The Power Couple of 13th Street

Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran have built an empire in Philadelphia’s Midtown Village.

8 min read
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Twenty years ago, pioneering power couple Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran opened their first little store, Open House, on 13th Street in downtown Philadelphia. Since 2002, the couple has been helping to transform the once-desolate Center City block into a vibrant foodie destination, now known as Midtown Village and the Gayborhood.

Today, Turney and Safran own and operate three wildly popular restaurants in the neighborhood — Barbuzzo, Little Nonna’s, and Bud & Marilyn’s — as well as two lifestyle boutiques — Open House and Verde. Additionally, they opened a Bud & Marilyn’s outpost in the Philadelphia International Airport, a private event space above Barbuzzo, and an artisanal chocolate studio tucked into the back of Verde.

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In 2018, the couple gave their operation a name: Safran Turney Hospitality. Chef Turney leads the culinary team for all of Safran Turney Hospitality’s restaurants, while Safran heads up the front-of-house operations for all of the restaurants and boutiques.

Before becoming two of Philadelphia’s most prominent businesspeople, Turney, who attended Temple University and The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in West Philly, donned the executive chef hat at a handful of Philadelphia eateries, including now-closed Valanni, where she met Safran, a middle-school Spanish teacher who was working as a part-time server on weekends.

The two fell in love, and in 2002, they started their first business, a home store called Open House. Within three months, Open House doubled in size, expanding into the next storefront to keep up with customer demand.

Back in 2002, that strip of 13th Street was the city’s red-light district — an unlikely location for a lifestyle boutique. Turney and Safran chose the location for two reasons: It was the only place they could afford, and developer Tony Goldman (the man responsible for the revitalization of NYC’s SoHo and Miami’s South Beach) had recently arrived in Philadelphia with big dreams for 13th Street. While Turney and Safran credit Goldman with kickstarting the neighborhood’s transformation, there’s no denying that what they’ve built on his foundation has played a major role in helping the area become the dynamic neighborhood it is today.

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Following the success of Open House, the couple opened their first restaurant, Lolita, in 2004. This modern Mexican BYOT ("T" for tequila) spot quickly became a popular go-to for tacos and margaritas (the restaurant provided the homemade mixes). In 2014, Lolita underwent a major renovation and reopened with a full liquor license and a new Mexican street food–inspired menu, offering fresh takes on classic fare like nachos topped with canella-spiced carnitas and Tijuana-style short rib birria tacos. During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2021, Safran and Turney temporarily closed Lolita and pivoted to use the space to host private events.  

From the start, Turney and Safran’s story has been a self-sufficient one. The now-married couple are famously independent, with no business partners to influence their decisions. After opening Lolita, the couple never took out another loan. They simply worked hard, made money, saved money, and then rolled it into the next place.

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After Lolita, they opened the gourmet market Grocery, which Turney and Safran decided to pull the plug on during the pandemic. Next came Bindi, an Indian spot across from Lolita that racked up critical acclaim but missed the mark with the community and closed in 2011. The duo then turned the space into trendy tapas spot Jamonera, which had an eight-year run before closing during the pandemic as well. Currently occupying the space is the pair’s pizza restaurant, Good Luck Pizza Co., which is closed for the season due to staffing challenges.

In 2009, the pair opened their second lifestyle boutique, Verde, which is also home to Turney’s signature line of chocolates: Marcie Blaine Artisanal Chocolates. A year later, they opened Mediterranean restaurant Barbuzzo next door, earning them a James Beard Award nomination for Best New Restaurant. Barbuzzo’s menu features wood-fired pizzas, housemade pasta, and Mediterranean-inspired entrées like grilled octopus, branzino, and shellfish risotto. Don’t miss the last course here — Turney’s signature salted caramel budino might just be the city’s most famous dessert.

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In 2013, Turney and Safran opened Little Nonna's. The restaurant, with its inspired takes on classic Italian American dishes, was an immediate hit. Housemade pasta and meatballs take center stage and are best enjoyed by ordering the Sunday Gravy. Available every day until they run out, this dish features slow-braised beef short rib, a fontina-stuffed meatball, house-ground sausage, and broccoli rabe served with red sauce and a side of the pasta of the day. 

After globetrotting through the cuisines of Mexico, Spain, India, Italy, and the Mediterranean, Turney and Safran added their first American restaurant to the lineup: Bud & Marilyn’s. The restaurant is an ode to Turney’s grandparents, Blaine ("Bud") and Marilyn, who owned a restaurant in her hometown of Ripon, Wisc., called The Spot. Turney’s regional American menu here features homey yet modern Midwestern comfort food, like crispy Wisconsin cheddar cheese curds, hot fried chicken and biscuits, cheese-stuffed meatloaf with mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy, and nostalgic desserts like funfetti cake.

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Over the past two decades, the couple’s entrepreneurial success and chef Turney’s culinary prowess have received numerous awards and accolades. Turney is a three-time James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic. Together, Safran and Turney have received a James Beard semifinalist nod for Outstanding Restaurateur. They have been featured on Food Network and in The New York Times; Food & Wine magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; and countless local publications. In 2019, Turney won the Philadelphia Magazine Trailblazer Award, which celebrates women who are accomplished leaders in their field and have made considerable contributions to their community.

Even though Safran and Turney have slowed down since adopting their first child in 2019, rumor has it that more contributions are coming to the community. The word on 13th Street is that they have a new restaurant projected to open next to Lolita in early 2023.


Portrait by Neal Santos

All other photos courtesy of Safran Turney Hospitality