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2013 Richard Melman Award goes to Stephen Starr

The latest RH Innovator of the Year Award winner remade the Philadelphia restaurant scene.

Stephen Starr, the multiconcept operator whose trendsetting restaurants are widely credited with helping change Philadelphia’s culinary landscape, has been selected by Restaurant Hospitality as the 2013 recipient of its Richard Melman Innovator of the Year Award. He will be honored during the MUFSO Super Show in Dallas on Sept. 30.

“We are so excited about giving this year’s Melman Award to Stephen Starr,” says Restaurant Hospitality editor-in-chief Michael Sanson. “There are a lot of people and groups around the country opening interesting and lucrative restaurants. But few can come close to opening the types of restaurants that Starr creates. Everything he does is incredibly hip and their very presence brings tremendous energy and vitality to the neighborhoods they occupy. He breathes the same rarified air as Richard Melman.”
“Stephen Starr is a great choice for the Innovator of the Year award, says Melman, the founder and chairman of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises in Chicago. “He's very creative, has done some very exciting projects and I've long admired his work.”

Starr, the owner and founder of Starr Restaurants in Philadelphia, has more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality and entertainment industries. A lifelong devotee of music and pop culture, he likens dining out to attending a theater production, where the players, props, backdrops, lighting and service are part of an overall dramatic effect. This philosophy is mirrored in his restaurants.

At 21, he opened his first club, Grand Mom Minnie’s, a diner that served food by day and comedy at night. Next came Stars, a cabaret/restaurant that featured new acts such as Jerry Seinfeld, Richard Belzer and Pat Benatar. His Ripley Music Hall venture showcased new talent such as U2, The Eurythmics, Cyndi Lauper and Bruce Springsteen. Eventually Starr launched The Concert Company to bring large-scale stadium acts to Philadelphia. He was responsible for memorable shows such as Madonna, Lionel Ritchie, George Michael and others.

On the restaurant side, it all started for Starr in 1995, when he opened Continental Restaurant & Martini Bar in Philadelphia’s Old City. This retro cocktail lounge is often credited with sparking a renewed local desire for high-concept, high-energy-nightlife.

Following Continental's success, he launched a series of restaurants in Philadelphia, each with its own style and vibe. Among them are Buddakan, a smash Asian hit; Pod, a futuristic Asian restaurant; Alma De Cuba, featuring all things Cuban; the popular Morimoto with its contemporary Japanese cuisine; Jones, serving American-style comfort food; El Vez, offering modern Mexican cuisine; and Barclay Prime, the city’s first and only luxury boutique steakhouse.

Today, Starr Restaurants’ portfolio includes more than 30 restaurants. While the majority are in Philadelphia, the group also has locations in Florida, New Jersey and New York City. LeDiplomate, a French brasserie is set to open this spring in Washington, DC.

Outside the restaurant realm, Starr also owns Stephen Starr Events, an upscale catering and special events division, managing projects like Rat's Restaurant at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey, as well as handling all the dining and catering services for the prestigious New York Historical Society and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Richard Melman Innovator of the Year Award recipient was selected by the editors of Restaurant Hospitality. Other award recipients include José Andrés, Todd English, Danny Meyer, Michael Mina, Drew Nieporent and last year’s winner, Joachim Splichal.

For information about MUFSO and to register, visit or call 813-627-6992.

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