The coronavirus certainly didn’t help business at Toll Man Joe’s, the sports bar across from Tony Luke’s sandwich stand on Oregon Avenue in South Philadelphia.
Toll Man Joe’s demise, announced Monday, June 29, can be attributed to fruitless lease negotiations, said Lori Penrose, who opened the bar in September 2016 with her husband, Tom, and relatives.
She said landlord Tony Lucidonio Sr., aka Tony Luke, wouldn’t budge on his number, “and when the lawyers got involved, it got brutal.” The business was on a month-to-month lease. Lucidonio did not return a message seeking comment.
Penrose said the bar was doing fine until the pandemic. But with pro and college sports shut down, the crowds were off and prospects of a return to normalcy were uncertain.
Toll Man Joe’s was named after family member Joseph Paul, a longtime Pennsylvania Turnpike worker at the Norristown Interchange who won the 2000 edition of the old WIP eating contest Wing Bowl. (His consumption of 90 wings was a record for fewest wings eaten by a winner.)
Toll Man Joe’s owners took to Facebook to discuss the “catastrophic damage” of the coronavirus, which forced the shutdown on May 30 after two months of takeout business. “We gave it our all during the closure, and I feel we succeeded in thinking outside the box,” the note said. “Chef Arty [Bermudez] came up with some very creative ideas that actually worked! We became a Chinese restaurant for some weeks while they were all closed. Soul food. Clam bakes. We tried everything. Our managers became delivery drivers. Whatever it took....”
“Even though we believe we have offered good-faith solutions and effort, our landlords have demanded that we leave the building,” said the note, which thanked staff, managers, and customers. “We can not answer at this time whether a different location is a possibility. Toll Man Joe’s has been a very personal endeavor for many people since September, 2016. It took a village to bring to life the heart and soul of a bar/restaurant based on the larger-than-life Joe Paul. It wasn’t easy, and it came with many sacrifices. But each and every person on that evolving team contributed, and helped shape what it became.”
It concluded: ”Thank you for giving the little guys a real chance. We know you have many options. We’ve shared so much with you over the past four years. Who gets to say they owned a sports bar during an Eagles Super Bowl win, and celebrate with 500 people? It sure has been a ride.”