If you’d like an idea of what the future might look like for Joe Monnich and Justin Weathers, consider renowned restaurateur Stephen Starr. Both men worked for Starr, and as their Stove and Co. dining footprint continues to expand, they’re not lost on the similarities. “When I was an employee, I thought [Starr] was crazy,” says Monnich. “I used to think he should go take a vacation, or I’d see that it was 10 o’clock at night and think he should go home. Now, I’m standing here, and I’m the same person. No wonder I don’t have any friends.”
Granted, Starr has 35 restaurants to Monnich and Weathers’ half dozen. But as they celebrate the opening of two new locations and the post-COVID rebirth of four others, they face the challenge of moving forward in a way that doesn’t lead to overextension, exhaustion and failure. And it’s been a stressful and frenetic two years marked by substantial staff turnover. “Right now, we’re against our ceiling,” Monnich says.
“High schoolers saved us,” adds Weathers.
Their newest property is Revival Pizza Pub in Chester Springs. They’ve also joined forces with restaurant veteran Anthony DePaul in Ardmore to create DePaul’s Table, a high-end Italian steakhouse in the old First Pennsylvania Bank building that used to be the home to, among other things, Monnich and Weathers’ departed French bistro, the Bercy. Those newcomers join three Stove & Tap locations in Lansdale, Malvern and West Chester (with its new Good Bad & Ugly bar), plus Al Pastor, a Mexican restaurant in Exton. “Finding the tipping point is tough,” Monnich says. “It comes down to good hires and a strong infrastructure. We want to focus on smart hiring and smart training. That’s the biggest challenge post-COVID. We’d like to grow, but we need great management and great culinary directors.”
When you consider Monnich’s makeup, it’s hardly a surprise that he’s come this far. “Everything in my life has been goal-oriented,” says the Berwyn native.
Graduating from Conestoga High School in 2001, Monnich headed to the Culinary Institute of America in New York—though it wasn’t his debut in the kitchen. He was in high school when he landed a job at the now-shuttered Simon Pearce eatery in West Chester, where his cousin was working as a chef. After CIA, Monnich worked at Susanna Foo’s Philadelphia and Radnor locations, at Lacroix on Rittenhouse Square, and in New York. “I wanted to work in a fine-dining setting and then at a Michelin-rated restaurant,” he says matter-of-factly. “I did that.”
Monnich was still an uncertain about his future when he was recruited in 2008 by Starr, who hired him to be a chef at Parc, also on Rittenhouse Square. He spent a year there before becoming more of a “journeyman” for Starr, working at Morimoto and the Dandelion before returning to Parc as executive chef, where he remained until 2016.
Born in “the swamps of north central Florida,” fellow CIA graduate Weathers has had a similarly itinerant career. After the New York life bled his bank account dry, he worked for six months at Merion Cricket Club before heading to Parc. “I asked for a cooking job, but the woman I interviewed with told me, ‘You look like a manager to me,’” Weathers says.
Weathers describes his year at Parc as “insane but life changing.” He then spent two years as an executive chef for the Philadelphia’s Cescaphe Group before returning to the Starr orbit: “I told [Starr], ‘I’m a chef now.’ He said, ‘No you’re not. You’re a manager.’”
After 10 years as a manager for several Starr properties, Weathers reconnected with his Parc contact, and he and Monnich started knocking around ideas for their own restaurant. When real estate investors approached them with a space in Lansdale, they were intrigued—but wary. “The town had a lot of vacancies, but not much of a food scene,” says Weathers.
The Stove & Tap gastropub concept worked there—and it’s worked in Malvern and West Chester, too. Thanks to its large outdoor footprint, Al Pastor grew significantly in 2020. And though the Bercy succumbed to manpower and infrastructure limitations, DePaul’s Table is off to a promising start. The same goes for Revival.
Monnich and Weathers both have families, with two wives and five children between them. When he can find the time, Monnich is often on the golf course. Weathers, meanwhile, is an ultramarathon and trail-running “obsessive.” He plans to complete a 100-miler in 2022.
Even with the frenetic pace they’re maintaining now, the desire to grow is still there. “We’re toying with a fast casual chain restaurant that people could franchise,” Monnich says.
“We don’t want to get stagnant,” adds Weathers. “We love creating restaurants, finding space and working with designers. But at the same time, we’re individuals. There’s only so much we can do.”
Stephen Starr would beg to differ.