He Will Follow
With his famous fries and distinctive sports bars, Chickie’s & Pete’s CEO Pete Ciarrocchi Jr. follows “friends and family” to the suburbs, shore and beyond
by Jocelyn Murray

Recently named North America’s top sports bar by ESPN, Chickie’s & Pete’s has transformed from the original corner taproom in Mayfair, opened by Pete Sr. and Henrietta (“Chickie”) Ciarrocchi 35 years ago, to become a landmark not only for the city that birthed it but the teams and fans that call it home.

After the passing of his parents, president and CEO Pete Ciarrocchi Jr. has kept their hopes alive while creating his own legacy by developing and expanding the family-owned and operated business.

“We never set out to be a sports bar,” says Ciarrocchi. “What we set out to do was have great food, a friendly atmosphere, great beer and reasonable prices. … It started that way and we try and keep it that way. The employees become part of your family and the customers become part of your family. And it’s easier to wait on your family or a friend than a stranger, right?”

With the constant growth of the Chickie’s & Pete’s extended family over the last few decades, the business has spread from its first locations in South Philadelphia and at Veterans Stadium (a pioneer for local food to be sold at city stadiums), to Philadelphia landmarks—Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park—and most recently out to the suburbs.

“I call it natural progression,” Ciarrocchi explains. “People started to migrate. They wanted a little better; they grew up in a row house and now they wanted a single house. We just followed our customers. They moved to the outskirts of cities and we just went to where our customers moved.”

With his customers having homes down the shore and elsewhere, the business has expanded to the boardwalks and other destinations—Parx casino in Bensalem, for example—that pepper the region.

“It’s amazing we’re in all these different things,” says Ciarrocchi, “from stadiums to casinos and we’re super successful in all of them. I think it’s my staff and having the mix of food that reaches a lot of different people.

“The food is the most important thing,” he continues. “Every sports bar has Budweiser, Miller Lite, Yuengling, whiskey, rum, gin, vodka—they all have it; there’s no secret. That doesn’t make the difference.”

The difference, he believes, is the food.

“We sell food that nobody else has,” he continues. “And we want to make Philadelphia part of this fine and semi-fine dining scene. By using expensive products—king crab, snow crab, lobster—and cooking them in a nontraditional manner, it makes them unique.” With fan favorites such as its signature Crabfries and lobster pizza, Ciarrocchi has consistently made an effort to not only offer delicious fare but also provide fresh flavors that are unique to the Chickie’s & Pete’s brand.

“My father would have laughed at me,” Ciarrocchi jokes. “‘You’re going to sell these potatoes with seasoning all over the place? Yeah, right!’ I have crazy taste and I’m a dreamer.”

Crazy or not, the formula appears to be working just fine.