Rick Nucci’s most recent investment wasn’t in a tech startup.
It was in a Callowhill bar and restaurant called Brick and Mortar that opened up earlier this summer.
Nucci, who runs Old City startup Guru, sold his previous company, Boomi, to Dell in 2010. His Guru cofounder, Mitchell Stewart, also invested in Brick and Mortar (or BAM, as the restaurant is calling itself). Neither of them had invested in a restaurant before, though Nucci has made startup investments (in, for example, Artisan Mobile). Nucci declined to share how much he invested.
Unlike with a tech investment, the Philly Startup Leaders president said he’s not looking for a big exit, an IPO, a 10x return. It’s a partnership model with a potential for profit sharing down the road, he said, but it’s also more than that.
It’s a way to invest in the city.
“I think the restaurant represents what the Philly food scene has become,” Nucci said, pointing to the “thoughtfully crafted menu,” the strong cocktail list and the “cool ambience.”
“I wanted to support that movement,” he said.
It was also Nucci’s way of investing in Callowhill, a neighborhood that’s seen lots of development in recent years.
Philadelphia, he said, has a track record for transforming neighborhoods. Callowhill, with the promise of the Reading Viaduct Park, seems like it has “the bones” to become a destination like Northern Liberties or East Passyunk, he said.
Nucci was introduced to Brick and Mortar owner Mike Welsh through his attorney, Ballard Spahr’s Greg Seltzer. He was a fan of what Welsh did at the Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company, one of the city’s early speakeasy-type bars in Rittenhouse, and that’s a big part of why he invested. (The Franklin Mortgage was actually backed by Philly entrepreneurs who exited their company in the late 2000s: Chris Doggett and Chris Gali, now of Adminovate and Enterprise Cloudworks, sold their insurance software company AdminServer to Oracle in 2008 for $125 million.)
Big exits create investable wealth, be it in software ventures or the food business.
The pitching process was more conversational than your standard investor pitch and PowerPoint slides, Nucci said. Welsh sent him the business plan but also “mood boards,” which gave Nucci a feel for what the restaurant would be like when it opened. That helped seal the deal, he said.
The Philly investment also resonates with Nucci’s story: he built his first tech company in Conshohocken and Berwyn because Philly didn’t have a tech scene in 2000. Now, he’s growing his second startup in Old City even though he lives in Wynnewood.
It’s also a nod to the fact that what many entrepreneurs say makes Philly so appealing is its quality of life. Restaurants are a part of that.
“I look at it as investing in something that makes the city awesome,” Nucci said.
Tech entrepreneurs backing bars isn’t that rare in Philly. There’s the Franklin Mortgage, as well as I-SITE founder Ian Cross’ The Trestle Inn, also in Callowhill, and Weblinc CEO Darren Hill’s Old City spots Lucha Cartel and National Mechanics, which became a key N3rd Street meeting place.
Would Nucci ever open a bar of his own?
He doesn’t think so. His parents, who were business owners for most of Nucci’s life, owned an Italian restaurant in his hometown of Lebanon, Pa., for a few years (they were “feeding Italian food to the Amish,” he said) and he mostly remembers it as a stressful time for them.
“It’s a different type of grind,” he said.
With startups, Nucci said he feels like has a little more control over his destiny.
His BAM rec for the thirsty? Get the Paloma, one of Brick and Mortar’s bottled cocktails.
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