryson’s Best Beer Guru accolades. But his affable personality, expert analysis on all things hops and barley, and keen interest in suds history also makes the Newtown-based critic’s blog one heck of a read. “Seen Through a Glass” is a must for anyone who wants to know where the (good) beer is. In fact, we value his opinion so much, we had him pick his own set of winners this year. For more local beer knowledge from Bryson, visit lewbryson.com.

Best Belgian Flair: Manayunk
Brewery and Restaurant

The biggest brewpub in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Manayunk has always been known for mass-appeal beers. But new brewer Doug Marchakitus has brought some serious mojo with him, and the 500 or so people out on the deck are loving it. His Belgian flair is perfect for the masses—light and spicy in summer, rich and complex in winter. 4120 Main St., Manayunk; (215) 482-8220, manayunkbrewery.com.

Best Big Beers: Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant
From Newark, Del., to Lancaster, Iron Hill gets around. Thankfully, we’ve got brewers Bob “Medal Machine” Barrar in Media and Larry “Shaved It” Horowitz in West Chester. If you still think Iron Hill is all about endless pints of light lager and raspberry ale, try Barrar’s Russian Imperial Stout and Horowitz’s funky Belgian stuff. Various locations, ironhillbrewery.com.

Best Bocks: Sly Fox Brewing Company
The first Sunday in May, some 2,000 people gather just to watch goats race. OK, they gather to watch goats race and drink beer. Sly Fox always has at least five different beautifully malty bocks on tap that day—that’s better than any German brewer can manage. 520 Kimberton Road, Phoenixville, (610) 935-4540; 312 N. Lewis Road, Royersford, (610) 948-8088; slyfoxbeer.com.

Best IPA: Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery’s Hop Bomp IPA
Brian McConnell is one of the most overlooked brewers in the area—but he doesn’t mind. He just keeps cranking out the Prussia’s Pride IPA (whip-sharp bitter and polar-wind brisk) and dialing in the hops in a series of additional monster beers. Try to keep up with what he does; it’s a rewarding investigation. 1001 King of Prussia Plaza, King of Prussia; (610) 230-2739, rockbottom.com.

Best Porter: General Lafayette Inn & Brewery’s Chocolate Thunder
The General is a great place that’s full of history. And brewer/owner  makes a variety of subtle, wonderful beers. His Chocolate Thunder is so rich it’s almost beefy. If Willy Wonka made porter, he’d take lessons from Leonard. 646 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill; (610) 941-0600, generallafayetteinn.com.

Best Saison: McKenzie Brew House’s Saison Vautour
Around here, if you’re a brewer and can’t master this spicy, refreshing Belgianesque beer, you may as well hang up your boots. Ryan Michaels and Gerald Olson’s Saison Vautour won the gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival twice in three years. Enough said. 451 Wilmington-West Chester Pike, Glen Mills, (610) 361-9800; 240 Lancaster Ave., Malvern, (610) 296-2222; mckenziebrewhouse.com.

Best Sheer Variety: Victory Brewing Company
Victory is the Swiss Army knife of breweries. Lagers, ales, wild beers, Belgian styles, hefeweizens, IPAs, stouts—they do everything, and they do it well. 420 Acorn Lane, Downingtown; (610) 873-0881, victorybeer.com.
 

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Perfect Match

John and Lisa DeBella make it look easy—“it” being just about everything. 
 

Photo by Jared Castaldi

Professionally, our Best Unconventional Power Couple is on top of both their respective games. John hosts the morning show on WMGK-FM, and Lisa is a top-selling realtor at Prudential Fox & Roach’s Rosemont office. Their home is gorgeous, mixing traditional décor and quirky collectibles like the foyer’s vintage green marble and onyx ashtrays embellished with miniature statues of dogs. The canine theme is woven throughout the house in pillows and paintings and their real-life pups, Fanny and Harley. There’s also a nifty built-in fish tank between the foyer and living room.

Despite the sumptuousness of their furnishings, the DeBellas are a down-to-earth couple. “We live in our living room,” says John. “It’s where we hang out—not just a space for company.”

And entertaining is something the DeBellas are very fond of. John is a master at the grill, and Lisa is an accomplished and adventurous cook. Over the years, they’ve thrown a fair share of parties, with lots of friends, family and business acquaintances. Now they prefer intimate gatherings. “The days of big parties are over,” says Lisa. “Everyone’s adopted a more casual lifestyle, and it’s just more fun to throw a laid-back dinner party that’s not so complicated—you can’t sit down and enjoy your company.”

If you haven’t seen the DeBellas around town, it’s not because they’re too cool for school. It’s a scheduling issue. A 3:30 a.m. wake-up time means John’s in bed by 7:30 p.m. So if it’s dinner out, it’s the early-bird special—typically at Fleming’s in Radnor, Ginza in Narberth or Sang Kee in Wynnewood.

Because two of their three pets are older—Fanny, a sheepdog, is 14, and their cat, Yeti, is 15—the DeBellas usually opt for events that won’t keep them out for long. They’re such animal lovers that, when Lisa found a bird’s nest with eggs inside their grill, she forbade John to move it and set forth a “no grilling until the babies hatch” policy. You’d think they could afford a new grill, but Lisa would have none of that. “The only reason our finances are in order is Lisa’s financial wizardry and thriftiness,” admits John. “She won’t let me buy expensive stuff.”

Their love of animals has led to lengthy involvement with area pet adoption and rescue organizations, and John’s weekly appearances on NBC’s 10! Show.

“I’m an old hippie,” he says. “I’m fortunate to have a job that connects me to the community and enables me to reach out and have a positive impact on the town I’m crazy about.”

—Dawn E. Warden

For more on John DeBella, visit jdbshow.com.

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Commercial Appeal

You know the commercials. They come at you on the radio and television—those portentous voice-overs, the ominous soundtracks, the pulsating rock music. Something big, and maybe a little scary, is in store: a freestyle motocross or monster jam; a heavyweight title fight or mixed martial arts; the Flyers slashing toward the Stanley Cup; the Sixers … Well, nothing could juice them this year.
 

Photo by Jared Castaldi

It’s the art of persuasion brought to you by Propulsion Media Labs, a Malvern-based production company that provides the talent and know-how for radio/TV spots nationwide. The seven-year-old company is the creation of entrepreneur Chris Craft, this year’s Best Under-the-Radar Media Mogul. He added video capability to an existing audio operation and took both to the next level. “One of our goals was to grow locally,” says Craft, a native of Devon and a Villanova University graduate. “We wound up growing nationally.”

Three quarters of Propulsion’s business comes from outside the Philadelphia area. “Whether it’s a jeweler in Austin or a car dealership in Orlando, we have to be ready to turn [the project] around in 24 hours—it’s the foundation of the organization,” says Craft.

For any given job, Propulsion may supply a single element (say, a voice-over) or produce the whole thing. Hired guns include voice and on-camera talent on call, and a core staff of video and audio producers who can shoot, edit and massage a spot into shape. Sophisticated hardware and humans man Propulsion’s unpretentious offices.

Propulsion’s parent was Paul Turner Productions, which specialized in audio services and featured voice-over talent Turner, whose big baritone handled, among other gigs, the segues and assorted bits on Infinity Broadcasting’s Howard Stern radio show. Craft was selling advertising for Infinity’s local radio station WYSP-FM in the 1990s and became friendly with Turner, who eventually sold him the business assets in January 2003. Craft’s name for his new company matched both his level of energy and the momentum of the industry while reflecting the addition of in-house video operations.

It wasn’t the first time Craft had acted on a big idea. His plan to mass-produce then-West Chester inventor Garrett Brown’s Skycam and encase it in an advertising shell (a “flying Coke can,” Craft says) fell short of acquiring the necessary financial support just before patents expired.

But Propulsion Media was on firmer footing. Craft retained employees from Turner Productions, added account coordinators to smooth service delivery, and nurtured the future by hiring interns likely to become employees. General manager Corey Dissin, who stayed on after the business changed hands, knows all phases of the work and the competitive realities. “It’s a tough business,” says Dissin. “Sometimes I become the de facto enforcer.”

Other times he’s riding herd over quality control and “managing personalities”—both clients and the talent. Meanwhile, the boss stokes Propulsion’s online marketing campaign and, even at this stage, is not averse to making cold calls. “I like to get my hands dirty with the sales process,” says Craft.

He also likes to see his company providing a litmus test for the general economy. Advertising tends to be “ahead of the curve,” explains Craft, adding that automotive spending—a significant chunk of Propulsion’s business—has been trending higher since this past September.

Most of all, though, Craft likes a company on the move. Long-term goals include an increased presence in infomercials, Web-related video and corporate training videos, plus an increasingly motivated workforce and, of course, happy customers.

“We continue to grow,” says Craft. “Owning a business has been fulfilling a dream of mine.”

—Jim Waltzer

To learn more, visit promedialabs.com. To view Chris Craft’s personal favorites, click here.

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Photo by Robert Kazandjian

Starlet in Training

For many young actresses, dreams of big-screen stardom revolve around dazzling wardrobes, glamorous leading roles and a perfectly veneered smile. Wayne native Patricia Raven, however, is not like most young actresses. Taking her last name from Poe’s infamously eerie poem, our Best Budding Teen Sensation is carving out a brooding niche among her sunnier peers in the young Hollywood scene.

At just 4 years old, Raven was performing with Media’s Academy of International Ballet. Six years later, she convinced her mother to let her give acting a go, and she landed roles with People’s Light & Theatre Company while attending the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr. Raven landed her first major on-screen role in 2007, as a young serial killer in the horror flick Blood Night. The role would set the tone for the 14-year-old’s young career thus far.

“I definitely like the more dramatic, mentally unstable characters,” says Raven. “I’m not good at those happy, Disney, perky types of roles. And if I do comedy, I prefer darker, more adult comedies.”

That trend continued with a breakout role as a public school student living in the shadow of her successful, prep-schooled older sister in the TV movie Dear Harvard. Raven says a “gothy” phase as a preteen helped her relate to her Lucy Caldwell character on a more personal level. The affecting performance ultimately earned her a nomination in the 2010 Young Artist Awards.

Though she’s open to the full spectrum of Hollywood roles, Raven has already come to terms with the fact that she may never be a good option for mainstream portrayals of seemingly perfect teenagers. But rather than seeing it as a limitation, Raven is compelled to use it to her advantage. And her loyalty to herself—and willingness to push the emotional envelope—appears to be paying off.

Her feet now firmly planted in Burbank, Calif., she’s set her sights on breaking into the alternative roles inspired by her love of edgier characters. Between auditions, Raven heads home to be with her family and friends, along with her horse, Tucker, who stays at Plainbrooke Farm in Birchrunville. And while the roles and accolades are likely to continue, Raven will always feel a connection to Dear Harvard’s Lucy Caldwell. “She’s not too concerned with everything else going on around her,” Raven says. “She’s just living in the now.”

—Emily Riley

For a clip of Raven in Dear Harvard, click here.

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(Clockwise from top left) Villanova’s Father Richard Cannuli, Kati Lyles, Jessica Bedford and Will Windsor Erwin. (Photo by Jared Castaldi)Command Performance

Eight years ago, Father Peter Donohue, chairman of the Villanova University Department of Theatre confessed to “unexpected surprise” when he became the first priest ever to win a Barrymore Award. Donohue was named the year’s Best Musical Director for Villanova’s revival of Chicago. The production earned a total of six nominations, and went on to win a second and third place for best leading actress (Charlotte Cloe Fox Wind) and best supporting actor (Mike Dees), respectively.

For the first-nighters and theater professionals who’ve made Philadelphia’s thriving regional theater scene the envy of every city outside of New York, Villanova’s victory was long overdue—and so was our recognizing it as the Best Theater School South of New York. Way back in 1995, when the Philadelphia Theatre Alliance created its annual awards for on-stage excellence, Villanova’s became the first college department to gain a Barrymore nomination. Since then, its plays, musicals and personnel have racked up 51 Barrymore nominations and won six—all while competing against professional theater companies like Center City’s Arden, Walnut and Wilma.

The church and the theater have been enemies throughout history, but they’re comfortably close at Villanova. What began as an informal drama club a little more than 50 years ago has become the Main Line’s most highly regarded undergraduate and graduate program in theater arts, producing a musical and three plays each year at standards so high they not only rival the work of the pros in Philly and Wilmington but frequently beat those companies at their own game, as well.

Villanova Department of Theatre (the school prefers the traditional British Shakespearean spelling) graduates include playwrights David Rabe, Bruce Graham and Michael Hollinger, actors Maureen Torsney-Weir and Megan Bellwoar, Lantern Theatre Company managing director Kathryn Nocero MacMillan, and Iron Age Theatre company founders John Doyle and Randall Wise.

For Jessica Bedford, a New York Shakespearean actress, getting a masters of arts at Villanova was “like being in a second family.” She found a theater program that balanced performance and academics, without the toxic egos and cutthroat competition that characterizes other schools.

She also performed in six productions at Villanova, starring as Rosalind in Villanova’s As You Like It, and also taking part in the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival as Lady MacBeth and Lady Percy. Rather moving back to New York, she’ll stay on the Main Line and teach Shakespeare while auditioning for roles in other productions.

For Father Donohue, who’s now Villanova’s president, the fact that Bedford and other grads have stayed in the area is a sign of a job well done. He’s currently raising funds for a performing arts center at the school that will permit larger, grander, more elaborate productions than the ones that currently run at the Vasey Theatre.

“It’s a testament to the university, the faculty and staff, and the students they attract,” Donohue says. “I’m proud of the fact that so many graduates of the our program have stayed in the Philadelphia area, started their own theater companies and continue to contribute to the performing arts. People have come here because they were good at one thing, and they’ve discovered that they’re good at other things, too.”

—Bill Kent

To learn more, visit theatre.villanova.edu.

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Designing Woman

Hailed as the “most influential designer in America” by the Los Angeles Times, Tory Burch has come a long way since her days at the Agnes Irwin School. It’s been only six years since the Valley Forge native debuted her namesake clothing line, which has since snowballed into a multimillion-dollar global fashion empire. Her clothing, shoes, handbags and accessories are sold in 24 freestanding Tory Burch boutiques throughout the United States and two international boutiques in Japan and the Philippines, along with more than 450 department stores and specialty stores. In May, she opened her first Pennsylvania boutique in King of Prussia Mall, which we’ve dubbed Best Hometown Fashion Statement. We caught up with Burch just days after the opening of her KOP outpost.

MLT: How does it feel to have a boutique in King of Prussia Mall?
Tory Burch:
It’s amazing. This is my hometown, and this is the same shopping center where I used to come when I was growing up. I’ve wanted to open a store here for a long time, so I’m completely thrilled.

MLT: What do you want the experience to be like in your new store?
TB:
We want to give our customers the best possible shopping experience. We want them to feel like they’ve walked into a living room that’s comfortable and welcoming. We have certain details—like the orange lacquer doors, white couches and moss-green flooring—that connect our boutiques here in the U.S. and overseas. But we try to mix in details that are special to that particular store and city. Everything from the music we play to the scent of the candles is a part of making our customers feel relaxed and at home.

MLT: What is it about your line that resonates with women in this area?
TB:
I think Philadelphia embodies that timeless, all-American style, and our collection is rooted in classic sportswear. When we design, we always have a chic, modern woman in mind. Our design team is made up of women from all backgrounds, of all shapes, ages and personal styles. Having that diversity of input is incredibly important.

MLT: Have you gotten used to being a household name?
TB:
Every time I see a woman wearing our clothes, I feel so flattered that they’ve chosen to wear something from our collection. I love going to different cities and seeing the different ways that women wear our clothes and accessories. Each has her own individual style and puts the pieces together in a unique way.

MLT: Tell us about your new summer line.
TB:
Sunglasses are still one of my favorite accessories, and are must-haves during summer and year-round. We also did a modern update of the backpack. Our Palma mixes luxe gold hardware with nylon. I also love our Sawla messenger bag.

MLT: What about fall?
TB:
We’re constantly inspired by fashion, art and the way these two worlds influence each other. While designing the fall collection, we envisioned a gallery girl who is an art enthusiast and has an interesting, unique way of putting things together—for instance, playing feathers against sequins and mixing utilitarian pieces with something more feminine. We also expanded our denim collection. The fit and cut are great.

MLT: How often do you get back to the Main Line area? Do you have any favorite spots?
TB:
My family still lives in the Philadelphia area, so I visit quite often. The Standard Tap (in Philadelphia) is a well-known local bar that serves the best roast chicken and mussels. I love the sushi at Blue Fin. The fish is so fresh, and chef Yong Kim’s recommendations are always delicious.

MLT: What’s next for Tory Burch?
TB:
I see us growing slowly and strategically, and continuing to focus on the needs of our customers. We are constantly expanding and growing our categories—like optical, denim, jewelry and children’s. We’re also growing our international presence by opening boutiques in Korea and, soon, London and Rome.

—Tara Behan

To learn more, visit toryburch.com.

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Quiet Confidence

Our pick for Best Singer/Songwriter/Artist, Jeffrey Gaines grew up in Harrisburg but chose to make the Main Line his home-away-from-the-road shortly after landing a record deal with Chrysalis Records in 1990—a break that came after turned down a lead singer gig with a rock band from New York. It didn’t take long after that for Gaines’ acoustic-based, confessional folk-rock to catch on, thanks to enthusiastic support from WXPN-FM.
 

Photo by Jared Castaldi

Gaines’ self-titled 1992 debut album sold 250,000 copies. (A recently re-mastered version is due to be released soon.) Several of its songs were used in films and on TV, and five more full-length CDs followed. Though none have been as commercially successful as the first, his fourth, 2001’s Always Be, earned critical acclaim and featured a knockout rendition of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” a song he’d long been playing live. On the road, he’s opened for the likes of Sting, Tori Amos, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty and Sheryl Crow.

For newbies, Gaines considers 2003’s Toward the Sun a fitting bookend to the first album. On it, he comes full circle, with his soulful vocals, heartfelt lyrics, soaring melodies and unpretentious arrangements. “This is where the songs connect and come together,” he says of the two albums. “If you don’t have any others but these two, then you know my music and who I am.”

In 2008, Gaines transformed Philly’s Theatre of the Living Arts into a recording studio for Jeffrey Gaines Live, a full-length CD/DVD. This past April, he enjoyed a four-week residency at Ardmore’s MilkBoy Coffee, playing and showcasing his paintings and drawings. In October, he’ll tour Monaco, Berlin, Russia and Paris with Joe Jackson. A new studio album is also in the works.

To Gaines, the Main Line will always feels like home. “It seems like most people move away from where they grew up because they’re trying to escape their memories,” he says. “I’m from Pennsylvania. I have an emotional relationship to here and to its ecology. I’m going to party in Europe, but I’m not moving there.”

When he’s not playing, Gaines savors his downtime. “I’m a recluse,” he says. “My music comes from within. I’m not into taking dictation from my surroundings. Soaking in too much stimuli can be detrimental to my thoughts and my artistic direction. Being too outwardly focused means not getting to the depth of yourself.”

Despite his hermit-like nature, you might run into him at Gold Million Records in Bryn Mawr, eating a slice of pizza at Bella Italia (just a block away from MilkBoy), enjoying a bowl of soup at Hymie’s in Bala Cynwyd, walking around Haverford College or attending the Devon Horse Show. For a guy who grew up with an equestrian grandfather, the latter shouldn’t come as a surprise.

—Dawn E. Warden

To learn more, visit jeffreygaines.com.

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