Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Think of Cheese Steaks as Stunt Doubles for Loaves and Fishes

Among the quips and quotes I've collected in six plus decades (so far) on The Big Blue Marble here's the one I always think about when I pass my neighbor, Philly's, at the intersection of Sherman and Lafayette Streets: "the difference between a try and a triumph is often the amount of 'umph.'"

I've been a Philly's Phan of Chef Shem Adams since first catching a waft of the aroma from one of his cheese steak creations when he opened in June of 2011.

I was, and am, impressed by his community-mindedness, organizing fundraisers for toddlers in need of life-saving surgery, for his enthusiastic support of the next generation of Norwicheans, the young people attending the Norwich Free Academy and at least a dozen other outreaches to include a hospitality apprenticeship program that offered career opportunities and not merely part-time jobs.

Philly's is more than just the Cheez-Whiz embassy of the City of Brotherly Love, it's a fixture on local and regional television news programs as well as the defending champion of the Travel Channel's Best Sandwich title and, for purposes of my story-telling, a home grown success that's also a lesson in how to succeed.

Every person, or every other person who lives here knows a story about how 'business-unfriendly' Norwich is. Some of them are very sad and all you can do is sigh. I've heard hundreds of failed tales of trials and tribulations but when you listen carefully, you realize none of the stories you're hearing are first-person. All of them are, at least, twice-told tales or worse, stories heard from someone about someone else.


The Philly's Pholks, who are not from here, didn't 'know' they couldn't just start a successful business here or, as they did last week, open a brand new dining room expansion that has been delighting phriends and phans since Shem turned on the lights and unlocked the doors. Tables, chairs, big-screen televisions-all the little touches that are just too hard for so many discouraged experts to ever even try to get so they give up before they start and avoid the rush.

The expansion is the result of local businesses, plumbing and heating, electrical contracting, small construction and many more all working hand in glove with City of Norwich departments and agencies to include the Planning Department, Building Inspector, Norwich Community Development Corporation and the Zoning Board of Appeals for permits and inspections as well as advice and expertise on who to see and with whom to consult to get various aspects of the project done in a timely manner.

It was a lot more work than just standing around waiting for it to all happen. And a lot more successful, too. I know-how bizarre. Local government with talented, engaged and energized people who are part of the solution not the problem. Who'd have ever thunk it? And it works, and follow the crowds to Philly's if you don't agree and one order of  buffalo chicken nachos should convince you (good luck thinking about something else now).

So here's the thing: why can't this be the year we not only promise one another to not know everything, but to also not know everything better? Because, as Vince Lombardi observed, the only place success ever comes before hard work is in the dictionary. Go to the library, look it up for yourself.
-bill kenny

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