The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Tuesday, February 25, 2003  

Who The Hell Does Neil Stein Think He Is?

Last week an envelope arrived in the mail bearing the return address of the Internal Revenue Service.

I still haven't opened it.

Why not? Because I'm afraid to.

You see, I've been self-employed for almost a year now and I'm still getting my bearings, not only with respect to generating income but also to paying the requisite taxes when due.

Regardless of my worries and insecurity, I'm certain that even the most cursory examination of my records would reveal that I have no cause for concern. I try, as best I can, to pay all taxes due to federal, state, and city -- yes, Philadelphia has its own income tax, believe it or not -- authorities in the amounts expected and on time.

And I do that not only because I am generally a law-abiding guy, the laws of certain backward Southern and Midwestern states notwithstanding, but because I don't like getting in trouble and I don't like getting yelled at, even by way of a form letter. Hence the still-unopened envelope.

So when I read an article like this one -- "Restaurateur Has Tough Tax Bill to Swallow," by Sono Motoyama in today's Philadelphia Daily News -- I wonder: What the hell is wrong with me? Why should I care?

According to the article, restaurateur Neil Stein, proprietor of Philadelphia's Striped Bass, Avenue B, Bleu, Rouge, and the defunct Fishmarket, is behind in paying his taxes. Behind to the tune of an estimated $1,360,000.00.

And that's just taxes owed to the city. The article makes no mention of his status with state and federal authorities.

And so again I wonder: "How does this happen?" "Why do people do this?" And, more important, "Why do some people get away with it for so long?"

Stein is, best I can tell, a happy man. Striped Bass, which is packed every night of the week, will celebrate its 10th anniversary next month. And despite a slow start, Avenue B, just blocks from my home, appears to be doing well.

Of course, Stein has leverage: his restaurants employ 400 people, a number that obviously impresses Philadelphia officials, even though most of those employed by Stein's firm -- the aptly named Meal Ticket Inc. -- are probably making less than ten dollars an hour.

According to the PDN's Motoyama, Stein says he has "received numerous expressions of support." To which Stein himself added, "I have all the confidence we'll get through this thing."

Well, good for you, Neil Stein! But who the hell do you think you are? Leona Helmsley?

In a city hell-bent on keeping 400 mostly at-best minimum-wage jobs, I'll bet you're feeling pretty high and mighty. Congratulations on your obvious amorality and complete lack of civic responsbility.

Me? I'm nobody. I don't have a payroll. It's just me and my Bulldog here. But you know what, Neil Stein? I'm not stepping foot in any of your restaurants again -- and I have visited three of your four restaurants currently in operation in just the last few months -- until your tax bill is paid in full.

[Post-publication addendum (February 26): Atrios has signed on to the boycott. Blogroots activism at its best.]

[Post-publication addendum (February 26): Contact information.

Meal Ticket Inc.: Phone: (215) 732-6560; Fax: (215) 732-6863; Neil Stein, owner.

Striped Bass: Phone: (215) 732-4444; Fax: (215) 732-4433; Ed Murray, general manager.

Avenue B: Phone: (215) 790-0705; Fax: (215) 790-0688; Gabe Marabella, co-owner; Keren Ini, general manager.

Rouge: Phone: (215) 732-6622; Fax: (215) 732-0561; Jan Bass, general manager.

Bleu: Phone (215) 545-0342; Fax: (215) 545-9318; Seth Biederman, general manager.]

[Post-publication addendum (February 26): Reader T.G. was correct. The contents of the envelope from the I.R.S. were harmless: simply my quarterly payment coupons for 2003.]

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