A lot of restaurants and food businesses follow me on Instagram or Twitter. It’s usually how I discover new ones. Unfortunately, since I’m still quarantining, for the most part, I don’t get out as much as I once did. It kills me that I can’t just run out and check these places out. Alas, safety first!
Since I live in South Jersey, it’s not convenient for me to run into the city for takeout. Not only do I work full-time, but I also do work on the side (from home) which limits my availability during the week and also on the weekends. I can’t take advantage of food delivery from Philadelphia restaurants either.
I’m on the struggle bus, as the kids say. Anyways…
I try to show support in ways that I am able — mostly through this blog and by posting on social media. I know that restaurants are struggling and harder times are ahead thanks to new restrictions closing dining rooms and no service after 10pm. Many restaurants, especially those where a big part of their business comes from the bar, are basically throwing in the towel and closing for the winter. It’s going to be a dark winter for the Philadephia food scene.
Those are stories being told elsewhere, though. I don’t want to focus on the negatives as there are simply too many. I feel depressed enough as it is, as I’m sure you are. I know there are many positive stories out there, too, and those are the ones I wish to bring attention to. We could all use some positivity right now!
When 5 Dollar Fresh Burger Stop first reached out to me over the summer, they had invited me to stop by one of their food carts in South Philly. I haven’t been in the city since last January and knew that wasn’t changing anytime soon. I had to decline. Plus I was super busy with work, but I won’t belabor that point.
Recently, I noticed they launched another food cart in South Philly bringing them to a total of THREE. So I reached out to them to get more information. I want to write about them because I see them hustling and striving to thrive in difficult times.
Damon Forte, 44, of South Jersey, started 5 Dollar Fresh in February of 2019 with business partner Mike Datta, originally from New Delhi, India, who now resides in South Philly.
Forte has the food business in his blood via his father, who owned and operated The Pizza Shack at 15th and Porter.
“I started working for my dad at the age of 11 as a box boy. He paid me 2 cents a box!” Forte told Philly Grub. “I worked for him until I was about 27, managing the shop. That’s where I first met Mike when I was 17 years old.”
He took a break from the pizza shop for a few years in the early ’00s. “I moved to New York to become a financial advisor,” Forte noted. “But that’s not where my passion was. So, I moved back to the area and got back into the food business in 2008 and bought my father’s partner out at Mangia.”
Mangia was another restaurant his parents, Chuck and Betty Anne Forte, owned and operated in Bala Cynwyd, which recently closed permanently thanks to COVID-19.
“It was a bitter pill to swallow, but my mother always said when one door closes, another one opens, just don’t get stuck in the hallway!”
Mike had been running a food cart on Drexel’s campus called Mike’s Food Stop for over 20 years when he and Forte brainstormed the idea of creating the 5 Dollar Fresh Burger Stop concept. At first, they saw a need to offer affordable, fresh handmade burgers to hungry college students, but always had bigger plans.
“When we launched on Drexel’s Campus, we didn’t know how we’d be received because this had never really been done before. However, and thankfully, we had lines from day one,” Forte proclaimed. “It opened our eyes to what this could be, not only to us but to the other vendors on Market Street.”
But then COVID-19 hit. They lost their customer base as college students went home for virtual classes. So, they headed South to 1730 Washington Avenue on May 20th with their first franchisee Rich Puhl on board. Word got out, lines started forming, and people started asking them about opening another location. That’s when Damon and Mike thought it could be a viable franchise concept and got right to work on it.
It didn’t take them long to pull it all together with franchisees Dom Demuro and Justin Postiglione, two electrical contractors in South Philly, who wanted to get into the food business. The second location, at 21st and Oregon, opened less than a month later on June 16th to much fanfare.
“We took care of everything from dealing with the city, licensing, permits, location services, right down to the spatulas they use to flip our delicious burgers,” Forte said. “We set them up for success from the beginning. We handle all the red tape and they focus on working our system. We developed this 5 Dollar Fresh concept around one main idea, “Simplicity is the key to success.” At the end of the day, the 5 Dollar Fresh Burger is everything a burger should be and nothing it shouldn’t. Plain and simple!”
Forte emphasizes that FRESH is not just their name or a marketing gimmick, it’s the key to the success of their brand; the ethos which they are banking on as they grow the business.
“Our beef is packed fresh every morning. Not the night before, never frozen. Our patties are packed fresh, just hours before they hit the grill,” Forte states unequivocally. “Our bread is delivered fresh every morning, the produce, and the cheddar cheese we melt on our burgers are sliced fresh every morning.”
The commitment to quality extends right down to the proprietary seasoning blend they use on the burgers as well as the french fries. The carts have been so popular, that on most days they sell out before closing time, with customers raving about the food.
Just recently, the third location at Front & Snyder kicked off with Kim Green at the helm. Green, a 27 year veteran of the corporate catering world, was left figuring out what was next in her career after COVID. When she heard about an opportunity to run her own cart, she jumped on it. “I just love the simplicity of the concept. I feel I have found a home with 5 Dollar Fresh,” Green noted, ultimately fulfilling the dream of working for herself.
Since opening a couple of weeks ago, the Front & Snyder location is seeing high demand as well. Forte told us that two more carts are being built right now and those locations will be announced soon with hopes of launching by the end of the year.
When asked if brick and mortar locations are in the future, Forte got excited. “Definitely! We were born on a college campus, in a cart, but that’s necessarily where we’ll end up. The carts will always be a part of our story, but we are looking to put some “ roots” in the ground with brick and mortar. A storefront will give us the opportunity to expand our menu in ways we never could on a cart.”
More than anything, Forte is excited about helping change people’s lives for the better by giving them the tools to work for themselves in the food business for very little startup capital. They are also scouting locations and franchisees outside of Philadelphia, too, and hope to expand to cities all over the country.
These are the positive stories I want to hear about which is why I’m writing about them. People are working hard and trying hard not to let the pandemic bring them down. Out of the box thinking during turbulent times. How reFRESHing. I’m excited to see the 5 Dollar Fresh Burger Stop concept expand and wish them and their partners a lot of success!