Is Rita’s a fast food chain?

Rita’s is a franchise but is it a fast-food chain? That question is at the heart of a debate in Northwest Philly. John Thain wants to put a Rita’s in part of the empty space where TLA Video used to be. Ken Weinstein, who sells water ice and ice cream in the nearby Trolley Car Ice Cream Shoppe, said he can’t do that because Rita’s would violate a deed restriction on the property that prohibits a fast-food chain from moving in.

Thain said he is running out of time and wants to open the Rita’s ASAP in the Chestnut Hill Plaza, at 7630 Germantown Ave. in order to be open this spring. Thain got the green light from the Chestnut Hill Community Association board (CHCA) on Dec 12. 

Weinstein, owner of the Trolley Car Diner that has the Ice Cream Shoppe, said he will try to get the deed restriction enforced. Weinstein said he is representing the interest of neighbors and for that matter the Northwest business corridor.Weinstein said the Rita’s franchise would be bad for the business environment of Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy.

“I think there could be a lot of other uses for the space, said Weinstein, “if we put a Rita’s there, it will be vacant for months out of the year.” 

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Weinstein claims he has been inundated with calls and e-mails from neighbors who don’t want the Rita’s to open. According to the deed restriction, any community member that lives within 750 feet of the plaza may object to the opening of a fast-food franchise.

“I’m doing this because I am within those 750 feet, and I can speak for people in the area who don’t want this Rita’s either.”

Calls to John Thain for this story were not returned.

Celeste Hardester, Community Manager at the CHCA, said that Rita’s is a business that many residents find desirable. She said that the CHCA’s understanding of the deed restriction was that its purpose is to protect the near-neighbors from the noise, smell, and trash created by a fast-food establishment.

 “We do not believe that the purpose or the intent of the covenant was meant to exclude a business such as Rita’s,” said Hardester. 

The CHCA held four publicly-listed meetings that were held in November and December on the subject of Rita’s coming to Chestnut Hill. Hardester said that the feedback she received concerned litter, hours of operation, and outdoor seating. Upon a covenant made with franchise owner John Thain and the plaza’s owners, Rita’s has promised to fully address those concerns. 

Still, on Dec. 19, Weinstein sent a letter to Thain detailing that he would enforce the deed restriction on the property. He also spoke with Thain to discuss going into arbitration, but Thain never contacted him about the meeting. 

“I don’t believe they’ll be any arbitration now – no, absolutely not,” said Weinstein, “although I did make that option available.” 

Weinstein said he will take Thain to court if he attempts to open.

NewsWorks wants to know what you think. Is Rita’s a fash-food chain? Even if it is, should it be exempted from any property restriction? Is Ken Weinstein right that rules are rules and this fast-food ban should be enforced? 

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