For many South Philly foodies, Stogie Joe’s Tavern is where everybody knows their name.
That’s why the Italian restaurant calls itself the ‘Cheers’ of South Philadelphia.
More than a decade ago, the Leuzzi family had a vision for a welcoming eatery composed of quality cuisine at reasonable prices.
Located at the heart of East Passyunk, the restaurant, which recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary, continues to satisfy the community beyond its taste buds.
For years, the institutional Italian restaurant known for its iconic pizza pies and house salads has engaged in countless charities and causes, including its annual Rock the Block street party, which raises money for pediatric cancer research, and numerous other fundraisers with local schools, parishes and organizations.
“Being here 10-plus years is definitely a significant milestone,” said Adam Leiter, executive director of the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District. “…But with Stogie Joe’s – it’s not only a fun, delicious place to go. It’s also a place that’s showcasing being a positive community partner and the importance of collaborating with the neighborhood.”
In February 2009, the Leuzzi family, natives of the Annunciation BVM Church parish area, opened the restaurant at 1801 E. Passyunk Ave., after running the upscale Kristian’s Ristorante and Kris, its successor, at 11th and Federal streets.
The Leuzzi brothers, including Dominick “Sonny,” Joseph “Stogie” and head chef Kristian, imagined a multifaceted space where customers could dine for any occasion.
The Leuzzi family says the vision was to create a restaurant where you could enjoy both casual and upscale dining.
Fostering a sense of casual gathering, the brothers installed a garage door in the adjacent corner property, creating an “indoor-outdoor room,” which was the vision of their father who is known as “Big Sonny” or “Pops.”
The wide door stays open in the warmer months, welcoming Passyunk passersby while patrons can gather around the room’s fireplace during the cooler months.
“I think one of the things that has always been the case with Stogie Joe’s is they always have such a welcoming and positive attitude,” Leiter said. “And it really lends to this idea that I’ve always felt that they’re like this living room on Passyunk Avenue”’
That “living room” feeling is a continuation of the family’s tight-knit upbringing. In June, the Leuzzi family lost its matriarch, Nancy Leuzzi, who was mother to Sonny, Joseph and Kristian.
With her quick-witted ways and gentle nurture, Nancy, who worked for 20 years at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, could frequently be found interacting with patrons and staff of Stogie Joe’s.
Nancy, who passed away from complications related to a pulmonary disorder, was tremendously proud of her sons – even if she expressed affection with tough love.
“Nancy was very loving, very caring, constantly in the kitchen – feeding anyone who walked into her house,” added Stogie Joe’s general manager Joey DiOrio. “She had a very easy way about her. Everybody loved her and gravitated toward her.”
Having collected 10 successful years of business, perhaps, Nancy’s nature has spilled into Stogie Joe’s fare and philanthropy.
The annual Rock The Block event, which takes over East Passyunk every summer with music, vendors and other family-fun activities, has raised tens of thousands of dollars over the last several years for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The event works in conjunction with the South Jersey-based Coach Wags Memorial Foundation, which works to raise funds for the Cancer Center at CHOP.
Along with pediatric cancer, Stogie Joe’s hosts fundraisers for research related to breast cancer, juvenile diabetes and more.
The restaurant especially focuses on benefitting local public, parochial and charter schools, including St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, String Theory Schools, Merion Mercy Academy, Waldron Mercy Academy and Saints John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School.
“That’s what the family is into – helping people,” DiOrio said. “It really has to do with family. It’s why they use Stogie Joe’s to do so much charity.”
On Oct. 6, the restaurant hosted its 10-year anniversary block party bash on East Passyunk, which was set to the live sounds of The Business band.
The event attracted up to about 400 people, was a fundraiser in and of itself, as proceeds from Stogie Joe’s 10th anniversary T-shirts all went to CHOP.
Looking toward the next 10 years with the exception of occasional twists to the menu and a new mobile app, Stogie Joe’s doesn’t plan on changing very much.
“The highlight would be the customers,” DiOrio said. “The repeat everyday customers and friendships that have gotten us through the last 10 years. You come in as a stranger and basically leave as a friend.”
As East Passyunk Avenue sees the expansion of new eateries, the restaurant hopes to encourage the ongoing growth of its neighboring business corridor over the next several years, too.
Navigating what’s ahead, Stogie Joe’s plans to abide by its cornerstone mission.
“I guess we’re going to have to honor (Nancy) by keeping doing the right thing because if we didn’t, she would kill us,” Tina Leuzzi, a member of the family, said. “But, there’s no fear of that happening.”