Saturday, July 7, 2012

Feasting on the Hill - an interview with Mike Harris

Mike Harris, New Director of the South Street Headhouse District Spills the Beans...

Mike Harris, who was recently appointed Executive Director of the South Street Headhouse District (SSHD), is a man with a past – and most of it’s local to Center City.  

Once upon a time, he lived in the apartment above neighborhood watering hole, The Artful Dodger  Mike even proposed to his wife, Melanie, over a romantic dinner in Society Hill’s own Bistro Romano.  

Now Mike and his family, which includes two young children, live in Queen Village.  Today, if he’s not at the District’s office (perched atop the Shambles at 2nd and Pine) then he can probably be spotted in his “front office”, Bodhi Coffee, talking up South Street over a double espresso.

Originally a transplant from Chicago, Mike is best known in Philadelphia for his work at UPenn, as well as Rowan University in South Jersey where he was Vice President of Operations and Facilities. 

As SSHD’s new Director, his mission is to revitalize South Street and its environs.  How, you might ask, is this relevant to a blog about food? 

Well, actually, the pretext of talking to Mike about his “fave” dining spots and local hangouts was our Trojan horse to secure an interview. 

What we really want to know is how Mike plans to entice new boutiques, restaurants, bars (ah, there’s the link!) and businesses to South Street.

“My first priority is to build relationships with neighbors, restaurant owners, retailers and the economic development and tourism communities,” explains this energetic man. 

“We’ll then assess the retail and business service needs of the community and ask how we can work together to reinvent our neighborhood as a vibrant, dynamic destination. 

"We need to harness the energy that’s already here-and then attract new retailers who will create an even better South Street," comments Mike Harris.   "When I look out my window, I want to see diverse crowds of locals, families and tourists-- people from places as varied as the burbs or Rittenhouse Square."  

"I  want this area to be a well-populated destination – a place where there is always something interesting to do,” says Mike Harris, SSHD's Executive Director. 

Mike continues to explain how he hopes to effect change in the area: “ The environment is really important.  I’d like to see additional beautification of the area.  We’ll create greater street life and promote events and spaces that are welcoming to children and families, as well as appealing to the night time crowd.  This can be done.  Look at East Passayunk or Chicago's  Old Town Area , which I know well."

Steering the conversation back to food, I asked Mike how he unwinds on a Friday night-what’s his “go-to” dining spot? 

Alas, Mike is actually too politically astute to be drawn into this potential minefield and instead said,” “The best thing about the South Street District is its wealth of restaurants. You can just about get anything you want depending on your mood. My wife is a vegetarian so this diversity is important to us!”

When asked to share a favorite recipe, SSHD’s new Director informed us that he makes a mean meatloaf-- “I’m actually the chef of the house."  

One of the things I like to cook is a turkey meatloaf recipe from the cookbook Fit for Life by Marilyn Diamond.” This recipe is also featured on the website - it must be good!

We're fans of meatloaf too.  
Meatloaf minis..doused in ketchup

For an alternative way of serving meatloaf that's particularly appealing to children, see our blog about these meatloaf minis.  

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