Another in the Entrance Exam series, as part of the Why I Love Philly campaign from Young Involved Philadelphia and Indy Hall. Tell the world why you love where you live by tweeting #whyilovephilly.
Tonight at National Mechanics in Old City is the campaign’s kickoff event from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. RSVP here.
How did a girl from Michigan and a guy from California end up living in the Italian Market?
I met Jake (@flailmonger) and Amanda Feifer O’ Brien (@forkspoonknife) in early 2007, soon after they moved to Philadelphia. We were enrolled in a continuing education class called Center City Savvy. The class was epic – our persistent teacher managed to secure us private audiences with the Secret Service, Le Beq Fin chefs, and Mayor Nutter, among others.
Four years later, Jake and Amanda could lead their own tour.
Jake has become a stalwart at coworking space Independents Hall, joining forces with artist, gamer, and closet zombie Parker Whitney to build addictive iPhone games. Their new venture, Flyclops, was featured in a recent issue of Flying Kite magazine.
Amanda has taken the story-telling scene by storm, winning the most recent First Person Grand Slam with her inspired and personal tales of love and justice.
Below, learn more about what restaurants and communities they frequent, and how this talented and fun-loving couple came to call Philadelphia home.
Where did you grow up? Where do you live now?
Amanda: I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, but I’ve lived a lot of places since I turned 18. Philly’s the first city I’ve lived in for longer than 20 months since my parents’ house, and it’s the first place that has felt like home since then, too.
Jake: I grew up in Silicon Valley, at the same time as, and 10 miles away from where, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs were forming Apple in a garage. But I never owned an Apple product until I came to Philly and now I am an iPhone developer.
We live half a block from the Italian Market, near the crazy Mexican cake shop with the dripping frosting. It’s awesome. It’s like being in the churning belly of the city. One thing amazing about it is that it’s a completely old world institution, but it’s not a museum piece, it’s thriving. Look at pictures of the market from a hundred years ago, and, except for the outfits, it looks pretty much the same.
Yet still, every week, hundreds of Philly residents walk up our street with bags full of groceries. And it’s crazy. The produce vendors yell out specials like circus barkers. There’s a live poultry shop that sells pigeons. The vendors keep warm with trash can fires. The place is as far as you can get from a strip mall full of chain stores.
What brought you to the Philadelphia area?
We have both moved around a lot and were looking for a place to settle in for a while, where we could get to know it and start making friends that we could talk to in person instead of via email.
We wanted a city that was walkable, affordable, had plenty of stuff going on and felt like a city. Philly is really the best combination of those things. We only visited here for a couple of days before we moved. But we’re very happy. In addition to what we were looking for, Philly also has tons of character, which is what we have really come to love about it.
Was there a specific event or moment when you realized you wanted to make this your home?
We came down to Philly to scope it out after being in NYC for a week. There are two things I can think of that were sort of tipping points.
First, we stumbled, totally blindly, upon Horizons, which is, bar none, the best vegetarian (let alone vegan) restaurant in the United States. Yes, including San Francisco, LA and New York. I remember thinking that if that place could exist and not be on the front page of every guide book, then the food scene in the city must be out-of-control good.
The next day, we went to DiBruno’s, bought a whole bunch of stuff and the total was like $11. I know it sounds crazy, but I think we were both kinda of like, “wait, why don’t we live here again?” The realization that we were in this amazing city with so much going on and such great energy, and that it was a city we could afford to have a good life in was pretty jarring.
When someone visits from out of town, what are the first places and events you show them?
We like food, so we take people out on the market to buy fresh ingredients (veggies, tortillas (Tortilleria y San Ramon), pasta (Talluto’s) Cheese (Dibruno’s but Claudio’s for fresh mozzarella) to cook with and to Fantes, always, because it’s awesome.
We both love walking, so if our guests have city legs, we usually try to spend days exploring the different sites of different neighborhoods. Beautiful buildings (I really love City Hall and the Kimmel Center to start), galleries, the Constitution Center and tourist stuff, Eastern State Penn, Greensgrow, Reading Terminal, the Art Museum…I guess it depends on who is coming and what they like. We always eat at the Royal Tavern and Morning Glory because they’re close, delicious and cheap.
When you are out of the region, how do you describe Philadelphia?
Amanda: I do really think this is the City of Brotherly Love. There seems to a be a strong spirit of competition in other cities. In Philly, it’s replaced by an immense spirit of community and support. From Indy Hall to First Person Arts to our neighbors, it’s a community of people that I like to be around.
I also say many parts of the city are really dirty, but I feel that the blatant lack of enforcement of open container laws compensates for that, so I’m good with it. I can sweep my own stoop when it needs it.
Jake: Philadelphia isn’t for everyone. If you want a sterile and harmless environment, this is not it. But if you don’t mind a little grit and an occasional challenge, Philly goes as deep as you want it to go.
In a (tweet) sentence, why do you love Philly?
Opportunities for communities you can’t find in other cities. Gritty, tasty, nasty, fun. It’s the real deal. It’s home.
Salas Saraiya is a YIP board member and freelance web developer who works full-time at co-working space Indy Hall. He lives in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood.