Obituary: Vincent Whittacre, West Philly business owner, 57

Longtime West Philadelphia business owner Vincent Whittacre died Sept. 13. He was 57.

Whittacre was a co-owner of four restaurants — Palladium on University of Pennsylvania’s campus and later incarnations Abbraccio, Gold Standard Café and Gold Standard at Fitzwater — before retiring from the restaurant industry, in which he worked for more than 30 years, in 2015. 

The Rochester, Pa., native was born Nov. 26, 1959, and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He got his start in the service industry at a restaurant in Pittsburgh before moving to Philadelphia in 1984. He joined the staff at Palladium and worked his way up to become general manager and later co-owner.

“I was in the office and a woman came downstairs and said, ‘There’s a person upstairs and you must hire him now,’” laughed Roger Harman, who co-owned Palladium with business and romantic partner Duane Ball. “Boy, was she right to say that.”

Whittacre started as a server, and his attentiveness and sharp eye quickly earned him more responsibilities, said Harman, who married Whittacre in Maine in December 2013. 

“We had just recently started the restaurant and our finances were a mess,” Harman said. “He became our financial manager and focused on quality control. He brought the waiters in the line, did some help with cooking, took over the finances. He saved our skin incredibly in that time.” 

The restaurant achieved great success on the Penn campus, Harman said, ultimately getting a liquor license.

“We had a bar for almost 20 years right in the middle of the Penn campus. We had some crazy, crazy nights there,” Harman laughed.

Whittacre went on to become a co-owner in the Palladium business with Harman and Ball, as well as at their future sites once they left Penn’s campus, investing heavily in their West Philadelphia neighborhood. 

They built new construction for Abbraccio, then unheard of in the West Philly area, said Ray Murphy, who grew up as a neighbor of the three men. 

“They were really trendsetters in the local community,” Murphy said. “When Penn booted them, they went back to their roots, right in the neighborhood where they lived.” 

Murphy lived two doors down from the men and was particularly close with Whittacare, whom he called Uncle Vince.

Murphy worked in all of their restaurants when he was a teen. He also recalled their support when he was fundraising for Central High School’s LGBT student group he helped found.

“I very timidly went to their door and said, ‘Hi guys, I’m gay. Can you possibly donate baked goods to our bake sale?’” Murphy laughed. “And they did. Vince was a mentor to me, telling me war stories about the ’80s and showing me what it could be like to be a gay man living in Philadelphia. He took me to ‘Stars on Ice,’ to plays downtown and came to visit me when I was in college in Pittsburgh.”

That generosity also extended to the community.

Whittacre was very active in his Cedar Park neighborhood, and in West Philadelphia in general. He served as a founder and former president of the Baltimore Avenue Business Association, treasurer of the Chester Avenue Dog Park and was involved with Curio Theater Company.

“He helped to make sure new businesses were coming into the area and more services were available to diverse communities,” Murphy said. “But he was also committed to making sure folks who’d been in the area for the long haul weren’t being pushed out.”

Whittacre was active in the LGBT community, including as a contributor to Action Wellness, AIDS Fund and Philadelphia FIGHT. 

He was also a strong supporter of the arts, particularly opera, films and the ballet, and was also an avid reader and cook. 

“He was extremely honest, extremely cordial, but not a dork,” Harman laughed. “You couldn’t find anybody with more devotion and persistence than Vincent.”

“He was someone who went above and beyond to make sure the people in his life were doing well,” Murphy added. “He was always there for anyone who needed his help.”

Whittacre was predeceased by his parents, Charles and Eleanor; his stepmother, Betty; and his partner, Duane Ball. In addition to Harman, Whittacre is survived by his brother, Eric; aunt, Dena; niece, Lauren; and nephew, Sean. He was predeceased by several beloved dogs and is survived by his dogs Mildred and Leila. 

A memorial service will be held from 1-5 p.m. Sept. 24 at Calvary Church, 801 S. 48th St. Guests are encouraged to bring a dish to share as part of a potluck meal.

Donations can be made in Whittacre’s name to Action Wellness, Curio Theatre Company or Chester Avenue Dog Association.