A high-school trip to Italy sparked Anthony’s Italian Coffee House in Philadelphia’s South Ninth Street Italian Market. “I fell in love with the cafe culture,” Anthony Anastasio recalled about those two weeks in 1989. “I was born and raised at the market, and it was some- thing the market was missing.”
He has since built the business on the legacy of his parents’, grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ businesses in the market and his degree in food marketing from St. Joseph’s University.
Anthony’s was bold idea in when it opened in 1995, when Philadelphia’s outdoor markets were declining, stay-at-home mothers were no longer shopping daily (they weren’t staying at home, either), stalwarts like Maggio cheese and D’Orazio pasta had outgrown the market, families were encouraging children to pursue the American dream via higher education and white-collar jobs, and Vietnamese immigrants were moving in. And it was before Starbucks had nationalized the welcoming coffeehouse.
But it was the right idea: Anthony’s has since doubled its space by adding the store next door, expanded into chocolates and gelati and moved into wholesale, mail-order and online businesses.
The story of Anthony’s goes back to 1906 when Sicilian fisherman Tommaso Anastasio set up a pushcart at the market. He married Caterina Lucchese, whose family ran another fish market. Their son Tony expanded to a produce store, and he married Anna Pagano, whose family ran poultry store. When their son Chubby moved the family produce operation to a wholesale facility, Anthony saw the chance to transform his grandfather’s original store, at 903 S. Ninth St. Chubby and his wife Anne still live upstairs. Cousins Janet and Salvador run the fish market. Uncle Michael runs the produce market.
Anthony has returned twice to Italy, including a monthlong honeymoon with his wife Jill, primarily in the Amalfi coast and Rome, for “a lot of coffee drinking, a lot of eating and a lot of relaxing.”
Anthony’s succeeds because Anthony understands how a coffeehouse appeals as a third place – an alternative to work and home – and a community gathering place, with an Italian accent, including a custom soundtrack of opera, Sinatra and other Italian music.
“It’s not just the coffee and the traditional way it’s prepared,” he said. “It’s the overall experience. We treat everyone who comes in like family. I know that’s very cliché-ish, but whether you’re a local or a traveler, you feel that sense of being and welcome. We’re embracing Italian culture.”
A sense of community infuses the annual Coffee With a Cause, which supports children with dyslexia and reading literacy. “Dyslexia is the No. 1 learning disability in our schools, impacting nearly 20% of our students,” according to the coffeehouse website, www.italiancoffeehouse.com. Anthony’s focus comes from seeing a family member overcome the challenges of dyslexia.
Anthony’s also succeeds because Anthony has applied his college education in food marketing. “One of the most important things is I learned from St. Joe’s is understanding your niche and being true to yourself and to your vision,” he said. His vision insists on the personal touch, even in the “tidal wave” of online shopping that he feels could become its major business.
Working at Anthony’s can be a school of hard knocks, with former employees who have developed other careers telling him they “learned more working hard on Ninth Street than reading textbooks.”
“The real investment that businesses need to make is in people, building each other up to help achieve a common goal, whether that be for a business, a community or a city,” he said. “You can have all the ideas in the world, but you need the support of others.”
Daughters Sophia and Alessia sometimes work there, and his mother occasionally pops in. Although Anthony is just 50 and plans on working another 25 years in the coffeehouse, his daughters “represent the family’s future on the market as we continue to work together to preserve, to enrich and to continue the family traditions for generations to come,” he writes on the coffeehouse site.
That’s 25 more years of his daily grind. “We created our own coffee blends 28 years ago when we first opened, and we’ve expanded that line, according to the needs of our customers, but our tried and true niche is our signature coffee, called our reserve. Every morning, I make myself a regular cup of coffee. If I need a little pick-me-up, I got a little shot of espresso, but I drink reserve all day.”
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