Nino Nunez, who works for a Germantown firm that creates sophisticated exhibits for museums in Philadelphia and elsewhere, is a foodie who prefers to dine alone. (Photo by Len Lear)

by Len Lear

When Nino Nunez goes to a restaurant by himself, he is about as happy as a person can be without arousing suspicion. Nino, 26, grew up in Germantown and has also lived in Roxborough and North Philly. He currently lives in Germantown and works for Clifford Wagner Science Interactives, Inc., a Germantown firm that creates sophisticated exhibits for museums in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

But in his spare time the handsome and personable young bachelor’s favorite pastime is going to restaurants by himself, unlike most people who prefer to have company while dining in restaurants. (Nunez would have liked Greta Garbo, film star of the 1930s and ’40s who was best known for the catch phrase “I want to be alone.”)

“I like to go someplace new always,” he said, “once a month, maybe more. I like going by myself. I don’t want to hear ‘Don’t tip her’ and other negative comments from other guys at the table. I just want to relax and enjoy the food. For example, I heard about a good Indian restaurant in Newark, Delaware, so I went there by myself, over an hour each way. I didn’t mind at all.

“I went to Cracker Barrel, and a guy at a nearby table thought I must be depressed because I was eating alone. He offered to pay for my meal, but I said no. He did leave a tip for me, though, and he said, ‘I hope things work out for you.’ I went to the Olde Bar in Old City. Someone paid for a drink for me, and I don’t even know who it was. There are perks to this alone stuff.

“I went to La Buca in Center City and loved the feeling of being treated so special. I felt like a mob boss. I want to try all of the Italian restaurants in the city. Sometimes when I go a restaurant downtown, I ride my bike from Germantown to center city and back. I ride down Kelly Drive all the way if the weather is good. It’s great exercise. You work up an appetite.”

An article in the July issue of Philadelphia magazine, “Dining While Black,” was written by an African American man, Ernest Owens, who has a restaurant blog. In the article he maintained that black customers are generally treated worse than white customers in most Philadelphia restaurants, particularly in Center City. Does Nino agree with that assessment?

“Yes,” he said. “There is a difference in the way blacks and whites are treated in many restaurants. But as long as the quality of the food is the same, I don’t really mind. I think the feeling is: ‘Why give them good service? They (African Americans) don’t tip well.’ I personally make it a point to tip well to tear down the stereotype. I don’t go for stereotypes. Everyone is different. Some people think cops are no good. But if you treat them well, they will usually treat you well. The same thing with us.”

Nino, who lives with his mom, who has her own catering company, younger sister and younger brother (he also has an older sister), went to Roxborough High School (“I could have been a good student if I had applied myself, but I was acting the fool”) and then took courses at Peirce Business School and Philadelphia Community College but dropped out both times without graduating. “I had so much energy but had a major problem focusing. I was not mature enough.”

Nino hopes to go back to school at some point and major in finance. He did work for a Main Line auto dealership for one year in customer relations. “My job was to make things smooth, to sugar things up for customers. Someone might say, ‘I want my car done now.’ I’d give him a sandwich and calm him down. My job basically was to kiss their butt. Butter them up.”

For three years Nino then worked for a “staging company” because there was less pressure and more pay. The staging company, Sunflower Creations in Fishtown, improves the appearance of houses for sale so they can fetch a better price. “Every day I’d go to a different house,” he said. “I must admit I would get jealous when I’d be in a house selling for $500,000.

“In the ‘gayborhood’ I backed a truck down a street meant for foot traffic only. I had taken off the license plate on purpose, and a cop did stop me but did not give me a ticket. Once I piled up snow over the license plate to hide it. I had no choice but to park illegally for a short time because the streets in Center City are so small, and it’s impossible for a truck to find a legal space.”

At one point, Nino spent some time near San Diego, California, which “was so beautiful that I’d rather be homeless there than be in a bad neighborhood here.” After California, Nino worked briefly for a bakery in Elkins Park. “I baked all night and left at 6 a.m. I couldn’t sleep, was always exhausted and so hot.”

In May of 2017 Nino started working for Clifford Wagner Science Interactives, 5535 Lena St., which creates traveling exhibits for museums. Franklin Institute might rent an exhibit on electricity, for example. Wagner had started as a cabinet maker for Franklin Institute. Nino is currently an apprentice carpenter for the firm but also does some welding.

“We made a ‘wave tank’ for the DaVinci Science Center in Allentown, for example,” said Nino. “It shows how energy can be created and stored. We have three exhibits that are rented, ‘Garden of Gizmos,’ ‘Color Play’ and ‘Contraptions, A to Z.’ Now we are working on a Rube Goldberg exhibit that will go to the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum. I love what I am doing on my job. I am learning so much from Cliff that I would not know otherwise. I’m zero dollars in debt and getting all of this useful information. It may help me buy and ‘flip’ houses some day.”

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