As looters ransacked stores in Center City’s commercial corridors on Saturday and Sunday, a handful of businesses escaped serious damage.
A smattering of family-owned Philadelphia restaurants — which positioned family members and employees at their front doors — survived the unrest relatively unscathed.
“As soon as we saw the rioting start up, we stood outside and made sure nothing happened to our restaurant,” said Giuliano Tomasi, of Joe’s Pizza at 16th and Sansom Streets.
Even during the worst of the looting, a cook inside Joe’s continued to turn out whole pies and slices.
Tomasi stood guard in front of the plate-glass windows from 5 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. with owner Ernesto Villico, who is his uncle, and his cousin Vito Lizzio.
Doing so was a necessity. After almost three months of slow sales because of the coronavirus pandemic, the business couldn’t risk another catastrophic loss.
“We can’t afford anything else to happen to it,” Tomasi said. "Our revenues are already down to a quarter of what they used to be. That’s why we were standing out there.”
Many of the looters paid them respect, Tomasi said.
“We got a lot of compliments from the rioters and protesters saying, ‘You’re protecting your business, good job!’” Tomasi said. Meanwhile, the Happy Rooster, a bar next door, and a Marathon Grill location across the street were seriously damaged.
Two doors down from Joe’s, DanDan Sichuan and Taiwanese restaurant remained intact. Co-owner Cat Huang said that was because people could see Joe’s and DanDan weren’t “faceless corporations.”
“These were local small businesses already hurting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and they represented the people and the people were still there protecting what was theirs,” Huang said.
Rioters shattered the glass doors at Di Bruno Bros. gourmet market at 18th and Walnut Streets, which had closed early in the evening. Someone used a rock to punch a six-inch hole through a front window. But as boutiques nearby were looted, the items inside the renowned food emporium went untouched.
“We saw it escalating fairly early,” said Di Bruno’s partner Emilio Mignucci. “And when we got there it was out of control. So we just stood in front of our store and made sure we were present. We made sure it didn’t get decimated.”
Along the 1500 block of Sansom Street, Agapios “Willie” Bouikidis watched the chaos from the sidewalk outside his 1518 Bar & Grill. He watched as vandals smashed plate-glass windows and spray-painted graffiti on the walls. He stood his ground. He refused to be afraid, he said.
“I was the only owner there on the block. Just me. I didn’t see any others. I think people were scared,” said Bouikidis, who has spent his entire professional life as a Philadelphia restaurateur, nine of them at the 1518 Bar & Grill. “I had no damage at all. Nobody touched my place.”
As looters rushed by, a few stopped to talk.
“You have to be like a politician when you’re an owner. You got to know how to talk to them. You use your head. Not your muscles,” Bouikidis said. “If more people had been standing out front, there’d have been less trouble.”
Some of the rioters asked for plastic bags to hold their plundered items.