NEWS > COVER STORY

Robert Irvine revamps La Stanza

A cable network has added bite to a Girard Estate restaurant with an impressive overhaul.

By Joseph Myers
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 12 | Posted Jul. 28, 2011

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Manager Lucia Tripodi, left, and chef Marco DeCotlis were on the brink of having to shutter their establishment. A visit from a culinary expert has the two believing their former frustration will soon become a distant memory.

Photo by Greg Bezanis

One wonders if novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, who lamented “There are no second acts in American lives,” would adopt the same philosophy for restaurants. The personnel at La Stanza, 2001 W. Oregon Ave., hopes its recent appearance on the Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible” proves good fortune can lead to great fortunes.

Desiring a new identity, the 12-year-old establishment served as the site for the second episode of the show’s second season. Hard times had concocted enough woes to cause the Italian eatery’s management to search for assistance.

“We had nowhere else to turn,” manager Lucia Tripodi said before Friday’s dinner service. “The next step was probably to lock the door.”

John Tripodi, Lucia’s father, became involved with the location seven years ago as the ground floor’s partial owner and the overseer of The Loft, the second-floor nightclub. The former chief owner’s legal troubles led to a proprietorship transfer and the assumption of $600,000 in debt for the patriarch. Primarily a construction worker, he placed his daughter in charge in January 2009. Her relative inexperience, a controversy over serving minors alcohol and a sluggish economy caused La Stanza to struggle to attract bodies and retain dollars.

Michele Tripodi, John Tripodi’s sister, completed an Internet application for “Restaurant: Impossible” in February. A phone interview with Lucia Tripodi and a stop at the restaurant led to a March announcement that filming with chef and host Robert Irvine would begin in May.

“My aunt’s decision made me a bit nervous,” Lucia Tripodi, a New Jersey resident and native of the 3000 block of South Smedley Street, said, “but I knew we had to keep up with the new look of restaurants.”

Interviews and service observations comprised May 3, with Irvine arriving the next day. Fond of being forward, he immediately critiqued the ambience, the food and Lucia Tripodi.

“I had watched the show before, so I expected his bluntness,” the 25-year-old said, revealing she had seen the space as “an open cave” with no true division between the banquet and lounge areas.

The show gave Irvine two days and $10,000 to modify the space’s atmosphere. Food analysis involved the fewest suggestions, as chef Marco Decotiis noted the on-camera commentary differed from other perceptions Irvine offered.

“It’s television so I know there are two versions,” the Canadian native and 16th-and-Ritner-streets resident said. “Robert said our food is not bad, but the show sort of made it seem so.”

Irvine spent little airtime in the kitchen,  proof that menu tweaks did not top his concerns. He talked with DeCotiis about new dishes, including a tapas menu to allow patrons to share plates. The visitor expressed no qualms with their existing menu, tabbing the tapas, also known as appetizers, as means to enable people to eat more and to generate more income.

“The Food Network told me it had looked into me and realized I’m a good cook,” Decotiis said of knowing he would not suffer the most slings.

Irvine burdened Lucia Tripodi with most of his gripes, labeling her the main problem. He assigned that title primarily because of her refusals to taste the food, communicate enough with DeCotiis and arrive before noon.

“I was scared to take over the restaurant,” she said Friday, adding her role led to the interruption of her college career. “With our situation, I had to take the help.”

Irvine dished out aid instantly, helping her to become more familiar with the fare by having her guess the costs of menu items. Her struggles caused him to become more adamant about her need to learn her job’s full responsibilities.

“I know the point of the show was to make people feel bad for us,” she said of her depiction as someone with a fledgling handle on matters. “I wish it would have discussed our past more to let people know we had so much to overcome.”

Concerned with the future, Irvine had the restaurant emptied, and work began his first evening. Eager to help his protégé, he woke her early the next morning to convince her of his severity. He found his workers behind schedule but left them to their tasks to prepare her for a television promotion. From the kitchen, she made a confident pitch that earned plaudits.

“That’s the person I want running this restaurant,” Irvine said.

“It was frightening at first, kind of nerve-racking,” Lucia Tripodi said Friday of her spokeswoman role.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 12 of 12
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1. AB said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 07:31AM

“I am so proud of Lucia! She is such a hard worker and is very dedicated to her family’s restaurant. I wish her all the best :)”

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2. MariahLover143 said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 07:36AM

“The show was AWESOME! I think they should get their own reality series. I have been to the restaurant since the "makeover" and it looks beautiful. The decor is so much brighter & warmer. The food was amazing (not that I thought the food was bad in the first place) I was very impressed with the professionalism of the staff. I would recommend LaStanza to anyone for a night out on the town or just a casual night out.”

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3. Mrs.Werth said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 07:47AM

“Great family oriented restaurant. I am so proud of the staff for doing such a great job on the show! It was worth it because the place looks beautiful. I would recommend LaStanza to anyone, whether it’s for an early lunch, late dinner, or a private party....you wont be disappointed.”

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4. Annette Cosentino said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 10:59AM

“Lucia and her staff did an awesome job! I have been a long time customer of LaStanza's and I have never had a bad meal there. The food and staff are great. And I think if you watched the show, you should definitely give them a chance. You will not be disappointed.”

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5. R.Reed said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 12:00PM

“I did watch the show and because of it I gave LaStanza another try. Never again. My friends and I stood at the door for 15 minutes with not a soul coming over to us. We asked a young man who was setting up glasses at the bar if we should just sit, or do we have to wait. He said.. Do you have a reservation? ARE you kidding me??? The place was empty except for one table. Needless to say...we left to never return again. So I don't care how nice the place is, how good the food taste, the service is awful.”

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6. J. Swanson said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 12:16PM

“After watching the show I thought I would check it out, I love neighborhood restaurants and like to patronize them as often as possible. The place looks very pretty but I have to agree with R. Reed, the service was horrible! I too waited too long at the door to be seated in an almost empty restaurant. It looked like they only had one waitress working, no one at the bar and it was pretty hot & stuffy in there. After about 10 minutes I gave up and walked out......not sure Lucia and her staff learned much about service!

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7. Foodie said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 10:22PM

“Ms. Novack should review this place. I go by her critique only!”

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8. lucia lover said... on Sep 3, 2011 at 09:14PM

“Who says big girls can't be sexy? I would go to try the food but I think I'd be watching Lucia... If iher dad would have spent less on the restaurant and some more in her culinary school,,,she'd be the complete package”

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9. whitney said... on Sep 24, 2011 at 09:24AM

“i wish them all the best......after hearing this story i may take my house off the market, why? it would be great to think this neighboorhood could go back to what it use to be, this is a huge start and very promising ...this is not a story about a robbery and shooting on 22nd and oregon......its a postive one, one that will improve aour community again...i will be in to eat, often with my family good luck!!!!!”

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10. mary said... on Nov 15, 2011 at 11:00PM

“awww, that is nice what whitney said! good luck with your neighborhood. i totally understand.
xo, from detroit”

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11. Anonymous said... on Aug 16, 2012 at 03:26AM

“There was a time when you could go ANYWHERE in South Philly with your mother, or girlfriend, or wife & kids at any time of the day or night and never had to worry about being the victim(s) of any kind of crime!! South Philly took care of itself. That's all changed now. Can anybody guess why?? Here's a hint -- Italians were the exclusive residents and now .... well, let's just say that the complexion of the neighborhood has changed a lot”

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12. Lisa said... on Aug 22, 2012 at 07:33PM

“A very exciting story of a great family working together to make a dream come true! I hope soon one day I can come back to your beautiful city to come and visit your new restaurant!
Lisa”

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