London is a diverse global city, but its nods to Philly culture are sparse. JP Teti, founder and owner of London’s Passyunk Avenue restaurant, is changing that. Throughout the pandemic, Teti's innovative representation of the City of Brotherly Love lets Londoners and transplants alike engage with Philly culture despite lockdown.
At home in London
The past year has been especially difficult for those whose lives center around traveling and experiencing local cultures abroad, or for those who are away from home and their local culture without knowing when they can return to it. As a Temple graduate now living in London, I fit into both these categories: I have always loved traveling and immersing myself in a new city, and I also find myself missing Philly a bit more with each passing day spent in lockdown in London.
The UK is currently in its third national lockdown. The first lockdown, which began last March, saw sports and entertainment events postponed, followed by school, pub, and restaurant closures, and ultimately, a stay-at-home order. Before these restrictions, London was a lively global cultural hub. Just taking the tube on a weekday evening—packed with tired commuters and excited tourists—felt like a cultural event. With more than 270 nationalities represented and 300 languages spoken throughout the city, London has always been a place where you could be yourself while being immersed in other cultures, no matter who you are or where you come from.
While the pandemic has made London feel somewhat deserted and lacking in the global unity for which it is so well known, there was one culture difficult to find in the city even before the pandemic struck: Philly culture. American culture is prevalent in London, although typically depicted as unvarying, with no regional uniqueness. This stereotype did not go unnoticed by one New Jersey native and Philly lover.
Roots and realizations
Teti’s ties to Philly have always been strong. He was a Philly sports fan growing up and often visited for sports events or traditions like the Mummers Parade. He had family in South Philly, and as with many South Philly Italians, he says, food was “central to existence.”
After moving to London in 2008 for business school, he noticed the absence of Philly culture and food after a night out with friends. “Let’s get some cheesesteaks!” he remembers thinking. “This is London … There’s definitely gonna be someone who does cheesesteaks, right? A quick Google search and I was proven wrong.”
It made him question what, exactly, do people in London know about Philadelphia?
“Not much,” he says now. “The initial reaction most people had when I asked them about Philadelphia was ‘Oh, you mean the soft cheese?’ No, I mean the fifth largest city in America!”
Philly-style food truck
This was a starting point for Teti, and he developed his business idea to present to Londoners the culture of the city of Philadelphia “the way I experienced it,” using food and overall unpretentious ambience to engage and resonate with UK customers.
He began with a food truck called Liberty Cheesesteak Company, spending two years to build the idea and determine its sustainability. It wasn’t without challenges: “There wasn’t just a lack of awareness, but a lack of ingredients,” Teti says.
The food truck was doing well, but people had begun to define the Liberty Cheesesteak Company brand as its product. “It was never my intention to get people to obsess over the product, but to get people to obsess over the culture,” he says.
Building Philly abroad
He rebranded the Liberty Cheesesteak Company food truck as Passyunk Avenue, and soon had his first fixed location in the central London neighborhood of Fitzrovia, to be “a fully transcendent, culturally immersive experience.” From the outside, the location is nested alongside London’s modern offices and traditional pubs; on the inside, however, patrons are transported to South Philadelphia for an authentic Philly dive bar experience.
A mural highlighting iconic Philly landmarks like LOVE Park and City Hall greets patrons, Philly sports jerseys adorn the walls, and American beers are on tap. When determining how to bring the Philly experience to a new audience, Teti based his judgements on “all the things I like to eat in an environment I like to hang out in.”
While a customer who knows nothing about Philadelphia might curiously wander into Passyunk Avenue occasionally, Teti acknowledges that as Passyunk’s credibility as an authentic Americana experience has grown, so has its Philly-obsessed clientele. He’s even expanded with a location in Westfield Stratford City (the largest shopping mall in Europe), partnering with MLB for an American-style batting-cage experience fully equipped with a bar and restaurant for Europe’s burgeoning baseball fans.
Brotherly love in lockdown
The excitement of the expansion was stymied by Covid-19, but Teti and the Passyunk Avenue team found a way to continue representing Philadelphia, introducing an online shop where UK residents can purchase Passyunk Avenue meal kit “LOVEbundles,” beer, and merch.
The meal kits not only offer customers all the necessary ingredients to make Passyunk Avenue menu items like cheesesteaks, buffalo wings, and more, but also include video guidance and a “Philly Dive Bar Grooves” playlist to ensure a truly authentic experience.
The pandemic may have briefly thwarted Passyunk Avenue’s goal to engage Londoners with an immersive Philly experience, but Teti is optimistic for the future. “This will pass, and soon Passyunk will be open again," he says. "You’ll pop in, and you’ll hear Philadelphia accents from people visiting, and it’ll be like old times again.”
Image description: A photo of the empty bar at Passyunk Avenue in London. The wooden bar is big enough for four people, and the wall behind it is crammed with dollar bills and various decorations, including Eagles, Budweiser, and Drexel logos, a Phanatic, and various bottles. Small bags of potato chips hang from a clothesline strung across the ceiling.
Image description: Two meals in plastic baskets with paper instead of a plate. In the foreground is a juicy cheesesteak in two halves with one pickle spear, and behind it are chicken wings with white dip and a stalk of celery.
Image description: A mural inside Passyunk Avenue in London. The Rocky Statue is prominent in the center, alongside other Philly landmarks like Independence Hall, City Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the Kimmel Center, plus Betsy Ross, Ben Franklin, and various athletes.