Chickie’s & Pete’s is No. 1

The multi-neigh­bor­hood hot spot is bask­ing in the glory of be­ing named best sports bar in North Amer­ica.

Chick­ie’s & Pete’s has come a long way since open­ing back on Nov. 15, 1977, at 4010 Rob­bins Ave.

A news­pa­per art­icle chron­icled the con­cerns of some res­id­ents. Wally’s Cafe, its pre­de­cessor, main­tained a ladies en­trance and didn’t have any bar stools, as own­er Wally Nowacki figured pat­rons would get tired of stand­ing and go home be­fore get­ting tipsy.

Neigh­bors feared the place would be­come a disco, pre­dicted that bar stools would en­cour­age drunk­en­ness and wor­ried about a change in cli­en­tele.

“The next thing you know,” a man told the pa­per, “they’ll let wo­men sit at the bar.”

In­stead, Chick­ie’s & Pete’s be­came a neigh­bor­hood staple, ex­pand­ing by adding up­stairs seat­ing and a bar.

By 1999, things really star­ted to take off. That year, own­er Pete Ciar­roc­chi — whose par­ents, Pete and Chick­ie, were the ori­gin­al own­ers — opened in Boulevard Plaza at the old Bay Street res­taur­ant. That same year, Ciar­roc­chi opened a place be­hind the 300 level at the former Vet­er­ans Sta­di­um.

Chick­ie’s & Pete’s was not done grow­ing, as the own­er built on his motto that, “It’s a lot more fun to eat in a bar than drink in a res­taur­ant.”

Now billed as Chick­ie’s & Pete’s Crab House and Sports Bar, there are loc­a­tions at Lin­coln Fin­an­cial Field, Cit­izens Bank Park, Wells Fargo Cen­ter, Phil­adelphia In­ter­na­tion­al Air­port, Parx Casino, Liac­our­as Cen­ter, PPL Park in Chester, Dor­ney Park, Camp­bell’s Field in Cam­den, Mer­cer County Wa­ter­front Park in Trenton, the board­walks in Ocean City and Wild­wood, N.J., and in South Phil­adelphia, War­ring­ton, Audu­bon, Bor­dentown and Egg Har­bor.

“No way in my wild­est dreams could I have dreamt this,” said Ciar­roc­chi. “Nor was it my in­ten­tion.”

As each new place opened, Chick­ie’s & Pete’s be­came known as the top choice in the Phil­adelphia area to watch the Phil­lies, Eagles, Fly­ers and oth­er sport­ing events.

Re­cently, ES­PN Mo­bile con­duc­ted a poll to de­term­ine the Best Sports Bar in North Amer­ica. There were 5,000 nom­in­a­tions, which were whittled to 12 fi­nal­ists.

In the end, Chick­ie’s & Pete’s was the win­ner, out­polling run­ner-up Hick­ory Tav­ern in Char­lotte, N.C., and sup­plant­ing 2010 cham­pi­on Real Sports Bar & Grill in Toronto.

Ciar­roc­chi was over­whelmed with the news.

“Really? We’re No. 1? We’re the best?” he said.

To cel­eb­rate, Ciar­roc­chi hos­ted a red- car­pet event at his biggest loc­a­tion, a 24,000-square-foot prop­erty at a former Su­per Fresh at 15th Street and Pack­er Av­en­ue in South Phil­adelphia, with­in walk­ing dis­tance to the sports com­plex.

The stars came out to cel­eb­rate with the wildly suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man on Nov. 14. Guests in­cluded May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter, former Gov. Ed Rendell and oth­er polit­ic­al fig­ures, some cur­rent and re­tired Eagles and Fly­ers and tele­vi­sion and ra­dio per­son­al­it­ies. Live en­ter­tain­ment in­cluded a Ciar­roc­chi fa­vor­ite, Shorty Long & The Jer­sey Horns.

It was a proud mo­ment for the en­tre­pren­eur who got his start at a former all-male sa­loon in Lower May­fair. Today, he em­ploys al­most 1,000 people.

“It’s a great, great day,” Ciar­roc­chi said. “It’s not about me. It’s about the em­ploy­ees, the man­agers and of­fice staff. A lot of my great em­ploy­ees are from May­fair.”

Ciar­roc­chi, a mar­ried fath­er of three boys, keeps a busy sched­ule out­side the res­taur­ant busi­ness. He’s part of the own­er­ship group of the Phil­adelphia Soul Arena Foot­ball League fran­chise, a mem­ber of the Pol­ish-Amer­ic­an String Band, is act­ive with the North­east High School Alumni and sits on the busi­ness ex­ec­ut­ive ad­vis­ory board of Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity and the board of trust­ees of Aria Health Found­a­tion. He also sup­ports many char­it­ies.

The res­taur­ant busi­ness, though, keeps him plenty busy. In a re­cent month’s time, loc­a­tions opened in Audu­bon, War­ring­ton and a ter­min­al at the air­port. There are four sites at the air­port.

One reas­on Chick­ie’s & Pete’s won the ES­PN con­test is the num­ber of sports-themed events at the res­taur­ants. Among the weekly high­lights, at least for now, is em­battled Eagles coach Andy Re­id’s ra­dio show on WIP.

Sports fans, though, prob­ably wouldn’t be flock­ing to the res­taur­ant without its zesty cuisine. Menu high­lights in­clude mus­sels, lob­ster, clams, shrimp, crabs, cala­mari, cut­lets, cheesesteak nachos, jalapeno pop­pers, wings, moz­zarella sticks, salads, soup and, of course, the trade­marked Crab Fries, a seasoned del­ic­acy that is Ciar­roc­chi’s re­in­ven­tion of the french fry.

The busi­ness­man puts the menu items at the top of the list for reas­ons to vis­it his res­taur­ants.

“It’s the light­ing, sound, at­mo­sphere and em­ploy­ees, but first and fore­most is the food,” he said. “We cre­ated this menu.”

The War­ring­ton res­taur­ant, loc­ated on Route 611 in cent­ral Bucks County, is already a pop­u­lar des­tin­a­tion. Be­fore open­ing, Ciar­roc­chi told his sub­urb­an wait staff that pat­rons will know more about the res­taur­ant than they do.

“All those people are North­east trans­plants,” he said. “They don’t even have to look at the menu. The cus­tom­ers have already been groomed.”

Ciar­roc­chi also no­tices a lot of out-of-town­ers pat­ron­iz­ing the res­taur­ants and get­ting their pic­tures taken near the Chick­ie’s & Pete’s signs.

“It’s like stop­ping at Pat O’Bri­en’s in New Or­leans,” he said. “It’s be­come that kind of place.”

Ciar­roc­chi prom­ises that Chick­ie’s & Pete’s will con­tin­ue to grow.

“We’re com­ing to a neigh­bor­hood near you,” he said. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

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