Backstory: The Hungry Pigeon

How one of Philly’s best restaurants came to be

By Maeve Pascoe

The owner of the Hungry Pigeon restaurant in Philadelphia, Scott Schroeder, has mastered the art of cooking, running a business, and being sarcastic after many years in the food industry.

The Hungry Pigeon is the creation of two friends: Schroeder and Pat O’Malley. It was their dream project for 13 years, and now it is a well-run dinner and brunch spot that serves American food and pastries – critical praise.

Schroeder, who lived in Detroit until age 20, dreamt of becoming a rock star. “When I graduated high school I kind of fucked off for a summer and didn’t really do much of anything. I was playing music in, like, punk rock bands and stuff.”

Schroeder had never really thought about what he would do if his career in rock didn’t work out. But when his dad got him a job working for a highly celebrated Detroit chef, Brian Polson, Schroeder took it. “It was kind of the first time I ever saw what actually happened in real kitchens.”

After Schroeder worked for Polson for around three years, he still felt lost. “It was not love at first sight. I didn’t feel like it was something I was going to do,” he recalled.

Schroeder was directionless, so when his friends in Philly were looking for another roommate, he decided to move in with them. “I said ‘Sure, why not?’ I had just broken up with my girlfriend and a weird thing happened with my roommates so I had to move back in with my parents.”

When he got to Philadelphia, Schroeder had about $300 and a job interview. “I had to figure everything out. And so, my first job was working for Jack McDavid at Jack’s Firehouse.”

Chefs Scott Schroeder & Pat O’Malley of the Hungry Pigeon

After working there for about a month, Schroeder was fired, so he found another job at Caribou Café under a chef who had worked for McDavid. “She said don’t worry, he fires everybody. You just lost your cooking virginity in Philadelphia,” said Schroeder.

Schroeder liked working at the Caribou Café but didn’t find it exciting. After about a year and a half he went to work at Jake’s, a prestigious restaurant in Manayunk. “That was kind of where I fell in love with cooking,” said Schroeder.

The environment at Jake’s was highly competitive. “No one was over the age of 30,” said Schroeder. For him, it was the first time the creativity of food replaced the creativity of music. “I started really getting into it and taking it seriously,” he said.

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Poke on the Rise

 The popular spin on a traditional Hawaiian dish   

By Maeve Pascoe

The Hawaiian poke bowl, served at Tsaocaa on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, is customizable but typically comes with cubed salmon, fresh mangoes, warm rice, and vegetables that are topped with spicy mayonnaise, a drizzle of siracha, and crispy onions.

Nearby, Wiki Poke serves a Nacho Poke- a poke bowl with salmon and tuna that substitutes the usual rice with chips.

These two dishes only represent two variations on the traditional Hawaiian meal. Today, poke consumption in the United States has skyrocketed, allowing for the success of restaurants serving their modern take on the fish salad. Hawaiian poke typically only consists of seafood, seasoning, oil, and vegetables, but the version most popular among Americans today is called the poke bowl.

There were only two poke restaurants in Philadelphia in 2016. Today, there are over a dozen poke restaurants in Philly and others on the Main Line.

“It’s a buzz right now,” said the manager of The Pokespot on Chestnut Street. “We are so new we just opened last year. We were really busy around then,” she added. Even now she said they get over 100 customers per day.

An array of the dishes offered at Wiki Poke in Philadelphia

According to Yelp, worldwide there were 67 poke restaurants outside of Hawaii in 2012. In 2018, there were over 1,900 poke restaurants in the United States. In a blog post, yelp said poke businesses opened at a rate outpacing other restaurant categories such as ramen and coffee roasteries.

In addition, the food-ordering service Grubhub reported a 91 percent increase in average monthly popularity of poke bowl orders in 2018. A catering company, ZeroCater, reported a 78 percent increase in poke deliveries in major U.S. cities.

According to Foursquare data, the number of Hawaiian restaurants, including those that serve poke, doubled from 2014 to 2016 in the United States, meaning 700 Hawaiian restaurants on Foursquare in August 2016.

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