by Len Lear
Chad Rosenthal is definitely a local chef/restaurateur on the rise. Chad, 42, was cast on Season 9 of Food Network Star and returned as a Fan Favorite on Season 10. He was a finalist on Chopped Grill Masters Napa and is currently in development on several new TV concepts. He opened The Lucky Well in Ambler in 2013, which offers Memphis-style ribs, brisket, smoked wings, etc., and he also owns Banh Street in Abington and Banh Street Fried Chicken in Ambler. (“Memphis-style ribs have more ‘dry rub’ than the heavily sauce-based, Texas-style barbecue.”)
A self-taught chef, Chad got his first taste of cooking at just 5 years old, and he soon became passionate about all things food. As a child, he put on weekly cooking shows for his family, and after spending years working in corporate America, Chad switched gears, won several barbecue competitions and now admits he “eats, breathes and sleeps all things barbecue … I love Asian cuisines, whether it’s Korean or Vietnamese or Chinese, so I try to weave my barbecue or smoked meats into those cuisines.”
After Chad opened the now-closed Rosey’s Barbecue in February, 2010, at 505 Old York Rd. in Jenkintown, I wrote that “I doubt if a restaurant would have much success if it was called Rosenthal’s Barbecue or Chung Lee’s Pizzeria or Kelly’s Kosher Bagels, but fortunately Chad Rosenthal’s nickname growing up near Ambler was Rosey, so it was not inappropriate to name his restaurant Rosey’s BBQ…”
In addition to becoming a restaurant entrepreneur, however, Chad is now attempting something else that many would say is about as difficult as pole vaulting 20 feet without a pole. Chad (whose brother, Reid, 32, achieved his own celebrity status several years ago as one of three finalists on the TV show, “The Bachelorette”) is planning to open a second Lucky Well this summer at 990 Spring Garden St. in the city’s Spring Arts District.
The second Lucky Well will need more than luck, however, because of a gutsy, walk-out-on-the-high-wire innovation. Rosenthal plans to hire about 12 to 15 homeless people to work there. “For people suffering extreme poverty or homelessness,” Chad said, “the biggest barrier to being self-sufficient is the lack of access to employment and career opportunities.”
Rosenthal has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the unique project. He has a tight deadline of Feb. 13 to raise $125,000, and so far he has raised about $30,000. “Hundreds of people have shared this on social media,” said the chef/restaurateur. “They have said this is the greatest thing ever, but if those people all put 20 bucks each on a credit card, we’d be almost there. But if it doesn’t happen, we might fund it ourselves. I’m so behind this that if we don’t get the money, I’ll work other outlets to get it. Maybe we can get some grant money to make it happen.”
The money Chad is seeking would pay for building a kitchen, buying vehicles and training employees. Regarding the difficulty of training homeless people to be reliable employees, Chad says they would start at simple tasks like line cook or dishwasher on a part-time basis and, if things go right, move into full-time positions.
How did Rosenthal come up with his quixotic idea? “Around Thanksgiving last year, I had the opportunity to be a part of a ‘shelter takeover,’ where I was able to create a family-style dining experience for residents of a local homeless shelter. That experience for me was about so much more than just serving a meal.
“I was able to meet the residents, listen to their stories and learn about their lives, their families and their dreams. I had a conversation with one resident who was a former chef in a local restaurant. He was clearly passionate about food and had just fallen on hard times. He talked about how hard it was to get a ‘foot in the door’ … and that was eye-opening for me. It kind of lit a fire in me to use my success and my platform for something bigger than myself.”
Chad began doing some research and quickly discovered that Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the country, “which I never knew before.” He then was determined to do his part to effect a solution. Thus came his groundbreaking hire-the-homeless project.
For more information, visit www.chadrosenthal.com.