Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Rick Nichols Story (sort of)

On the eve of his final official column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, I offer this warm memory of his Inquirer Magazine column, and its incredible impact.

I was the Public Relations Director for The Bellevue at the time, and had spent a considerable amount of my efforts promoting the landmark's Downstairs at The Bellevue food court, which at the time had an incredible collection of food vendors producing some really terrific food. After a year of flashy newsletters, press releases, e-mail blasts and promotions of every stripe (elaborate sand sculptures in the summer, a soup naming competition, naked hoagies--don't ask--rush-hour takeout, and more), I heard from one of the vendors that Rick Nichols had been poking around and asking questions of almost everyone there, eatinge and taking food back to his office. For his part, Nichols was non-commital and cryptic in his e-mail responses to my queries. Then I heard that an Inquirer photographer was shooting dishes from various vendors downstairs, always a good sign. Nichols was still mum on what he would write about.

Then one Sunday I opened my Inquirer and there on the last page of the Inquirer Magazine was his article, a generous and glowing profile of almost all of the food vendors in the food court, complete with mouth-watering descriptions of pastas, hoagies, tortas and soups, even the deli sandwiches from Bain's.

The following day I was in my office at The Bellevue when property manager Andy Speizman poked his head into my doorway and asked me to help him out with some crowd control issue in the food court. It was 11:30 in the morning, and I wasn't thinking about lunch or even Nichols' article at the time. When we arrived in the lobby, Andy and I were greeted by a flood of humanity pouring into the main doors of the building and down the escalator and stairwell to the Food Court. Neither of us were aware of any large conventions in town at the time, and crowds of this size were very rare at The Bellevue. Then we noticed it. People clutching copies of the Inquirer Magazine.

I'll never doubt the influence of a popular--and compelling--food writer ever again. Thanks, Rick, you made my year, and great memory in my career.

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