Restaurant owner Chris Fetfatzes says he’s a glass-half-full kind of guy. Like many purveyors of beverages in the city, he could be grumbling about the tax on sugary beverages that took effect last month. Instead, he’s turning every glass of sugary drinks he sells at his three restaurants into a charitable donation to his neighborhood elementary school.
Fetfatzes and his wife, Heather Annechiarico, own Hawthornes, The Cambridge and Tio Flores, all in South Philadelphia. Shortly after the tax started up, they announced that for every dollar the soda tax raises from their restaurants, they will donate a dollar to Andrew Jackson School at 12th and Federal streets in East Passyunk.
“I wish I knew the answer to fixing Philadelphia schools,” Fetfatzes says. “I’d probably be in economics or in an office in Philadelphia. But I’m an optimist in what we’re doing here and I think there’s upward trends in the improvement of our school district.”
The soda tax has been the most contentious local issue of the last year. As passed last June by City Council, it charges distributors of sugary beverages a 1.5 cent per ounce tax. Distributors are passing that price increase on to stores and restaurants; they, in turn, are passing it on to consumers. (So, for an 8 ounce bottle of juice that costs $1.99, a customer would pay an additional 12 cents.) The Kenney administration estimates $400 million in soda tax revenue over the next five years, most of it to expand pre-K and help to open 25 community schools.
Despite the drawn-out and vocal fight during the first half of last year, the actual launch of the tax in January led to much hand-wringing among store owners and customers. For Fetfatzes and Annechiarico, though, it provided an opportunity. The couple has often held happy hour fundraisers for the schools in their restaurants’ neighborhoods, including Graduate Hospital’s Chester A. Arthur School, which is near the Cambridge, at 15th and South. Over breakfast one morning last month, they came upon the idea to match the soda tax revenue to benefit Jackson.
“We were presented with a new initiative the city was behind and passed,” Fetfatzes says. “So we decided to help our schools out personally. We’re pretty much all in with supporting our immediate local schools in our restaurant neighborhoods.”
To celebrate Fetfatzes and Annechiarico’s efforts, The Citizen is joining with Connor Barwin’s Make The World Better Foundation to host a happy hour Wednesday evening at The Cambridge. The event, from 5 to 7 p.m., will include soda-based drink specials—if you sign up for The Citizen’s mailing list or membership, we’ll buy you a drink—and the chance to mingle with Barwin and The Citizen.
Fetfatzes says he has not yet calculated how much in tax revenue his restaurants generated in January. But their effort is likely to mean thousands of additional dollars for Jackson in 2017.
The couple, who live in East Passyunk, has two children—a 3 year old son and 1 year old daughter—who will enter public school in the near future. Fetfatzes says he sees no reason why the fifth largest city in the country shouldn’t have a school system that reaches for the stars. “We should have aspirations to be the best at education,” he says. “We have world-class colleges, we have world class private schools, we have world class medical institutions and pharmaceutical companies. There’s no reason why we can’t complement that with having world-class elementary and high school education.”
A donation from his restaurants, Fetfatzes says, is the “moral” thing to do. It’s also smart business. “We need to fuel our local and long-term companies and with that we need a smart, educated local Philadelphia homebase,” he says.Header photo by Stacey Salter Moore - SSM Photography