It’s survived two world wars, the Great Depression, a few recessions, disco, and countless no-carb diet fads over 120 years — and now Ralph’s is also working around COVID-19.
The oldest operating Italian restaurant in the United States is “adapting,” says Ed Rubino, who runs the Ninth Street institution with his brother, Jimmy. “We’re doing a lot better than a lot of people,” Rubino said.
The restaurant closed for one day at the start of the government-ordered shutdown in mid-March and then switched to takeout and delivery. When the city allowed outdoor dining last month, the Rubinos set tables outside of Sarcone’s Bakery next door on one side and their mother’s house next door on the other side, for a total of about 20 seats.
“If we get two or three turns on a Saturday night, that pays the bills,” he said. (Restaurateurs who own the bricks outright have an obvious advantage over those who lease their spaces.)
Ralph’s — whose rerun of a 2016 Wheel of Fortune segment aired this week — opened in 1900 at Ninth and Montrose Streets, moving in 1915 to its current home 2½ blocks away at 760 S. Ninth St. on a now-golden food block that includes Sarcone’s, Angelo’s Pizza, and Kalaya.
Ralph Dispigno Jr., now 91, the grandson of founder Francesco Dispigno, still comes in once in while, though using a walker; up to a couple of years ago, he worked six days a week and drove himself from his home in Delaware County.
Pat Sajak and Vanna White visited Ralph’s in September 2015 while taping Wheel episodes in Philly.
Ed Rubino said the restaurant would open for indoor dining, with spaced tables, when the city gives the green light.