Reading Terminal Market

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“Meeting Reading Terminal Customer-Turned-Manager Anuj Gupta,” by Carolyn Wyman

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He co-owns a restaurant, holds both public administration and law degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, is a former deputy commissioner in the city's restaurant-overseeing Office of Licenses and Inspections, and most recently headed a nonprofit with $30 million current and completed projects.

With that kind of resume, is it any wonder Anuj (pronounced A-new-j) Gupta rose to the top of a list of candidates from a national search to become the new manager for nonprofit food icon Reading Terminal Market?

"I wanted it bad," Gupta, 41, told a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer in mid-May, when he was named to succeed Paul Steinke (who resigned last December after 13 years as Market manager to run for City Council.). Why so bad? we asked him one recent morning at a table near the Head Nut, as the Market's breakfast crowd sipped coffee and ate doughnuts and egg sandwiches.

"Because I love this place. Who wouldn't want to have the chance to have an impact on an institution of this importance? This is not just one of America's greatest food markets, it's also one of this country's greatest public spaces."

Gupta grew up in the Philly suburbs as a foodie, the son of "gourmet chefs" whose Jyoti Foods was one of the first brands of all-natural shelf-stable Indian foods sold in U.S. supermarkets. "Leftovers in my house growing up meant leftovers from yesterday's four-course dinner," he says.

Career-wise, though, Gupta's long-held goal was public service at the federal level. But an AmeriCorps job in Boston, a summer internship in Philly and a fellowship in New York City made him see "that you can have a bigger impact locally. That's also where the real innovation happens."

Hence his L&I and Managing Director's Office jobs in the Nutter administration, and for the past four-and-a-half years, as head of community development corporation Mt. Airy USA, all while patronizing Reading Terminal Market. In fact, Gupta remembers having breakfast at the Market his very first day of his City Hall job in 2008.

As his family's primary cook, with a particular talent for Vietnamese dishes ("I'd put my pho broth up against anybody's," he boasts), Gupta says he frequently shopped the Market for dinner ingredients during his three years working for the city, storing them in an office refrigerator before taking the train home to Mt. Airy. Although, Gupta adds quickly, already in Market-booster mode, you don't have to have an office refrigerator or be a great cook to make dinner from the Market.

"I know many of the fish vendors will pack your purchases in ice so they'll be fine for a number of hours." And, "Getting a high-quality, quick meal on the table is as simple as grabbing some sausages from any of the great sausage specialists in the Market -- all they need is some grilling -- and a couple of salads or pasta dishes from any number of stands."

Gupta is married to University City District planning and economic development director Prema Katari Gupta and has two young children. About nine months after the birth of now 5-year-old daughter, Leela, Gupta began a Saturday morning ritual of breakfast, shopping and book-reading/father-daughter bonding in the Market that lasted three years. "I could have gone to the seating area at Whole Foods and done the same thing. But it wouldn't offer the same experience. The Market much more lends itself to spending family time together." That's one of the things that makes it so special."

As owner, with his parents, of Jyoti Indian Bistro in Mt. Airy, Gupta can also relate to Market food vendors. "I know what a stand owner goes through when facing an inspection because as a restaurant owner, I've been through it myself." Gupta also knows how it feels to "have someone buy your food and be really satisfied. That's hard to beat." In fact, he says, sometimes after a long week of working on long-term projects at Mt. Airy USA, he would man the register at Jyoti Bistro on a Friday evening for a restorative dose of that immediate, positive feedback.

Gupta is taking over the reins of a Market that, "thanks to the fantastic work of Paul [Steinke], the board, the merchants and the staff" is in "a position of strength." Still, he says, "Just maintaining the status quo" at a time when a Mom's natural foods store is being built at 11th and Market and when Gallery Mall renovator Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust is talking about creating "an epicurean experience on Filbert Street would be a recipe for disaster."

In the immediate future expect a renewed "focus on cleanliness and safety" from a Gupta administration, and, going forward, efforts to increase the Market's accessibility through technology, including upgraded Wi-Fi, a smartphone app highlighting specials and helping with Market navigation and also, possibly, partnering with Center City corporations to make the Market's existing Instacart delivery service a company benefit. (So for example, an Aramark employee could "shop" the Market online in the morning and find her purchases waiting for her in the building to take home at the end of the workday.)

He is also hoping to "make better use of the entire inside and outside of the building to relieve some of the congestion during peak periods," perhaps by closing Filbert Street to vehicular traffic afternoons for seating and arts performances on ordinary Saturdays as it is now for special events, like this Saturday's annual Sidewalk Sizzle and Ice Cream Freeze.

As for the personal challenge of working among all the Market's great food without getting fat, Gupta says, "I was a competitive swimmer and still train two to three times a week, so I just need to keep that up -- if not increase my practice frequency!"

Carolyn Wyman is the Market's news correspondent and operator of the Reading Terminal's bi-weekly Taste of Philadelphia Food Tour.

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“Barbecue Tips from the Market Experts,” By Carolyn Wyman

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Next week marks the unofficial beginning of summer and of the summer grilling season -- the perfect time to tap into Market merchants' expertise on what to grill and how to grill it.

Who better to talk to for barbecue tips than The Rib Stand's Phares Glick? All Rib Stand ribs marinate in a dry rub for 12 to 24 hours before being cooked on the grill for an hour and a half, then finished off in a 300-degree oven for at least another hour ("the longer, the more tender," Glick says). Glick says he knows some people who bake the ribs before searing but he thinks "they don't dry out as much this way." His stand sells uncooked seasoned ribs for folks who like to D.I.Y. with some time-savings, as well as ready-to-eat ribs and rib dinners for the totally time-pressed.

Anthony Dienner of Dienner's Bar-B-Q Chicken is one of those who believe in searing meat before low-slow cooking. This results in chickens with "nice, dark crispy skins," Dienner says, especially if you spike a standard all-purpose barbecue rub with a little dark brown sugar as he does.

Godshall's Poultry sells the whole birds and pieces you could use to try out Dienner's technique along with barbecue-friendly specialty poultry cuts like turkey broil, chops and ribs. But stand employee Will Alderfer's go-to grilling cut is actually a plain old chicken cutlet, cooked 15 to 25 minutes (depending on grill temperature and thickness) and topped with Dijon-mustard-honey sauce.

Bored with hot dogs? Fresh sausages are as easy to cook and can also be served in buns but are lots more interesting, especially if you use one of the almost 50 flavored varieties (chicken Jamaican jerk, turkey andouille, and pork apple or provolone and parsley, among them) sold at Martin's Quality Meats & Sausage. (These do need to be cooked longer than hot dogs, though, because they're not precooked.)

La Divisa Meats also sells fresh sausages. Mention grilling and the second thing Nick Macri mentions are his Coppa pork collar pieces, aka pork "steak," which can be grilled in the same way as the beef kind. Or try his ground lamb for a different kind of hamburger. (All La Divisa's products are locally sourced from whole animals, by the way.)

And grilling is not limited to carnivores. Alex Jones of Fair Food Farmstand says currently in-store, in-season veggies like asparagus, spring onion and rhubarb taste great from the grill. Toss the asparagus or onions in oil, season with salt, pepper and anything else you like, and grill to desired tenderness. As for the rhubarb, Jones suggests marinating 2-inch pieces of the stalks in sugar for at least an hour, placing them in a grill basket (or a makeshift basket fashioned from double-layered foil), then grilling on both sides until tender. She recommends pairing with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (like her stand's Weckerly's brand).

Cook your veggies and ribs on the charcoal grill but cook your burgers in a pan on your stovetop -- the home equivalent of Hunger Burger's flat-top grill, is stand owner George Mickel's story-concept-contrarian advice. "Burgers cooked on a charcoal grill seem to ball up. They'll burn outside and still not be cooked in the middle." Hunger Burger recently added turkey burgers to their menu in response to consumer demand: If that's also the kind of burger you want to make at home, be sure to buy a mix with enough thigh meat. Otherwise it will be too dry, Mickel advises.

Speaking of burgers: Among the newest and most unique of a shelf-ful of books about barbecue and other traditional foods for the grill at the Market's The Cookbook Stall is Build Your Own Burger, a flip book in four parts by Vicki Smallwood. Instead of the building faces from ears, eyes and noses you may remember from flipbooks of your childhood, Smallwood offers flipable buns, sauces, patties and toppings yielding up to 60,000 different (though probably not all equally delicious) combinations. Looking for more than just smoke flavor while grilling? Check out Flavorize, a new book by Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe totally devoted to "Great Marinades, Injections, Brines, Rubs and Glazes."

Don't have time for D.I.Y. barbecue sauces and rubs? The Head Nut sells all manner of bulk seasonings and dry rubs by the quarter pound (smoked barbecue dry rub, Montana steak seasoning and mesquite dry rub among them). Best-sellers from their shelf of barbecue sauces include the Bone Suckin' and The Shed brands, says the stand's Jennifer Quinn. Meanwhile, Lysander's rubs and Rufus Teague Kansas City style barbecue sauces sell best at Jonathan Best.

Another way to up the flavor of grilled meats or fish: Place them on some cedar grilling planks sold at Amy's Place. "You just soak them in water then place your meat or fish right on them on the grill," says stand employee John Sabolchic. Amy's also sells barbecue fish baskets (which keeps the fish from sticking on the grill or falling apart when you flip it) and chimney grill starters (charcoal lights quicker in these metal tubes and when you pour the burning coals into the grill, results in a more even cook).

Need more than just tips? Get hands-on instruction in cooking baby back ribs and barbecue chicken as well as several sides from Beck's Cajun Cafe chef Bill Beck at the June 20 "Fire Up the Grill" class in the Market's City Kitchen. Sign up at http://city-kitchen.ticketleap.com/fire-up-the-grill-for-fathers-day/.

Carolyn Wyman is the Market's news correspondent and operator of the Reading Terminal's bi-weekly Taste of Philadelphia Food Tour.

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“Online Reviews You Can Use to Shop the Market,” By Carolyn Wyman

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Jennifer Fisher with Beiler's much Yelped-about blueberry fritters

 

Yelp and TripAdvisor are fast replacing restaurant reviews as the places for advice on where to eat and what to order when you get there. The problem, especially for a place as popular as Reading Terminal Market, is the amount of time it takes to sift through all these websites' posts to come to a consensus or find knowledgeable commenters with other-than-obvious specific food suggestions.

And so we did it for you, boiling down about 500 of the most recent 2216 posts about Reading Terminal on Yelp and the 1,059 on TripAdvisor to render up some of the best tips and most delicious dishes other people have enjoyed that you might also want to try.

Generally speaking, Yelp's website attracts youngish locals in their 20s and 30s; TripAdvisor, more one-time visitors with some suggestions ("shop the Market early on the weekend to avoid the large crowds") which you probably already know and so will not repeat. Yelp's "review highlights" feature pulls out the most frequently mentioned words in all the reviews and the number of times they appear. By this measure, DiNic's (at 163 mentions), Bassetts (71), Dutch Eating Place (65) and Beiler's (60) are the Market's most popular stands. This story also contains advice from Yelp and TripAdvisor user ratings of individual Reading Terminal stands.

And now, on to the recommendations (beginning with those most-often-Yelped stands).

DiNic's: While practically everyone recommended the roast pork sandwich, a sizable minority of Yelpers suggested trying the brisket ("more juicy and flavorful," according to Brian L.). One tip from a TripAdvisor commenter: Sitting at the counter "usually" results in getting your sandwich faster than standing in line.

Bassetts Ice Cream: The mix-in-heavy WHYY Experience, Moose Tracks and Guatamalan Ripple (in that order) were the favorite flavors on Bassetts Yelp page.

Dutch Eating Place: Go for breakfast, specifically the blueberry pancakes and turkey bacon, and the apple dumplings, say online commenters. Their hot sandwiches (turkey with gravy, open-faced creamed chip beef, Rueben) also came in for a fair amount of praise.

Beiler's Bakery: The blueberry fritter was the overwhelming favorite from the doughnut part of the operation ("I've never felt so strongly about a baked good before," confessed Sarah F.), closely followed by the apple fritters, for their taste, texture and value (although about half-again as big as the doughnuts, they're line-priced at 95 cents each, several posters noted). Favorite doughnuts include the salted caramel, caramel apple, banana cream, Boston cream and coconut custard. A number of Yelpers recommended shopping Beiler's general bakery side during their weekly late Saturday afternoon clear-out-the-case sale.

Little Thai Market: The salmon with broccoli and rice topped with shrimp and curry sauce was a favorite of several online commenters.

Chocolate by Muellers: Although perhaps best-known for novelty chocolate ears, eyes, noses and cheesesteaks, the online love was for their half-peanut-butter, half-chocolate dipped pretzels.

Pearl's Oyster Bar: The French toast, specifically their regular-menu creme brulee and bacon and banana, or pumpkin cheesecake special.

Flying Monkey Bakery: "Not too sweet" whoopie pies and "rich" brownies and other bar desserts (cheesecake brownies, blondies, butter cake) got the most praise on Flying Monkey's individual Yelp page. Beloved whoopies include the creme brulee, chocolate mint, pumpkin and red velvet.

Hershel's East Side Deli: Opinions split on whether to get the pastrami or corned beef Rueben, hence the often-recommended corned beef/pastrami Rueben combo.

Hatville Deli: Corned beef special.

Miller's Twist: Their regular pretzels are "way better than Auntie Annie's," said Crystal E. on February 15. "Better than anything on earth," another commenter countered. Hot dogs wrapped in pretzel and cheese are "to die for," said William F.

Pennsylvania General Store: Hope's Cookies, specifically Wilbur's Peanut Butter (a peanut butter cookie with chunks of Wilbur Buds semi-sweet chocolate candy), Health Bar crunch and the caramel pecan. The latter "tastes like the key to life," gushed one TripAdvisor.

Sweet as Fudge: Lime fruit slices

Market Bakery: At least one TripAdvisor commenter loves their raisin walnut bread.

San Kee Peking Duck: The duck lo mein and the steamed dumplings both have their online fans.

Iovine Brothers Produce: A number of people recommended checking out their back-of-store $1 grab bags of assorted produce, and taking advantage of their 10 percent student discount on Wednesdays and Sundays. (Seniors get the same discount every day.)

Old City Coffee: Last August 15, Von M. raved about their frozen lattes which are "whirled in a blender [to] the consistency of a frappe with almost none of the calories." Other Yelpers praised this stand's Old City Blend and "smooth, yet with body" Poor Richard's beans.

Meltkraft at Valley Shepherd Creamery: Although the over-the-top Valley Thunder was most often-mentioned, many seemed to prefer the more-restrained Melter Skelter (featuring Raclette, pickled green tomatoes and jalapenos).

Tootsie's Salad Bar: Favorites include the kale citrus, quinoa and black bean salads, and the pineapple banana cake.

As for general advice: To avoid "eaters remorse," several people suggested that first-time or occasional visitors scope out the Market thoroughly before buying anything. "Come with friends so you can try lots of different foods," recommended Fioni L. Bring cash as many vendors don't accept credit cards was another tip. Han L. recommended using the "complimentary cell phone charging lockers" (near Philbert the pig) to power up while you shop.

Of course, these are only a select few of the millions of words written about Reading Terminal on the online review sites. Find more recommendations or share your best Reading Terminal ideas with the world at yelp.com and tripadvisor.com.

Carolyn Wyman is the Market's news correspondent and operator of the Reading Terminal's bi-weekly Taste of Philadelphia Food Tour, which Yelper Pallabi G. called "a blast" and "a great way to get ... pointed in the direction of all the best places to try."

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“Shopping the Market via Instacart: A Beginner's Guide,” By Carolyn Wyman

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Photo: Instacart’s Sarah Welch shops at Iovine’s

 

My husband and I recently enjoyed a lunch at home consisting of a Hershel's Rachael sandwich, a grilled cheese made with aged cheddar from Downtown Cheese, bananas (only 59 cents per pound!) from OK Produce and cupcakes from Flying Monkey Bakery in less than the time it would take me to get to and from the Market (not to mention find a parking space or wait in lines).

No, a friend didn't shop for me, unless you consider a helpful company to be a friend. That helpful company is Instacart: You may have seen the banner announcing their delivery service on the Market website but not had time to check it out yourself. This story is for you: the time-pressed, the families with young kids who find it hard to get out and older folks who would like to let someone else schlep heavy bags home.

Get started by clicking on the Instacart announcement on Reading Terminal Market's homepage. This takes you to a page asking for your zip code -- not to be nosy, but to determine if you live in Instacart's delivery area for the Market. That area is impressively wide, encompassing all of Center City and South and West Philly and including such relatively far-flung locales as Villanova, Chestnut Hill, Roxborough, Upper Darby, Kensington and most points in-between.

Assuming Instacart delivers where you live or work, you'll then be asked for only three other bits of information to set up an account (your name, email address and chosen password) before some of the Market's many delights pop up, organized by the stall that sells them. Just make sure to click on the words "view more" to the right of each stand's name to see mouth-watering pictures of all the products they're offering. (Although many people like to shop Instacart via their smartphone or tablet, Philadelphia manager George Shotz actually recommends making your first visit on a computer to best get oriented to the website's features and layout.)

Browsing Instacart's Reading Terminal store can be a great way to explore the Market's offerings, even for those with no need for a shopping service. (Did you know that By George's sells pizza dough? Or that Valley Shepherd carries pure cane sugar Coca-Cola from Mexico? I didn't before seeing them on Instacart.) There's also a search box where you can find out which stands sell a particular foodstuff. Searching on bacon there, for instance, will yield hits for Wursthaus Schmitz's double-smoked German-style bacon, Godshall's turkey bacon and L. Halteman's thick-sliced rind-on as well as Beiler's maple bacon donut and any number of hamburgers and hot dogs topped with that meat.

Item prices are set by Instacart and are usually a little higher than what you would pay in the Market. That premium is part of how Instacart pays its workers, including one or two shoppers who are stationed at the Market all day, every day. Most meat, produce, fish, cheese and many candies are priced by the pound but merchants vary as to whether they will sell less than a pound on Instacart. To find out, click on the big minus sign to the left of the price after you add one of these items to your virtual shopping cart. Doing this I was able to buy just a quarter-pound of Downtown Cheese's 41/2-year-aged Canadian cheddar. Likewise, some Market bakeries sell by the half or full dozen, while others will sell two cupcakes or a single cookie.

Hover to the right of any item in your shopping cart and an "add note" will appear that Instacart shopper Sarah Welch says you should click on and fill in, especially when it comes to produce and baked goods. "It's really helpful if you specify the ripeness of a fruit or vegetable that you want or whether or not you want the bread sliced," she says. Since the Flying Monkey's cupcake duo pack doesn't specify flavors, I wrote, "Love chocolate and caramel. Don't like peanut butter and mint" in its note box.

One of the last steps in the ordering process involves choosing or suggesting replacements for out-of-stock items. Welch and the other Instacart Market shoppers are allowed to call customers for approval on substitutes and other order issues, although being so thorough with your online order as to make this unnecessary will make it easier for the company to meet its delivery promises of one or two hours from when you order (if you order during regular Market hours). Delivery costs $5.99 for receipt in one-hour or $3.99 in two, if you spend at least $35; $9.99 or $7.99, respectively, for delivery in one or two hours if you buy less (there is a $10 minimum). Pay $99 annually and all deliveries of at least $35 are free. Your first-ever delivery is free, so there's really not much excuse for not at least giving Instacart a try.

Shotz says you also don't have to stick to just ordering items listed for the 45 Market merchants currently featured on the Instacart website. "If there's something else you want that's sold at the Market, we'll do our best to get it for you," he says. Search on the words "special request" on the website to ask for these wildcard items at wildcard prices (although Shotz reassures that "they won't be too much different than what the merchant charges.")

Instacart sent me both email and text messages about my order and the expected delivery time, including one sent as the driver left the Market estimating a 12:40 p.m. arrival. My delivery person, a woman in her 20s' with long dreadlocks, showed up right on time and handed me two Instacart cloth bags containing pretty much exactly what I asked for, down to the ripeness of the bananas (green), the flavors of the cupcakes (chocolate and strawberry) and the fattiness of the pastrami in the Rachael sandwich (I asked for and got lean). The Rachael was also still warm.

I handed her a tip. knowing that the next time I want to shop the Market but can't for some reason of time, weather or illness, I'll be going there via Instacart. Maybe you should too.

Carolyn Wyman is the Market's news correspondent and operator of the Reading Terminal's bi-weekly Taste of Philadelphia Food Tour.

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Six Menu Highlights for the Upcoming Party for the Market

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The Party for the Market is nearly upon us (Saturday, February 21st)! Our annual fundraising event features unlimited food and drink, as well as music, dancing, palm readers, and more. However, one of the most anticipated aspects of the event is the special dishes that our vendors make each year. Many vendors only serve these delish dishes at the Party, so be sure to grab tickets if you want to try these (and many more)!

 

Martin’s Pig Roast

Martin’s, our resident sausage experts, are roasting an entire pig for the Party. If you’ve never been to a pig roast, don’t miss this opportunity to try a slow roasted, hand-basted pig. And if you have...you know it’s not something you should miss.

 

Molly Malloy’s Breakfast Buffet

Breakfast for dinner is one of life’s little pleasures. Join Molly Malloy’s for some of the best breakfast you’ll have this year, regardless of time of day. They’ll be serving up butternut squash hash, French toast sammies, huevos rancheros, and carrot cake pancakes with a cream cheese icing. Definitely worth getting up--or staying up--for.

 

Old City Coffee Latte Art

All of the eating, dancing, and general good-times may leave you a bit tired. Not to worry, though--Old City Coffee has you covered! Get your caffeine fix from Philly’s stalwart coffee roasters since 1985, replete with beautiful latte art (seriously, they’re very talented).

 

Hershel’s Mini Reubens

Hershel’s was recently given a loving write-up in Bon Appétit, and it’s no wonder why--their sandwiches are amazing. Per the magazine, the sandwiches are “glistening with fat, zesty Russian dressing and creamy coleslaw oozing out from between two slices of Kaplan’s rye.” See what all the fuss is about and try a mini Reuben...or two. We won’t tell.

 

Olympia Gyro’s Moussaka

Moussaka is one of the Mediterranean’s great dishes—similar to a shepherd’s pie, mousakka is hearty, comforting, and only available in the market during the Party. Don’t miss it!

 

Flying Monkey Mini Whoopie Pies

Naturally, you’ll want to end the night on a sweet note. Fortunately, Flying Monkey Bakery will satisfy even the most discerning sweet tooth with its whoopie pies (declared a Best of Philly by Philly Mag). Enjoy!

 

Be sure to pick up your tickets, available from $75!

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Behind the Counter: Bath, Body & Spirit

 

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Reading Terminal Market (RTM) is a landscape built on more than food. Soaps, scents and natural skin products exist under the original Buttermilk sign that once was Spataro’s. Lynette owns and manages Terralyn: Bath, Body, Spirit, handmade, all-vegetable based soaps & skin care products.

RTM: How would you describe Terralyn to a new customer?

Lynette: Eighteen years ago, I set out to create natural, healthy products for the skin. My philosophy is: if you care about what goes in your body, you should care equally about what goes onto it.

 

RTM: Of the products you sell, which is your favorite and why?

Lynette: Definitely the soap. The deep forest made with spruce fir, laurel leaf and essential oils. It’s my favorite because it transports me out of the city and into mother natures best.

 

RTM: Have any of the merchants inspired a new product?

Lynette: Yes, I am working on a cream without water. It’s an oil-based cream and intended to help with arthritis pain. There are elements of ginger and black pepper in the composition of the cream but it may change as the experiment evolves.

 

RTM: Do you have a formulaic process when creating?

Lynette: All the formulas have been developed over the years. I use blotter paper, placing a couple of drops of scent on the paper and mark what they are, allow it to dry for a 48-hour period and see what’s appealing.

 

RTM: If you could run a class, how would you design it?

Lynette: Balm-making classes would be fun and an interactive experience. Participants would have to make sure that they keep the balm refrigerated and chilled.

 

RTM: What have you noticed about the Reading Terminal Customers?

Lynette: Some customers have asked me some interesting questions. I’ve had people ask me for an easel, a canvas, cameras and toys. The most common question I get about the products are: “Can I use it on my face?” My answer is always yes; on you can use it on your face and all your nooks and crannies.

 

RTM: Do you feel under pressure to compete with the Merchants at the Market?

Lynette: Not in the least, 90% of the merchants are food merchants. Also, I make everything from scratch so I am confident in my product.

 

RTM: What’s next for you?

Lynette: A three-week trip to Italy, to get in touch my roots!

Whether she is experimenting with scents for soaps or weaving dream catchers, she’s always got her customers on her mind. We would like to thank her for taking the time to chat with us and we look forward to the aromas of her upcoming concoctions.

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"The Meet Market: It's Where Sweet-Makers (and Butchers and Bakers) Find their Valentines," By Carolyn Wyman

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Photo: The Muellers with their chocolate hearts

 

Reading Terminal Market may not be first on your list of Philadelphia's most romantic dining destinations. But it's proven to be a singles stir-fry for Market employees, as fine a place for them to find a life partner as it is for customers to find candy, flowers and ingredients for a romantic dinner to share with their Valentines.

 

Roger Miller of Miller's Twist pretzels is a perfect example. In his prior job as manager at the Dutch Eating Place, Miller hired Shauna Glick to waitress in 2000. In less than a year-and-a-half, they were husband and wife.

 

When Flying Monkey manager Shane Monroe first got a job at the bakery in 2011, he admits, "I knew very little about baking. So I had to do a lot of one-on-one" with then-manager Elly Koenig. And not just one-on-one about baking, apparently. After dating for two and half years, Shane and Elly (who no longer works in the Market) recently moved in together.

 

Surveys say that 10 to 20 percent of couples meet in the workplace. That percentage might be even higher at the Market, according to Glenn Mueller of Chocolate by Mueller, purveyor of anatomically correct chocolate hearts and noses (instead of roses) and chocolate-covered long-stemmed strawberries, among many other Valentine's treats.

 

"I think it's probably easier to approach someone you're interested in in the Market than it would be in a big company. Going to someone's office or cubicle might be awkward whereas here, everyone's accessible." Moreover Mueller believes the Market's reasonable hours makes stand employment attractive to a particularly diverse and interesting group of young artists and activists. Or, as Mueller puts it: "There are people here for every taste."

 

Glenn speaks from experience. He married longtime Chocolate by Mueller employee Jazmine Maita in 2010. Mueller has his sister Cristen to thank for hiring his future wife when she was a 15-year-old high school student looking for a part-time job. For Mueller, then the 22-year-old son of owners Theresa and Glenn Sr., "It was truly love at first sight. I thought she was the prettiest person I had ever laid eyes on. She had a great personality and a brilliant mind." But Jazmine also had a high school sweetheart so she and Glenn were just co-workers and friends until Jazmine graduated from high school and her first beau.

 

Like Roger Miller, Joe Nicolosi of DiNic's and Roger Bassett of Bassetts Ice Cream and the Original Turkey, both hired the women they eventually married. Joe's wife, Christina, worked at DiNic's for about four years before they started dating. One of Joe's previous long-term girlfriends also worked in the Market. He explains the phenomena as "proximity. You get close to people, you get to know them and things happen."

 

Roger Bassett well remembers the day now-wife Mary showed up to interview for his bookkeeper opening.

 

"I was at the turkey stand when I got the call that she was at the ice cream stand and as I walked up the aisle I saw this young lady in a suit and heels and I remember thinking, 'If that's her, she's hired.'"

 

Roger was further wowed when the interview spilled into the lunch rush and Mary jumped behind the counter of his turkey stand to pour sodas.

 

"At that point in my life I had lots of girlfriends. But they were not people you would think of sharing your life with. I saw how she could be a partner, in terms of both life and working."

 

Twenty-seven years later Roger and Mary are still working together in the Market, along with 21-year-old son Eric.

 

And romance at Bassetts Ice Cream does not end at the top. Bassetts manager Mia Maldonado also met her future husband at the stand. Roger Caulfield was her boss before she became her husband. "He proposed right there," she said, pointing to the southeast corner of Bassetts' marble counter. Another current Bassetts employee is the girlfriend of a Salumeria sandwich stand worker. The Market's extremely active rumor mill also tells tales of matchups between workers at Fourth Street Cookies and Tootsie's, Beck's and Carmen's, and Market housekeeping and security.

 

The Market has a long history of romantic pairings. Eva Godshall worked at Godshall's poultry stand before marrying boss C.K. Godshall's son, Ernst, in the mid-1930s. The late Domenic C. Spataro met his wife, Dorothy, when they both worked for the buttermilk stand he took over in 1947 (also the year they married).

 

But his son, current stand owner Domenic M. Spataro, has also seen the downside of Market romance, as in the day two Spataro's employees who were dating had a fight behind the stand. "I fired him, though she still works here and ironically, they are still a couple," he noted.

 

Glenn Mueller agrees with Spataro and most human resource experts in believing that fraternization on the job is generally a bad idea. "If there's a break-up, you could potentially lose two good employees. If one employee gets disciplined, their girlfriend or boyfriend might also take it personally."

 

Mueller is currently a little concerned about a romance between one of his employees and a worker for a competitive Market candy business. But given his own personal history, he doesn't have the "heart" to put it to a stop.

 

Carolyn Wyman is the Market's news correspondent and operator of the Reading Terminal's bi-weekly Taste of Philadelphia Food Tour.

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Reading Terminal Market in the News

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Locals have loved Reading Terminal Market for 122 years, but more recently, the Market has become more widely known nationally, and even internationally.  This week, the Market was highlighted by both Bon Appetit and Conde Nast Traveler.  We are proud to be one of Philadelphia's highlights, for both our regular shoppers/diners and our visitors! 

 

Click here to view the Bon Appetit article.

 

 

Click here to view the Conde Nast Traveler article.

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Behind the Counter: The Sweetest Place in Town

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“Lest Old Acquaintance Be Forgot: A Chat with Departing Market Manager Paul Steinke,” By Carolyn Wyman

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Market regulars have surely seen him: the tall man in the jacket and tie toting a clipboard and a walkie-talkie, roaming the aisles or blocking one as he confers with one or another merchant.

 

He is market manager Paul Steinke, 50, and come January 1 his 13 years of Market schmoozing and note-taking will come to an end.

 

If you like Avenue D's spiffy new rest rooms, demo kitchen and farmer-owned stands or dislike the increased time you now spend trying to get a seat or a pork sandwich on a Saturday, well, Steinke is at least partially to credit/blame.

 

"There is no question that the Avenue D renovation was the most complicated and impactful thing I had to do with here," said Steinke just a few days after his resignation. "Unattractive, outmoded and unacceptable rest rooms were a major motivator," he admitted, but the $3.4-million, 2011-2 project also involved moving refrigerator units to the basement to open up space to build the new "City Kitchen" demonstration kitchen, the Rick Nichols multipurpose room and five new stands, including a German deli from the owners of South Street's Brauhaus Schmitz and cheese maker Valley Shepherd Creamery with its on-floor mozzarella-making room.

 

Many Market patrons will say Steinke has earned his place in Reading Terminal Market history for the spacious, eco-friendly rest rooms alone.

 

Merchants have another take.

 

"Paul is a visionary," said Vincent Iovine, co-owner of Iovine Brothers Produce and president of the Market's Merchants Association. "He had a picture in his head of what the Market should look and sound like -- like a true, old-time market -- and I believe he achieved it." Moreover, Iovine says, Steinke handled some of the more controversial changes he instituted -- such as opening the Market on Sundays for the first time in 2006 -- "very smartly. He realized Sundays was going to work better for some merchants than others so he didn't make it mandatory."

 

Steinke, who earned a degree in business administration from Penn State and previously ran the University City District, was also instrumental in creating the two-tiered merchant rent structure that makes it possible for the fresh produce, fish and meat stands key to the Market's "urban farmer's market" mission to be as successful as the higher profit-margin prepared food ones. He initiated the Market's first advertising campaign, and revived or invented events and attractions like Scrapplefest and the holiday model railroad to increase customer traffic. In fact, the Market's annual customer count rose from 4.8 to 6 million or almost 30 percent during Steinke's reign.

 

Steinke is quick to credit the Market's nonprofit board, the merchants and larger forces in the city and the nation for at least some of that growth. Philadelphia is a much bigger tourist destination now than it was 13 years ago and tourists help to keep stands busy in the summer when many locals go to the Jersey Shore, he says. The Market has also benefited from a growing downtown resident population, the local and craft food movement and the rise in food blogs and food TV.

 

In fact, Steinke cites the filming of an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay featuring Delilah's soul food stand's mac and cheese ("I got to raise the arm of the winner," Steinke remembers), along with the filming of part of the chase scene in the Nicholas Cage movie National Treasure as well as the 2006 day musician Neil Young announced his Farm Aid fundraiser in Center Court as among his most memorable working days. Steinke was off the 2009 day President Obama decided to visit -- the Secret Service only gave staff 45 minutes notice -- "but I managed to get here from my home in West Philly in time to meet him."

 

Managing the market during big weather events like Irene and Sandy was "exhilarating" and rewarding in the sense that the Market was one of the few places where stranded visitors and emergency workers could find food and shelter. There were also the very occasional, Steinke insists, times when the Market itself harbored the disaster, including a single eight-hour span when Old City Coffee had a small fire and snow sliding off the train shed roof injured a passer-by (fortunately not seriously). "I call it my Fire and Ice day," Steinke says.

 

Most difficult have been those times when he has had to inform tenant merchants that their leases were not being renewed, including legacy tenant Ochs Meats and Rick's Steaks.

 

Still, Steinke insists, he's loved his Market career, including the challenges, and that's easy to believe when you hear why he is leaving: to run for an at-large seat on Philadelphia City Council.

 

"Dealing with all the people I've had to as Market manager: the customers, the board, the merchants, our Convention Center landlord, the neighborhood stakeholders, working with them to resolve conflicts and get things done I think has been great training for what I would have to do on Council," he said.

 

The Market's board of directors has hired a search firm to conduct a national search and hopes to name a new manager in the next few months. In the meantime, the management staff and Board will make sure the Market sandwich, celery and candy-selling continues without interruption.

 

Carolyn Wyman is the Market's news correspondent and operator of the Reading Terminal's bi-weekly Taste of Philadelphia Food Tour.

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