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Archive | Old School Spotlight

What's Happening in:  East Passyunk Crossing 

Michael’s Place: from Citywide to “Scotch Friday”

by Sequoia Medley for the Passyunk Post

Michael’s Place is a shot-and-beer corner bar where you can literally see the layers of history — from the weathered wooden bar with its brass rail to the decades of photos on the wall. It’s also the kind of bar that’s slowly disappearing. There’s a cigarette machine on one wall, and a single pool table that’s free on Tuesdays. The doors open at 7am and there’s no food menu. But it’s not stuck in the past. Continue Reading →

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Sermania Jewelry: A Gem on the Avenue

By CT Liotta

Artisan jeweler Joseph Sermania, wearing magnifying glasses flipped to his forehead, turns to his wife, Janice. They stand in their small jewelry store at 1719 E. Passyunk Avenue and try to complete an impossible task: recalling the most memorable experience they’ve had since setting up shop 14 years ago.

“I’ll give you one,” Joe grins. “There was a guy who was shopping at the men’s clothing store next door. His wedding was that day, and he was finally buying his suit. When he finished, he came to me and asked, ‘do you sell wedding bands?’”

“Wasn’t he a size 13?” Janice added.

One gets the impression that Joe and Janice could tell a story for every week they’ve been in business, bouncing memories off one another as they recall names and projects and dates.

The storefront is intimate. Small cabinets house curated collections of rings, necklaces and bracelets. Behind the sales counter is Joe’s bench, where customers can watch him fire his torch and perform delicate, precise work.

Joe Sermania at work. Courtesy Sermania Jewelry.

In 1981, when Joe was 24, he opened his first business on Jewelers Row. He had watched, worked with, and learned from master jewelers—including his older brother Sal—since age 11. He already had 13 years of experience to his name. “I don’t think I ever told my kids, but when I was a student at St. John Neumann, I’d arrange my schedule so I could finish class early and go work in the afternoon.”

Janice Sermania, a self-declared “Goretti Girl”, married Joe a year earlier, in 1980. While their children were in school, Janice would string beads and pearls and show jewelry at home. “In those days, we’d bring jewelry to people’s houses and do shows,” she added. “They’d cold call us, and we’d show up with gold at their dining room tables.” Continue Reading →

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What's Happening in:  Lower Moyamensing 

Pop’s Homemade Italian Ice

This month’s Old School Spotlight shines on a family-run business in South Philly that’s been servin’ up a taste of summer since the depths of the Great Depression.

As the temperatures climb back into the high-90s (hopefully for the last time this year), there’s one business that’ll help folks keep their cool the same way they have since the 1932: Pop’s Water Ice.

“Pop” was Filippo Italiano. After emigrating from his native Calabria, Italy with his wife, Teresa Scutella, Filippo worked in the Navy Yard. When the Depression hit, he found he needed extra income to make ends meet to feed his six children. Filippo turned to a tasty desert he knew from Italy: granita – crushed ice mixed with fresh fruit, juice, or fruit puree. Philadelphians called this chilly treat “water ice.” It’s also known as Italian ice. Water ice is a combination of sugar, water and various fruits blended together to a smooth consistency. This is different from other ice treats (like snow cones) which are shaved ice with syrup poured on top.

Filippo started his water ice business from a push-cart he stationed at Marconi Plaza, right across the street from the current location. He would shave the ice and add the fruit by hand. The options were limited: cherry, lemon, plus whatever fruit was in season.


Filippo eventually expanded into the current 1337 Oregon Avenue location, a former garage. Granddaughter Linda Raffa recalls how he produced water ice in the garage, “with a round wooden machine that used chopped ice, rock salt, a towel and a hand crank.” In the 1950s the first electric water ice machines came along. Filippo purchased one which is still used in the store. This allowed him to expand the store’s regular flavor offerings to include chocolate and pineapple.

“The whole family helped out with the business. Pop’s six children helped mix the flavors around the dinner table,” Linda recounts. Later, his grandchildren helped out each summer. Linda remembers how, as a teenager, she would be ready to go out with her friends. Her mother would prompt her: “It’s a hot night, grandpop’s going to be busy…he sure could use some help.”

Pop ran the shop until he was 85. He still remained active in the business after that. He would sit on the front step, watching his grandchildren who were home from college and scooping water ice. If they weren’t moving the line fast enough, he’d wave his finger and tell them to pick up the pace.

After Pop’s passing in 1987 at age 92, the grandchildren took over the business. Each brings a different skill set to the business: Linda is an accountant; cousin Phil is an attorney; cousin Michael is the sales manager in charge of inventory. They all do their part to keep the workload balanced.

In 1988 the family renovated the garage into a finished building. They slowly added new flavors: piña colada, root beer, vanilla. Watermelon was tested in 1990 and added to the menu the following year. Banana debuted in 1991. Today, over 20 flavors are offered, some seasonally.

Despite the delicious variety, Linda says, “When it’s 90 degrees and humid, our best seller is the original lemon, by far! When the weather is a little more mild, it’s chocolate.”

The family prides itself on using the freshest ingredients. In early July, when the peaches are ripe, bushels start arriving at the store from Elmer, New Jersey peach groves. “Every year folks just wait for it,” says Linda. As fall nears, the pumpkin-spice flavored water ice starts to fly out of the store. Yes, pumpkin-spice water ice.

In addition to the secret to great water ice, Pop taught his family to be charitable. Linda recalls the time Filippo made batches of water ice in the dead of winter to help a woman suffering from throat cancer who had difficulty swallowing. The shop’s charitable work includes donating water ice to a myriad of different causes and even helping neighbors with medical bills.

Pop’s Water Ice opens for the season around March 1st (depending on the weather) and closes around the Columbus Day Parade (early October).

  • Spring hours: 7 days a week 11 a.m. until 9 p.m.
  • Summer hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
  • After Labor Day, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Check their Facebook page or website for more details.

Insider advice: for a special treat, try the chocolate-covered frozen bananas!

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What's Happening in:  South Broad Street 

How Sweet It Is: Four Generations of Chocolatiers in South Philly

We enjoy bringing you news about the latest restaurants and retail “opening soon” across South Philly.  In “Old School Spotlight” we take a look at a business that’s been around a while but is still vibrant and ready to serve you.  

John Lerro Candy has been satisfying South Philadelphia’s sweet tooth for more than 100 years from their shop at 2434 South Broad Street. The family-owned and operated business sells chocolate in many and varied forms. There are milk and dark chocolate-covered butter creams, caramels, jellies, nut clusters, pretzels, sponges and bark. From fruit to nuts it’s here, freshly hand-dipped in chocolate – and preservative free to boot! You’ll also find chocolate novelties such as the letters of the alphabet (spell your sweetheart’s name in chocolate!) and mini-baby carriages (baby shower gift!).

Founder Giovanni (John) Lerro arrived in America in 1900. He learned candy making while working at Willow Grove Park north of Philadelphia. With his savings, he traveled back to Italy and later returned to America with a new bride, Anna. By 1912 the newlyweds were selling homemade candy and ice cream at 15th and Shunk streets. Anna coated every chocolate by hand.

They opened the Broad Street shop in 1916. A movie theater located nearby created a brisk ice cream business. With the rise of supermarket ice cream, the shop switched to selling candy exclusively in 1960. By that time production had been moved out of the shop to a facility in Darby, PA.

Pasquale Lerro (far right) stands with friends outside the store, circa 1930. Pasquale took over the business from his father, Giovanni (aka John). Courtesy of the Lerro family.

For four generations the family has proudly passed down chocolate recipes as well as first names. John the founder named his son Pasquale. Pasquale named his son John, and John named his son John Pasquale. Anna is named after her grandmother, Giovanni’s wife.

The business is truly a family affair. Carmela and daughter Anna operate the Broad Street shop. Father-and-son John and John Pasquale run the chocolate production in Darby. Carmella’s daughter Patricia and son Michael help with the business during busy seasons.

Carmela, née Pietrolungo, began working as a sales clerk at the shop in 1943. Five years later she married Giovanni’s son Pasquale. She has worked in the shop, and lived above it, ever since. “She’s 89 years old and she’s been working the same job for 70 years,” marveled grandson John Pasquale. Asked if she plans to retire Carmella emphatically exclaims, “Never!”


Three generations of Lerro family members: matriarch Carmella (Pietrolungo) Lerro, seated, flanked by daughter Anna and grandson John Pasquale.


John Pasquale, 28,  a graduate of Penn’s Wharton School, is proud to be carrying the company into its fourth generation, “My utmost desire in this business is to uphold the values that were instilled in me by my father and my grandfather before him.” Everything in the shop, proudly referred to as “Our Own Make,” is made fresh to order without preservatives. “We don’t skimp on ingredients, and we always use high quality ingredients,” John Pasquale stressed. His future plans include wholesale distribution of the company’s chocolate novelties.

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What's Happening in:  Lower Moyamensing 

Old School Spotlight: Frangelli’s Bakery

We enjoy bringing you news about the latest restaurants and retail “opening soon” across South Philly.  In “Old School Spotlight” we take a look at a business that’s been around a while but is still vibrant and ready to serve you.  

The Franolli. Photo by Frangelli’s.

Frangelli’s Bakery owner John Colosi is rightfully proud of all his delicious pastries.  Sometimes, though, a parent has a favorite child or two. Colosi’s favorites include his bakery’s old style Philadelphia cheesecake and another, more unique creation…the “Franolli.”  The name of this doughnut, filled with sweetened ricotta cheese and chocolate chip, is a portmanteau of the words Frangelli’s and cannoli. The tasty treat was created by chance in 2012 when John dipped a piece of doughnut in some cannoli filling and loved the combination.  It’s become a fan favorite and even prompted Steve Harvey to do a little dance after trying one on his show.

Frangelli’s was established in 1947 and moved to its current location in the 1990s.  “I grew up at 9th and Jackson across the street from the original Frangelli’s and I’ve been eating these baked goods my whole life,” said Colosi, an affable fellow in his early forties. Colosi bought the bakery eight years ago, after the original owner’s son retired. In addition to being the owner, he’s also the principal baker. His sister Stacy Colosi Gatto is one of his helpers. Continue Reading →

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What's Happening in:  East Passyunk Crossing 

Old School Spotlight: Mancuso & Son Cheese Importers on Passyunk

NOTE: We at the Passyunk Post focus almost exclusively on what’s new in the neighborhood, but South Philly wouldn’t be such a great place if it weren’t for all that came before that. For that reason, we’ve decided to launch the Old School Spotlight, an occasional feature in which we demystify some of those places that have been around forever. Want to nominate a place for an Old School Spotlight? Email us at


Across the street from Adobe, Le Virtu, Fuel and Noir hides a little mom-and-pop store that most people don’t notice, despite that it’s been open for 70 years.

Lucio Mancuso & Son (1902 E. Passyunk) makes their own cheese (we got a delicious sampling of ricotta, mozzarella and baked mozzarella on our visit) and stocks a large array of imported items from Italy. The store is packed to the gills with coffee, biscotti, olives, bread, meats, olive oil and pasta. And the cheese is top quality.

Basically, we’re saying you don’t necessarily have to schlep up to DiBruno Bros. We got this.

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