Philly's Food Families
Some of Philadelphia’s most iconic eateries have been passed down from grandfathers to their grandchildren and, in at least one case, their great-great-great grandchildren.
Bassetts Ice Cream
In 1861, Lewis DuBois Bassett, a Quaker school teacher, and farmer living in Salem, New Jersey, made his first pint of ice cream using a mule-turned churn in his backyard. He opened his first ice cream parlor in 1885 at 5th & Market streets. About seven years later, the production facility moved to Reading Terminal Market, along with another retail store, which is now the flagship store.
While the ice cream making is no longer mule-powered, it is still in the family. Today, L.D. Bassett’s great-great-grandson runs the business and his great-great-great grandsons, representing the sixth generation, are learning the business. Bassetts Ice Cream is now available throughout the Philadelphia region, in major cities across the United States, and as far away as China, Korea and Taiwan. Delivery throughout the United States is available too.
Ralph’s Italian Restaurant
Francesco Dispigno left Naples and headed to America with his wife and their son, Rafael, later Americanized to Ralph. He opened a traditional Italian restaurant, commonly referred to in Philadelphia as a “red gravy” restaurant, in the heart of the Italian Market in South Philadelphia.
When Francesco passed away in the 1930s, Ralph took over his namesake restaurant. His wife and their four children all worked in the restaurant. Eventually, two grandsons worked there too, alongside Ralph who came in daily until he was almost 90 years old. This fourth-generation was responsible for restoring the original decor of the restaurant after an unfortunate re-do in the 1970s and for parenting the fifth generation, who have started to follow their ancestors into the family business. Over the years, the restaurant has been passed down through five generations, along with the recipes brought over from the old country and still in use today. Ralph's is more than 120 years old, making it America’s oldest family-owned Italian restaurant.
McGillin’s Olde Ale House
McGillin’s Olde Ale House, Philadelphia’s oldest continuously operating tavern and one of the oldest in the country, opened in 1860 - the year Abe Lincoln was elected president. The historic tavern’s long, storied history is filled with celebrities, ghosts and a tale of survival through not only the economic recession but also the Great Depression, Prohibition and the current pandemic. And, through it all, McGillin’s has been owned by only two families: Catherine & William McGillin, who raised their 13 children upstairs, and the current owners, the Spaniak/Mullins family, who have passed it down through three generations.
In 1958, the McGillin children sold the bar to brothers and experienced barkeeps, Henry Spaniak and Joe Shepaniak. (That’s not a mistake, the brothers spelled their name differently.) Keeping it in the family, Henry’s daughter, Mary Ellen Spaniak Mullins, and her husband, Chris Mullins, Sr., have run the restaurant since 1993. And, the legacy of hospitality continues with their son, Christopher Mullins, Jr., representing the family’s third generation to manage the historic tavern on Drury Street, a tiny alley behind City Hall.
Termini Bros. Bakery
Gaetano Termini came to the United States, got a job and saved money to bring his brother, Giuseppe, from Enna, Sicily. Giuseppe arrived in 1920 with a suitcase, a recipe book, and experience apprenticing as a master baker. Within a year the brothers had saved enough money to open a small bakery. In 1938, the brothers moved the bakery from its original location across the street to a larger space that is still their flagship store today.
Twenty years later, Giuseppe passed the bakery on to his son, Vincent, but continued to work there until his death at the age of 95. Vincent’s sons, Joey and Vinny, have fond memories of standing on milk crates watching their grandfather fill cannolis. They shared their father’s and grandfather’s commitment to Termini Bros. and in 1991 they joined their father and grandfather at the bakery. The grandsons initiated a mail-order business, introduced new ideas, and opened more locations, but they never changed the recipes their grandfather brought from the old country. It’s been a family affair at these Philadelphia restaurants for generations.