Rocky’s Cafe


When Jack Campbell, from Medford, N.J., told his Jersey friends he bought a house in South Philly that he would rehab and move into, they told him he was nuts.

After all, nobody from Jersey moved to South Philly. It’s always the other way around.

But when Campbell’s friends found out a "Rocky" movie was being filmed on his block, they changed their tune.

"When they heard the ‘Rocky’ movie was being shot here, they thought [my moving here] was pretty cool. It’s kind of like, ‘what’s going on over there? It validated the neighborhood [to them]," Campbell said.

VICTOR CAFé, 1303-05 Dickinson St., will be transformed into Rocky’s Restaurant for the sixth installment of the "Rocky" movies, "Rocky Balboa" also known as "Rocky VI."

Played by actress Talia Shire, the champ’s wife Adrian ("Yo, Adrian!") has died, but her brother, lovable curmudgeon Paulie, played by Burt Young, returns. Rocky comes home to his roots and the ring, with Victor Café serving as his restaurant/bar.

"It’s just the restaurant he owns where a part of his life is taking place," Julian Ruhe, assistant location manager, revealed about the location shoot.

It’s been almost 30 years – 1976, to be exact – since Sylvester Stallone, who turns 60 July 6, wrote and starred in "Rocky." The film earned an Academy Award for Best Picture.

Stallone wears the two hats and opts for a third as director for "Rocky Balboa," which began filming in Philadelphia the first week in January with a mostly L.A.-based crew of about 120. Of the 22 days of shooting around town, about a week will be at Victor Café, Ruhe said.

"It’s definitely a big part because it’s five to six days of filming," the manager said.

Based in Philadelphia, Ruhe freelances in film, TV and commercial production and has worked on M. Night Shyamalan’s "Signs," the faux documentary "The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan" and the TV series "Hack."

Last fall, location scouts began checking out South Philly for a restaurant to transform into Rocky’s Restaurant. The Italian Stallion then visited the recommended spots with Victor Café among them.

"He walked in and fell in love with it. He returned that night for dinner," Victor owner Rick DiStefano said.

DiStefano and brother Greg are third-generation proprietors. The restaurant, which features an opera motif and opera entertainment, was founded in 1918 by John DiStefano as a gramophone shop. Upon the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, DiStefano purchased a beer and wine license and his record shop became Victor Café, the Music Lover’s Rendezvous. In time, John passed the restaurant to son Henry, father of Rick and Greg.

Victor Café was well known long before Stallone eyed it for his latest venture.

Hundreds of photographs of famous folks, who have either dined or performed there, line the walls of the establishment.

But, since his first taste of Victor Café last fall, Stallone has become a regular, eating there often on Friday nights with brother Frank, a singer, and Young. Stallone’s first dinner was a veal chop, another meal was filet and lobster, DiStefano said.

The owner and his staff aren’t rubbing elbows with Stallone every time he visits, but most have met him.

"He’s a real nice guy. A real sweetheart," Office Manager Renata D’Angelo said.

"He looks exactly like the guy you see on TV," DiStefano said. "He always has a smile. He’s approachable."

One time when the actor came in for dinner, employee Steven Greaves didn’t recognize him. "I was looking for a guy with gray hair, in his 60s, in a suit," Greaves said, adding Stallone looked more like 45 and was in jeans and a gray sweatshirt.

Greaves hasn’t met the actor yet.

"If I got to sit down and talk to him it would be nice, but he’s always got so many people around him," he said.

Victor Café will be closed Monday through Friday through Feb. 9 for preparations and actual filming.

"We’re happy to be a part of this, but we really hope it has not inconvenienced our customers," DiStefano said. This week, the production crew will begin installing an outdoor sign and awning and adding boxing paraphernalia inside the restaurant.

"They like the feeling of Victor Café – the home style. I don’t think they’ll change too much," Ruhe said.

"ROCKY BALBOA" IS the talk of the West Passyunk neighborhood, said Gloria Paolella, who lives on the 1300 block of Dickinson Street.

"Are you kidding? It’s a landmark restaurant. I’m glad they picked it," she said of Victor Café. In her 70s, Paolella has been eating at the spot since Henry DiStefano owned it.

"Rocky is a South Philly legacy and I’m sure everybody is glad to have a ‘Rocky’ movie filmed here," DiStefano said.

In addition to Victor Café, Stallone and the crew will return to the Italian Market. One scene is scheduled to be shot at Claudio King of Cheese, 925 Carpenter St., owner Sal Auriemma said.

Fans will have to wait to see if the champ makes another run through the open-air market, recalling the famous scene from the first movie.

Most of "Rocky Balboa" will be shot in Kensington, where much of the first two movies were filmed.

"We’re going to revisit some of the locations from the first ‘Rocky’ movies," Ruhe said.

Last Friday, hordes of fans came out to the set in Kensington.

Stallone has been gracious and signing autographs when he can, but making a movie is serious business, the location manager said.

"He’s always very friendly to the fans who come to the set, but at the same time he’s busy directing and starring," Ruhe said.

Ruhe thinks the fans’ excitement has rubbed off on the cast and crew.

"It’s Rocky, so we’re all excited about working on a ‘Rocky’ film. As a film person in Philadelphia, working on a ‘Rocky’ film is very exciting. It’s a Philadelphia institution. And there are five movies. How many movies [have] had that kind of sequels? It’s the little guy making good. It’s a story that has inspired many people," Ruhe said.

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Jane Kiefer
Jane Kiefer, a seasoned journalist with a rich background in digital media strategies, leads South Philly Review as its Editor-in-Chief. Originally hailing from Seattle, Jane combines her outsider perspective with a profound respect for South Philly's vibrant community, bringing fresh insights and innovative storytelling to the newspaper.