Top Businessmen of South Philly

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By Bill Gelman and Lindsey Nolen

Kenneth Gamble, Founder/Chairman
Universal Companies

800 S. 15th St.
Years in business: 24

What is the secret behind your success story?
“There is no secret! With any endeavor, hard work is the main ingredient for success. Notwithstanding, commitment, dedication along with having a goal and an objective. Having an ambitious partner like my wife, Faatimah, and a dedicated staff has enabled us to conceptualize an idea and bring the concept to fruition.

Location, location. Tell us a little bit about the spot where your business is based.
“Our business is located in the neighborhood in which I spent my youth. There have been an enormous amount of changes; however, despite the many changes, it’s still South Philly! It was a village then and it’s still a village made up with our family of schools, our students and our employees.”

Look into a crystal ball. Tell us something exciting about the future of your business.
“We are excited about the future of the business we have created. We see the young people that have and will come through our education process able to become self-sufficient, good citizens, future doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, educators, and are able to comprehend the importance of reaching back to their communities and helping to build on what we have instituted here at Universal.”

Rahim Islam, President/CEO
Universal Companies

800 S. 15th St.
Years in business: 24

What is the secret behind your success story?
“I have been interested in Black liberation since early in life. It is what drives me today; understanding the struggle and issues in 1960s to deal with the struggle. I reference it is all that I do.”

Location, location. Tell us a little bit about the spot where your business is based.
“South Philadelphia, Point Breeze, Grays Ferry, all of South Philadelphia, have now come to be known as South Central Philadelphia. Which is an indication of how much the neighborhoods have grown.”

Look into a crystal ball. Tell us something exciting about the future of your business.
“We can see a placed-based strategy in full operation.”

Michael LaRussa
Dante & Luigi’s Restaurant

762 S. 10th St.
Years in business (as owners and overall):
118 ( almost 119) continuously operating. Michael and Connie (his wife) have owned and operated for 22.

What is the secret behind your success story?
“Consistency ! We pride ourselves on taking the time and effort to prepare everything used in the restaurant from scratch. These are Michael’s family recipes. Attention to detail in the restaurant and customer service are of utmost importance. Many of our customers have been coming for three and four generations, along with international visitors, celebrities and local customers.

Location, location. Tell us a little bit about the spot where your business is based.
“Our restaurant is located at 10th and Catharine streets in the Italian Market district. Our rich history had immigrants coming straight from the docks in Philadelphia, with the name of the restaurant pinned to their lapels, to live on the upper floors of the restaurant, then a rooming house, and work in the Italian Market neighborhood.

Look into a crystal ball. Tell us something exciting about the future of your business.
“We pride ourselves on not being trendy. Our future is rooted solidly in our past, and the continuation of our Philadelphia landmark restaurant. What’s new for us is what’s NOT new; but the continuation of this time tested recipe for success.”

Louis Sarcone III (5th Generation owner)
L. Sarcone & Son Bakery Inc.

758 S. 9th St.
Years in business: 99

What is the secret behind your success story?
Our secret is to staying on course for all five generations baking fresh bread daily with a good balance of retail to host sale. Quality over quantity. As our founder one stated, ‘Don’t put too much food in your mouth where you can’t chew.’”

Location, location. Tell us a little bit about the spot where your business is based.
First generation [owner] Luigi Sarcone migrated to the Philadelphia area from Italy looking for work. As an Italian he found the course to the Italian market. Here he obtained a job at the current location as an employee and eventually bought the bakery for himself. Then is became L. Sarcone & Son Inc. — Sarcone’s Bakery.”

Look into a crystal ball. Tell us something exciting about the future of your business.
We did not know exactly where the future will bring us but we do know that we will not move away from baking pure loaves of bread. Most bakeries load their bread with chemicals, preservatives, dough softeners etc. all to produce more bread. I promise to stay the course with our existing recipe. We are always listening to recommendations from our customers.”