For the wife-and-husband team behind River Twice — Amanda Rucker and James Beard-nominated chef Randy Rucker — the past year was full of innovation and evolution, as the pair continued to push forward the definition of what it means to be one of the city’s best and most progressive restaurants, from creating memorable meals that spotlight the best of the region’s ingredients to celebrating its staff to raising money for human rights.
Resy: When you look back at 2022, what strikes you as some of the things for which you are most proud?
Amanda Rucker: This year proved to be extremely demanding and our team’s ability to pivot when needed and their sheer willingness to try something new brings us great pride.
Our service director, Marissa Chirico, really rose to the occasion. Her ability to get the job done with incredible hospitality is unmatched, and she exemplified what true leadership is this year.
This year we introduced an extended tasting menu experience at our chef’s counter. These seats are prepaid through Resy, something that was entirely new to us, and we are really pleased with how it’s been executed. We also are proud of our Hidden in Plain Sight Dinner series, which is a culinary series where we collaboration with a local chef, artisan, or purveyor on a menu for an evening, usually twice a month. Our goal is to raise awareness of the gastronomic talent that Philadelphia and the East Coast has to offer, while providing a platform for cooks to try new things. This year we had 14 dinners in the series and brought in chefs from other states such as Isabel Cross and Matt Conroy of Lutèce (DC).
How have you adjusted your operations in the last few months ?
This year we changed our menu structure numerous times depending on the demand or the season. We had a “streetery” built in 2021 and we utilized our outdoor structure in the summer as a more casual “grazing menu” that offered raw oysters, crudos and our elusive burger. In September we extended our hours to include Monday evenings with a casual four-course menu which changes each week.
We encourage the BOH to take over on Monday evenings as “kitchen, kitchen” takeovers to explore their own passions, interests, and experiments outside of our usual concept. This first year of the Monday’s highlights ramen nights and Korean BBQ, southern-inspired menus as well as a night of steakhouse classics. We also began a new series called “Christmas in July” that showcases five different chefs for five nights during the dog days of summer, which can be rough in cities.
And what are you planning for the new year?
The new year brings us new energy and new ideas. It brings new menus and new dishes to the forefront that may have been hibernating for a bit. The city of Philadelphia is enforcing new laws and criteria that make it very difficult to keep outdoor dining structures and as of January 1, 2023, they have to come down. We unfortunately broke down the streetery the last week of 2022. However, it gives us an opportunity to turn the focus on our dining room and utilizing that space as it was intended to be. We are looking forward to the continued growth of River Twice as it matures with all the lessons we’ve learned over the past few years. Always looking forward while having a handle on the past.
As a former designer with a focus in environmental design, can you share some of the things you’ve implemented in the restaurant to better the world, the building, and your staff?
We spend 70% of our lives indoors, so creating an environment that is healthy for the building occupants is something we put as a high priority in our design objective — as well as reducing negative impacts on the environment.
One of my favorite elements we implemented was our plaster walls, plastered by a local Philadelphia company Plaster XoXo. Plaster is a living breathing organism. It releases absolutely zero VOCs and reabsorbs carbon dioxide which results in regulating humidity, temperature, and improving indoor air quality. We follow biophilic design principles with bringing nature into the space as much as possible (plants, daylighting, natural materials) as well as WELL building standard concepts which consider the whole-body system of a building occupant considering air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind, community, and innovation.
The dining room, which surrounds the open kitchen, has floor to ceiling windows which border the entire exterior, allowing for maximum daylighting — rare for staff in a commercial kitchen. Exposing our bodies to daylight is critical for health and well-being, from psychological to neurological gains. We are able to reduce our carbon footprint by choosing local artisans and makers for our lighting fixtures, tables, built-ins and ceramics. Working closely with local companies allows us to ensure that the finishes are non-toxic and from natural materials as well. Most people don’t realize that your skin absorbs everything you touch — a table, a doorknob, a wall. Having healthy materials supports our staff’s health as they spend the majority of their time here, as well as our guests.
You and your team have done a lot of admirable work surrounding important causes, especially abortion liberation. Could you share some of the work you’ve been doing. How do you use your platform as a community leader?
These past two years of the ups and downs with the pandemic have made us realize, now more than ever, that restaurants really are the backbone of our communities, and there’s always more we could be doing to support our community and use our platform to support our beliefs.
We participated in a city-wide donation effort for abortion funds early this year when Roe v. Wade was overturned, and it inspired us to do more with our platform. In less than two months, Marissa and I, together with another restaurant owner and her manager, planned a 200-person ticketed event where we had several chefs come to cook. We were able to raise money from private donors to fund the event. The event sold out, and we ended up raising over $60,000 for the Abortion Liberation Fund and the National Network of Abortion Fund.
We plan to do one big event yearly like this, each year supporting a cause that is close to us. Working more closely with other restaurateurs, versus individually, and being able to leverage our platforms together is something that the pandemic brought — and I see that continuing and growing to serve our community.
What should diners know about the Philadelphia restaurant industry right now?
There are a bunch of exciting restaurants in Philly right now doing funky and delicious things. There are a lot of restaurants and chefs who are cooking the food they want to — and when that happens, it can be magical. We hope diners return to restaurants they enjoy to see the little nuances that make each place special. We believe restaurants are a living, breathing thing that exemplifies the people who own and operate them.
Philadelphia dining right now is more exciting than ever, and we are grateful to be amongst this inspiring crowd. Social media is constantly buzzing with exciting pop-ups and events from the hospitality community in Philly, so pay attention to your favorite chef/restaurant accounts or you may miss something.