Louis J. Esposito, 95, of South Philadelphia and later Overbrook, a longtime purveyor of fine meats in the Italian Market and an honored civic leader, died Saturday, Dec. 2, of old age at his home.
Mr. Esposito was the second-generation owner of Esposito Meats, a fixture at Ninth and Carpenter Streets.
His father, Attilio, had emigrated from Italy to open a butcher shop in Philadelphia in 1911, according to a family history. The business survived the Great Depression and two world wars. As its fortunes rose, Attilio Esposito bought the corner property where the shop is still located.
Mr. Esposito was born and reared in a roomy home above the butcher shop in South Philadelphia. He graduated from St. Joseph's Preparatory School, and earned a bachelor's degree from Villanova University. He had aspired to become a lawyer, but wound up following his father into the meat business.
He and his father traveled the nation, buying cattle to send back to Philadelphia for slaughter. While initially promoting fresh beef, the family also made a reputation later as a high-quality butcher willing to handle special orders, such as heart-shaped chicken breasts for Valentine's Day, according to an Inquirer article.
By the 1960s, Mr. Esposito had expanded the product line to include lamb, pork, and poultry. He deftly steered the business through downturns in the economy, as well as a devastating arson fire in March 2002 that almost put it out of business. With help from customers and vendors, the shop was fully operational again in six months.
Mr. Esposito's two sons, Lee and Louis A., joined him behind the counter as children, and as adults in the 1970s. Under their influence, the business built a thriving wholesale trade selling its products to high-end restaurants and hotel eateries.
Lee Esposito said that in addition to being an entrepreneur, Mr. Esposito was "a good dad."
"He gave us a great education," Lee Esposito said. "He took us on great vacations. He taught [my brother and me] a strong work ethic."
Mr. Esposito was admired and honored by many in the Philadelphia volunteer community for his civic contributions, his family said.
He served as president of the Board of Directors of City Trusts and chairman of the board of the Wills Eye Hospital Committee, which bestowed the Louis J. Esposito Research Professor of Ophthalmology Award on leading eye specialists in his honor.
He also served as president of the Philadelphia Opera Company and on the Temple University Board of Trustees. The institution gave him an honorary doctorate in the humanities and named the Louis J. Esposito Dining Center after him. He was named an honorary life trustee.
Other awards included: the Four Chaplains Legion of Honor Gold Medallion Humanitarian Award; the Dr. Vincenzo Sellaro Award, the highest honor from the Order Sons of Italy; and the Commendatore Award, a high-ranking honor from Italy.
He served in World War II in Army intelligence and was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant, according to his discharge paper.
Mr. Esposito "was not just known for the things he did, but more for the person he was," said son Louis.
His daughter, Stephanie, said Mr. Esposito was a bit shy, but loved people. "He was a mild-mannered man, very humble and kind, and a fabulous storyteller," she said. "So even though he was quiet and soft-spoken, his mild but dynamic nature commanded an entire room."
He was married for 67 years to Anne J. Esposito, who died in 2014.
Besides his sons and daughter, he is survived by daughter Pam; four grandchildren; and a brother and sister.
A 9 a.m. viewing Wednesday, Dec. 6, will be followed by an 11 a.m. Funeral Mass at St. Paul Church, 923 Christian St. Entombment will be at Holy Cross Cemetery, Yeadon.