Alex Kemp is standing in the middle of his dream. Although, to be fair, the “dream” looks a lot like a construction zone, and Alex never actually stands still for more than a few seconds.
But while it might have looked like a construction site when I interviewed Alex in early April, by May 1 – he assured me – it will have become a fully realized dream. That was the date of the grand opening of his new restaurant in the heart of Philadelphia.
Well, dreams do come true. Kemp’s new enterprise opened on schedule, and two days after the first patron walked through the door, he told the experience has been “really, really amazing.”
Grabbing a few precious minutes from his jam-packed day, he added that, “It’s busy.” How busy? “We sold out a whole month of reservations in 16 minutes.”
This is clearly not just any run of the mill restaurant – “My Loup” (more about that name later) was named one of “The 12 Most Anticipated Restaurant Openings of 2023” by the prestigious Bon Appetit magazine.
It’s not just any restaurant – and proudly Canadian, Chef Alex Kemp is not just any chef. Neither is his life partner, Amanda Shulman, who is the chef-owner of “Her Place Supper Club,” which the same magazine rated as one of “50 Best New Restaurants” of 2022. Amanda is also a finalist for the James Beard Foundation “Emerging Chef” award, to be handed out in June.
The couple are partners in the new restaurant, with Alex bringing a distinct French-Canadian flair to the menu. He eschews predictable “fine dining” clichés, and talks about serving “accessible food”. Bob Appetit writer Kate Kassin predicted that Alex’s dishes will “embody the French-Canadian sensibilities of Montreal. Expect lots of seafood and plates to share, like a grilled whole trout with kielbasa and clams and a braised lamb shoulder with fava beans and peas.”
Alex’s early life was lived in Québec and Gananoque, Ontario. He’s done a lot in his 30 years. He told me, “I’ve been in the hospitality industry my whole life.” He studied and has worked as a chef in Montréal, Ottawa, England and New York, in restaurants including Mon Lapin and Momofuku Ko. The latter is where, six years ago, Alex and Amanda found themselves working side by side in a fine dining kitchen … clearly a recipe for love.
In an era of “concept” restaurants, Alex says, “My Loup has no concept.” By that, he means that there will be a sense of ongoing creativity and a dash of the unexpected in the menu. When he talks about food, he admits, “I’m an artist.”
And he does mention one thing that certainly sounds like a concept – “It’s a party!”
The restaurant’s new digs lend themselves to that convivial atmosphere. There are a few, intimate tables at the front of the long, somewhat narrow room. Then comes the bar, with 10 or 12 seats and “a really awesome bartender.” Alex predicts that those seats will become the sought-after place to be at My Loup. At the back of the restaurant is the larger dining room, with a banquette along one side. Overall, the place seats 55 – and given Philly’s very healthy foodie scene, it will be packed, every night it’s open.
And those nights are unique – Monday through Friday, dinner only. That’s the same schedule kept at “Her Place.” That’s because Alex and Amanda want to do something a bit different, but more importantly, because they value offering the members of a relatively small staff – and themselves – some actual work-life balance. In fact, both Her Place and My Loup will close, completely, for three weeks a year, to give all their staff three weeks’ paid vacation. Alex says, “Anything we can do to make the industry a more sustainable place, we’ll do it.”
To help pay the cost of that paid staff vacation time – which is rare in the restaurant trade – they are planning special events on some Saturdays. Those, too, will be in great demand.
Their staff, from front of house to Alex’s four-person kitchen team, are loyal, full-time, well paid, and uniquely individual in their approach to customer service. “We won’t have cookie cutter service,” says Alex. “I want the people to be genuine people.” He told me, half-way through opening week, that “The whole team is amazing!” He sets a good example – his is a free-spirited approach to conversation, full of enthusiasm, and with a vocabulary well stocked with light-hearted profanity.
Alex and Amanda have fallen in love with Philadelphia. He says that, as he has tackled the challenge of opening a highly-anticipated new eatery, “The Philly restaurateurs have been very welcoming… not like in New York!”
But while he’s all about Philly, Alex quickly confesses a deep love for his native country, as well. That’s reflected in the name of the restaurant – Amanda’s pet name for Alex is “Loup,” French for “Wolf”. So it’s actually named for its French-Canadian owner-chef. And also, he adds with a grin and a certain amount of self-deprecation, for their pet dachshund.
There’s another hint that his heart still yearns for Canada. He discovered that I am a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. After our time together, he escorted us to our Uber, wished us well, and invited us back, any time. Then, his final words: “Go Habs!”
MORE ABOUT MY LOUP RESTAURANT
Address: 2005 Walnut Street
Visit Philly: www.visitphilly.com