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Reminiscing with Ralph and Rickey

The brothers have shown much dedication to their popular South Philly eatery.

Rickey, left, and Ralph Sciulli share an afternoon laugh while reflecting on the last 50 years in business together. Photo by Maria Young

By Bill Gelman

Imagine being a sophomore in high school, and telling classmates, family members and friends, “I am going to open a pizza shop.” While some may think this sounds crazy for a high schooler, Rickey Sciulli, now 65, is living proof that it can be done, and done successfully.

Back in 1967, Rickey, along with his older brother Ralph, now 68, opened the doors to the original Ralph and Rickey’s at Taney and Tasker streets in Grays Ferry. Rickey used some of his time at Bishop Neumann High School researching how to buy a building. At the end of 1966, he used that new-found knowledge to put a deposit on a building. Ralph told his younger sibling, “You go to school, and I will work.”

Rickey’s response was, “We will work together.”

Their father, Antonio, helped with designing the pizza boxes.

That was 50 years ago.

These days, the 30-seat space at Seventh Street and Oregon Avenue, which they opened in 1998, is their home away from home. Ralph’s wife, Rosemary, and Rickey’s wife, Christina, continue to play major roles in the support system.

From the outside, Ralph and Rickey’s resembles every other South Philly pizza joint, which is just fine for Ralph and Rickey. They are not into the “you guys have the best…” praises. But they don’t just serve pizza. They have everything from a porterhouse steak with shrimp to a banana split and everything in between.

The interior is decorated with family pictures, including several in black and white. There are picturesque images of Italy, including Venice and Florence. They arrived on American soil as teenagers, coming separately from Abruzzi. While it may be small in size, the welcoming ambiance makes it easy to strike up a conversation with the vocal Rickey and quieter Ralph, as well as the rest of the staff.

Five decades later, the words “stopping” and “slowing down” are not in the vocabulary. In January, the brothers were presented with one of their biggest challenges they have ever faced. Rickey was diagnosed with leukemia. Suddenly, days of making pizza, pasta, stromboli and sandwiches were put on hold. While he has the, “I am going to beat this mentality,” the road to recovery is a process that has included a month-long stay in the hospital, taking 20 pills a day and chemo treatments Monday through Friday.

For Ralph and the rest of the family, this was a tough piece of news to digest. “Shock” and “sadness” are a couple of the words he used to describe what his brother was going through. If there was fear, Rickey refused to show it during his hospital stay, conducting business from his phone while doctors and nurses were performing tests and treatments.

Family members, friends and customers have stepped up to help keep things running smoothly.

“People come in every day asking what they can do for us,” Rickey said.

Rickey is still at the restaurant daily, doing whatever is needed. Quitting simply is not an option. The Packer Park resident has an inspiration to help get him through this difficult challenge — his granddaughter, Giulianna, (”The Brave”) who at 9 months old was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Now 6, she has been in remission for three years.

Ralph, from left to right, Rosemary, Christina and Rickey Sciulli continue to make Ralph & Rickey’s their home away from home. Photo by Maria Young

Ralph continues to keep his brother, as well as others, in his prayers.

“It’s very hard,” Ralph said. “We pray for everybody. I never wish this to anyone.”

Mother Nature even tried to put a damper on the business by dumping two feet of snow on South Philly. Ralph & Rickey’s response: “We are staying open.” It doesn’t matter if the mayor declares a state of emergency. If they need to get the key to the local bakery to pick up rolls to make sandwiches, they will. They even go as far as to make sure the local supermarkets and neighbors are stocked in those times of need.

Fifty years in business is a big deal, they said, and it’s an occasion Ralph, Rickey and the rest of the staff want to celebrate with customers. On April 22, from 1 to 4 p.m., patrons can stop by for a free slice of pizza, some pasta and a bottle of water. The actual 50th anniversary is April 17, but the brothers decided to make it a weekend affair.

“We want to thank the public for making Ralph & Rickey’s what it is today,” Rickey said. “We are always thankful for them.”

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