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One of South Philadelphia’s most venerable grocery stores is making a rare change to its offerings. After 82 years in business, Lucio J. Mancuso & Son is selling sandwiches.
Carefully constructed on fresh rolls from nearby Cacia’s bakery, they’re available in small or large. For now it’s just hoagies, but the back kitchen is being outfitted with an oven, so the future menu will include hot options like roast pork and chicken cutlet.
Nothing else about the shop will change, said Jake Santini, the 21-year-old in charge of introducing made-to-order food to the East Passyunk staple, open since 1940.
“Business has been good. We’re going to keep everything the same,” Santini said. “We’re just adding the sandwiches, that’s it.”
The time-honored lineup of old-school cans, jars, pasta, and spices will remain on shelves, and the famous fresh mozzarella and ricotta will still be made on site daily. These traditions started with founder Lucio Mancuso, and continued from 1971 onward under second-generation owner Philip Mancuso.
When Phil died in February 2021, the future of the store was uncertain, with his widow Edda Mancuso telling The Inquirer, “There’s no way I can keep this open, I’m not young anymore.”
Yet the shop didn’t close, and it now has new owners, according to Santini. They are Jimmy Cialella, a former mozzarella-making apprentice (and Santini’s uncle) who runs Jimmy’s Water Ice at Front and Wolf, and his buddy John Denisi. Edda Mancuso still comes in a few times a week, and helps out when questions arise.
“They didn’t want to see it fade away,” Santini said. He’s the one making the mozzarella these days, kneading the cheese by hand and twisting it into thick milky-white braids.
A culinary school grad, Santini said he cut his teeth under acclaimed Italian chef Joey Baldino at Palizzi Supper Club in South Philly and Zeppoli in Collingswood, and currently works catering gigs in South Jersey alongside master of French cuisine Georges Perrier.
The sandwiches he’s turning out at Mancuso are a worthy showcase of his culinary skills.
For a classic old-school Italian, the interior of a long roll is drizzled with olive oil, then delicately laid with layers of cheese and meat: thin rounds of provolone, speckled slices of “suprasaad” (sopressata), sheer cuts of “gabagool” (capicola), and translucent sheets of “prashzhoot” (prosciutto).
Recommended toppings include whisper-thin slivers of white onion, a slip of tomato, and a cloud of shredded-to-order iceberg lettuce, which then gets doused with more olive oil and a splash of vinegar, plus salt, pepper, oregano, and crushed red peppers.
The whole thing will run you $12 (or $8 for a small), and you can get an optional side of cannoli for dessert ($3 apiece, in chocolate, vanilla, or cappuccino).
As of yet, there’s no printed menu, but customers can choose from any available meats for their sandwich, Santini confirmed. Veggie hoagies are coming once the kitchen gets finished and he can roast eggplants and peppers. In the summer, the housemade water ice that helped make the store famous will return, too.
Sandwiches are available whenever the doors at 1902 E. Passyunk Ave. are open, Santini said: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week.