There are those who talk of Joe DiLullo as an overnight success. If that’s the case, then it’s been a very long night.
Born in South Philly, Joe moved to Fox Chase while he was still a young boy. In an effort to help pay rent, Joe picked up odd jobs. And at age 13, he started his own floor-cleaning business. Soon after, he was offered a job shining shoes at a local barbershop.
Joe’s first priority wasn’t school or sports – it was making a profit. Joe was always looking for innovative ways to earn a buck. After working at the barbershop for some time, a pizza parlor across the street went up for sale. Joe, now all of 15, inquired about the asking price – $5,000. Although it was considered a deal at the time, the price was still well beyond Joe’s tip money.
While visiting his mother in the hospital one day, Joe chatted about the possibilities for the pizza parlor. An elderly patient with whom he had become friendly listened earnestly to the young man’s dreams and ambitions. Soon, this man, clad in a nightgown, offered Joe $20,000 to buy the place. Shocked, Joe politely declined the offer. It was just too much to take for a young man who was shining shoes for a living.
After future visits and much discussion, Joe finally agreed to borrow $5,000 from the man – half of which was used for a down payment and the rest for working capital.
All of this took place while Joe was in his junior year – and at the top of his class – at Cardinal Dougherty High School. Despite his teachers’ efforts to talk him out of it, Joe quit high school to concentrate on his new business.
Although he was a bit frightened, Joe believed this was what he needed to do. The fact that he didn’t know a darn thing about the pizza business made him even more uneasy. But, he thought, it had to be better than shining shoes.
Opening day eventually arrived. As Joe stepped outside for a moment, a black Cadillac pulled up in front of his new establishment. A chauffeur jumped out in highly polished livery boots. Joe noticed things like that. When the chauffeur opened the door, an impeccably groomed man stepped out. Joe did a double take. It was his friend from the nursing home – the one had made this dream possible. After a brief discussion and some brainstorming about the business, the man put his arm around Joe. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You’re going to make a lot of money.” With that, he returned to the car and drove away. Joe never saw him again, despite multiple attempts to locate him. It’s like he drove down Oxford Avenue and vanished from the face of the Earth.
But the old man was right. Joe did well – well enough to buy a nearby property less than a year later. And that was the beginning of the current Joseph’s Pizza, a place that would become a Northeast institution.
Joe later went on to open Ristorante DiLullo next door to Joseph’s in 1979 (currently Moonstruck) followed by DiLullo Centro in Center City in 1985 – all in addition to owning a development company and partnering with Shadow Traffic.
And by Joe’s side was his wife Clair, his mainstay throughout his successful journey. With Joe’s passing in 1994, he’s not able to enjoy the success story that continues today. And although Claire continues to realize his dream, she finds comfort in the fact that Joe was able to experience 28 rewarding years of business and, most importantly, witness the fruition of a young man’s dream. And she would like to think that somewhere, the mysterious old man was watching the same thing.