Eric Connor grew up in the food business. He started working in his Dad’s catering company as a teenager, doing every job that he could do. Then, he moved on to The River Café in Manayunk (which eventually became Mad River) where he worked for many years as a barback and bartender.
However, coming from an Irish-American family, Ireland was calling. So he moved to Dublin in 1996, where he worked as a manager at Toscanini (owned by Norman Hewson, brother of U2’s Bono) and The Globe, as well as Dublin nightlife hotspot Rí-Rá as a bartender.
In 2000, upon returning to Philadelphia from Dublin, he joined Valanni at 1229 Spruce Street as a manager, working closely with Executive Chef R. Evan Turney on events. He also worked as a manager at Varga Bar in Washington Square.
Owning his own restaurant was always the dream, though. The topic came up in conversation with his cousin Shana Cox, with whom he’s always been close.
“I told Shana my vision for The Yankee Chipper,” Connor told Philly Grub. “I had planned to develop the idea with someone else, but that fell through, and she said she wanted to be involved. So, it all came together from there.”
While in Ireland, he fell in love with fish and chips. “The Chipper” is what Irish people lovingly call their favorite fish and chip shop, a place they can gather for a fresh, affordable meal. So, he wanted to bring the concept of an Irish chip shop to Pennsylvania. Shana couldn’t wait to partner and help realize her cousin’s dream.
Shana also has a background in hospitality. She worked for many years at Davio’s and nearly ten years as a lead bartender at Oscar’s Tavern.
They started looking around for a location and stumbled upon the old Turney’s Tavern; a beloved watering hole tucked away just outside of the city limits at 827 E. Pleasant Avenue in Wyndmoor, PA.
In addition to developing the menu, Connor fully renovated the old dive bar on his own. Shana handled all of the opening and front of house details, such as setting up the POS systems, ordering supplies, organizing inventory, staffing, and scheduling.
“We’ve literally been here every day since we got the place, and it’s just been an amazing experience for both of us to see this place come to life like it has,” Connor stated enthusiastically.
He knew not just any fish and chips would do, nor did he want to cut any corners. Offering the unique, authentic experience of an Irish chipper was paramount in this venture.
“It all starts with selecting the right purveyor for our Cod,” Connor explained. “It arrives to us from the butcher skinless and as a whole side. From there, we butcher it, and it goes through a drying process, which takes about 24 hours from the start of prepping to cooking.”
The other thing that sets his fish apart is the batter he said came from a lot of research to create a particular recipe that makes a super crunchy, well-seasoned exterior while keeping the fish inside moist and flavorful.
And then there are the ‘chips,’ which we know as French fries in America. Just like the fish, making the chips is a very labor-intensive process.
Connor elaborates without giving away too much of his secret process, “We don’t just cut them and fry them. The potatoes are cut and soaked for a certain amount of time; then they’re dried for a certain amount of time, they go through a par cooking process, another drying process, then they are finished and ready.”
He doesn’t give away the type of potato he uses but says that it isn’t the same as American restaurants usually use for fries.
He’s particularly proud of his tartar sauce, which he calls “amazing,” and notes that malt vinegar is a must to finish everything off.
When asked if the pandemic affected his opening, he said, “We took possession of the space on April 7th. We feared that we wouldn’t be able to have the full capacity by the time we opened, but as it worked out, I think our timing is pretty good.”
The restaurant hosted its grand opening on June 19th, with friends and family coming out to support.
The restaurant seats 32 people inside comfortably and is working with the township to see if they can offer outdoor seating.
On the menu, there are two fish and chips offerings. A traditional basket and an American basket made with Alaskan cod in an American lager batter.
Wings feature on the appetizer menu as well as a few salads. A selection of handhelds including a Cod sandwich, a fried chicken sandwich, a burger, a BLT, and a few more are offered. There are also a couple of vegetarian-friendly options and a kids menu. Traditional bangers & mash round out the menu.
The hours of The Yankee Chipper are Tuesday-Thursday from 1:00 pm to 9:00 pm; Friday and Saturday from 1:00 pm to 11:00 pm. The restaurant is closed Sunday and Monday.
“This has been a real-life dream come true,” Connor boasted proudly. “We are super grateful to have the opportunity to serve our friends, family, and community.”