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Restauranteurs are the lifeblood of Philadelphia. Photo: VISIT Philadelphia/Depositphotos
Restaurateurs are part of the lifeblood of Philadelphia's economic recovery. Photo: VISIT Philadelphia/Depositphotos

[OP-Ed] Restaurateurs are key to this Summer Philadelphia's comeback

These courageous men and women who braved the year-long pandemic, and survived it, are our city's best asset to attract the visitors so badly needed now.

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Last Friday, I was able to go with my wife to India, and on Saturday we felt like going to Portugal instead, reluctant as we were of going again to Mexico — a favorite place that we visit often in our secret and frequent gastronomic expeditions we can only enjoy in the city we are privileged to call home.

Our imaginary tours across three continents in one week, without physically leaving Philadelphia, can only be daydreaming, of course. 

Perhaps it's just delirium resulting from the one-year plus COVID-19 confinement.

Life has been that hard for all of us, for certain. All sorts of official rules virtually confiscated our passports and took away one of the fundamental rights of living in America:  To travel whenever we please to virtually any corner of the world.

This virtual seclusion has tried our balance of mind, but it has come with some advantages: 

We have been forced to look inwardly to discover assets from this city of ours we had learned only to complain about and often take for granted.

We overlooked, for example, the blessing added to the quality of life in the city by the courageous men and women who, emigrating from those same distant corners of the world we used to travel to, settled in Philadelphia over the past two decades, and, determined to stay as our neighbors and raise their children here, chose to share with us one of the most precious gifts of their far-away cultures: Their cooking art.

The Philadelphia restaurant scene has been quietly transformed by immigrants turned restaurant owners who have infused all the flavors of the world into our now vastly enriched cuisine, mixed today with the lavish gastronomy from dozens of countries from across the globe.

The Philadelphia restaurant scene has been quietly transformed by them who have infused all the flavors of the world into our now vastly enriched cuisine, mixed today with the lavish gastronomy from dozens of countries from across the globe: from Europe to Latin America, to Asia, to the Caribbean, back to the Mediterranean and Middle and the Far East.

Philadelphia is now sort of a Mecca for food enthusiasts, built by the hands of immigrants turned restaurateurs who have contributed to making our city one of the most diverse urban centers on the East Coast.

Properly acknowledge and promoted, and publicized through campaigns recently announced by the city leaders, we believe their culinary art has the power to attract many more tourists, more inclined these days for domestic travel and low-risk destinations.

AL DÍA has been documenting the existence of these brave entrepreneurs, writing and publishing their little-known stories, and even hosting them since 2018 in a live demonstration of their art in the Independence Blue Cross LIVE Center, during the successful AL DÍA Chef Series.

More recently through the AL DÍA Top Restaurateurs that we are finally launching in 2021.

Almost hidden in the narrow streets of our city, our journalists have discovered dozens of them who, not surprisingly, using the resilience that only comes with the immigrant determination, figured out how to stay in business, jumping over the multiple hurdles of the shutdown, so devastating for business big and small.

They not only re-imagined the home deliveries and made them a thriving business, but also, turning adversity into an advantage, have even flourished, with the help of the city's government, sprawling over to sidewalks and streets for additional seating.

If you walk these streets today, our city looks more relaxed, less pressed for time, and more inclined to enjoy life with these never-seen-before outdoor seating accommodations you only found before in Europe or Latin America — giving to Philadelphia that cosmopolitan and Joie de Vivre touch to our hospitality that AL DÍA has documented.

Properly publicized by our leaders paid well to market our city, the first capital of the nation can be again the convening space, extremely appealing to thousands of national and international tourists still undecided where to go this Summer and Fall of 2021.

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