The Industry, a new bar that serves the servers

Posted: September 07, 2012

The hospitality industry, by its very nature, caters to paying customers - their dollars fuel the bars and restaurants, placing patrons and their happiness on a pedestal.

But what about the individuals who toil in the back- and front-of-house trenches, those who inspire return visits through consistent cooking and sharp service? The owners of Center City's Good Dog had them in mind when they opened a new bar this summer.

On-the-nose name notwithstanding, The Industry, nestled in Pennsport, panders to restaurant workers via discounts (a standing 20 percent off for anyone "in the biz," plus regular late-night specials), an open kitchen with benevolent hours (food till 1 a.m.), and even decor - photographer Steve Legato's portraits of prominent local chefs, brewers, and bartenders dress the walls.

But it's the unorthodox attitude of the place, from Good Dog's Dave Garry and Heather Gleason and partner Tom Darby, that shouts loudest. Servers sport shirts with "I Don't Work Here" on the back. They have rubber stamps bearing "86" - kitchen slang for an item that's run out - to update the menu in real time.

On Sundays, chef Patrick Szoke offers a "staff meal" special, re-creating for public consumption the sustaining meal he prepares for coworkers. Elsewhere his cooking is built around dishes for a more adventurous crowd, like curried pork rinds and lamb neck gravy with ricotta.

Cards affixed to tabs boast cheeky instructions, such as this one from Modern Drunkard magazine's infamous "86 Rules of Boozing": "If you can't afford to tip, you can't afford to drink in a bar. Go to the liquor store." They've even taken to excerpting negative Yelp reviews on Facebook (e.g. "Throw a chicken sandwich or a roast beef sandwich on the menu . . . these are items that are 'normal' "), much to the glee of in-the-know fans who set the comment section ablaze with ridicule, some of it vitriolic.

At a place so tailored to the pleasers who keep this customer-pleasing business afloat - and it's boldly branded, not just implied - is there any room for nonindustry patrons?

"Not a day goes by when someone on one of our staffs doesn't get hit with the question 'When are you getting a real job?' " said Gleason, who opened Good Dog with Garry in 2003. "Which is very disheartening. Twelve hours on my feet sweating and taking care of your every need feels pretty real to me."

This seeming disregard for what it takes was one motivation behind The Industry. Another was the fact that the owners already had a successful industry gem on their hands in Good Dog, which has long had a reputation as a haven for post-shifters. During his time cooking at the nearby Vetri, Szoke would phone the bar with minutes to spare to get in a later-than-late dinner order. "I would call at 12:45 [a.m.], order a burger and say, 'Just put it on the bar, I'll be there after 1.' I don't care if it's cold, I just want something to eat."

"[We opened] to give people in our business a place to come," said Gleason. "Everything is geared toward you [and] making you feel welcome. As opposed to never being about you."

But what distinguishes The Industry from any number of places empathetic to hospitality peers is its emphatic approach. Garry and Gleason, who along with Szoke are outspoken Yelp haters ("It will keep you up at night," said the chef), are currently developing a section of The Industry's website called "Pley" - "Yelp" backward - that will operate inversely to the controversial online rating community: Servers and bartenders will be able to log in and critique customers. The writeups will not feature names of guests or restaurants, just stories.

"Restaurant people are very excited about it," said Gleason, who stresses that the concept is tongue-in-cheek. "It's going to be good and bad - the table that made your day, the table that made it your worst day. Pley is going to be what we talk about at the end of the night. If you're sitting at the end of this bar at midnight on a Monday, that's what you're going to hear - a dozen restaurant people sharing war stories."

More than two months in, it's too early to tell if The Industry's approach will cause potential customers to shy away.

"Some people say, 'This is awesome, we love what you're doing.' Other people are like, 'This is elitist, you're snobs,' " said Garry, who points out that they enjoy a regular early-evening rush from the surrounding neighborhood ahead of biz types filling bar stools late at night. "We never mean to turn anybody away. We're not looking to go out of our way to alienate anybody."

Gleason feels that digestion of the concept requires a willing mind and a healthy sense of humor - traits she has identified in the food-fixated subgrouping of customers that began frequenting Good Dog after the bar's 2010 appearance on the popular Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. "When we were on the Food Network, we realized just how into what we do people are now," she said. "It's supposed to be a peek into our industry. This is what goes on. This is what happens. You want to know about it? Turn off the Food Network and come watch."

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