MOBBED... with customers, now, where wiseguys once hung out

Joey Giusepp's, owned by chef Joe Stanfa, is in the same location where his mafia-boss dad, John, and colleagues used to meet and, on at least one occasion, shoot.
Joey Giusepp's, owned by chef Joe Stanfa, is in the same location where his mafia-boss dad, John, and colleagues used to meet and, on at least one occasion, shoot. (PHOTOS: (ABOVE) ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER; LEFT, TOP: FOX 29; BOTTOM: FILE PHOTO)
Posted: January 30, 2012

JOE STANFA doesn't want you to read this.

He can't make you put down the newspaper or click on another website, but he's worried that continuing on could be bad for business, for his fresh start.

"I don't want to scare people away," Stanfa said from behind the counter at Joey Giusepp's, his new pizzeria just off the Schuylkill Expressway, in Grays Ferry.

Stanfa is perhaps the only proprietor in Philadelphia who doesn't want you to know about his pizza joint. He'd rather make you a hoagie than talk about the blood that was shed at the same address nearly 20 years ago, or the story behind the scar on his cheek.

He just doesn't want you to get the wrong idea.

It's the name. Stanfa.

A name that everyone from South Philly to Caccamo, Sicily, equates with La Cosa Nostra. A name that means 72,300 things to Google's search engine, but one above all others: John Stanfa. Joe's father.

The 71-year-old former mob boss is serving five consecutive life sentences at a high-security penitentiary near Williamsport for a 1995 federal-racketeering conviction that included murder, gambling and extortion.

John Stanfa's never getting out. He's as good as dead. But, in a way, the Sicilian-born mobster is already haunting his middle-age son in the kitchen of his restaurant at Warfield and Wharton streets, a storied corner in local mob history, just west of 34th Street.

Joe Stanfa doesn't talk about his father that way. He doesn't have to.

"All my life I've been trying to get away from that," Stanfa said during the lunch rush one day last week. "I had nothing to do with that."

"That," it was understood during this brief conversation, is his father's organized-crime activities. And getting away from it won't be easy. Not here.

Joey Giusepp's Pizzeria & Ristorante is the former Warfield Breakfast and Lunch Express, a reputed mob hangout in the early 1990s.

It's where Stanfa underboss Joseph Ciancaglini Jr. was shot five times before dawn March 2, 1993, during the mob war between Stanfa's faction and a young crew loyal to Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, then a brash 31-year-old. The FBI's surveillance camera, mounted on a pole outside, caught footage of the hitmen entering the luncheonette. A bug planted inside recorded the whole thing - the gunshots, the screaming waitress, the men scampering out the door.

Six months later, as the Stanfa-Merlino war escalated, police were back at the Warfield Breakfast and Lunch Express investigating another attempted hit - this time directed at the mob boss himself.

John Stanfa and his son were riding in a Cadillac Seville on the morning of Aug. 31, 1993, when men in a van - with gun ports cut in the side - pulled up and opened fire on the expressway during rush hour. John Stanfa wasn't hit, but Joe, then 23, caught a bullet in his face.

Riding on the rim of a blown-out tire, the Stanfas' driver, Freddy Aldrich, exited I-76 and headed for Warfield Street, parking the car in the restaurant's garage. Joe Stanfa was rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania with a bullet lodged behind his cheekbone.

In 1996, Rosario Conti Bellocchi, a confessed Mafia hitman, testified in federal court that the Warfield Breakfast and Lunch Express had been a meeting spot for wiseguys in the early 1990s, and a place where guns and money were stored.

"They wasn't coming in to buy pizza," Bellocchi told the jury. "They were coming to meet with people in La Cosa Nostra."

Today, Stanfa is trying to launch a legitimate business in the same building, on the same block as his father's old warehouse and business, Continental Imported Food Distributors Inc.

"How's that for karma?" one law-enforcement official asked, chuckling.

Stanfa, 41, with salt-and-pepper hair having replaced the black mane he sported in the 1990s, was never implicated in his father's underworld dealings, and law-enforcement sources say that he isn't on their radar.

"The only hit over there these days is the chicken cutlets, the meatballs and the broccoli rabe," said Joe Stanfa's attorney, James Leonard. "Joe's always been 100-percent completely legitimate. Even the government rats who testified against his father said so."

So legitimate, in fact, that a coupon for a free federal tax return from H&R Block was slapped on the pizza boxes when the Daily News ordered a few pies from Stanfa last week. Ever heard of the mob getting along with the Internal Revenue Service? Didn't think so.

Stanfa, however, wouldn't agree to a sit-down interview for this article, or to have his photo taken. Joey Giusepp's has been open less than a month, and he's worried that the location's notorious history could drive away current and future customers.

Reminded that the Stanfa-Merlino war was nearly 20 years ago, Stanfa interjected. "Yeah, but I lived it," he said, his voice rising slightly, not in anger, just enough to make a point. A pockmark on his face remains from the 1993 gunshot wound.

Even if his restaurant could benefit from the local Mafia lore, Stanfa doesn't want to be a guy with that kind of place. Disarmingly polite, he's not trying to cash in on mob glamorization. He wants to do it his way.

"I'm trying to build this place up," he said.

Leonard, Stanfa's attorney, is no stranger to free publicity - he's represented Angelina Pivarnick from "Jersey Shore" and has appeared in two episodes of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" - but he can't blame his client for wanting to put the past behind him.

"He doesn't bother anybody, and no one bothers him," Leonard said. "He's one of the hardest-working guys I've ever met, and his food is authentic Italian. Most of the recipes come straight from his mother's kitchen."

And most of his worries come from a federal penitentiary 150 miles away in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, from the aging mobster inside who shares his last name.

"I'm just trying to make a living," Joe Stanfa said. "I'm trying to make a new start."

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