Tacony: Lorenzo’s Café Espresso Aims to Bring Neighborhood Together

There is no such thing as a grand opening without a ribbon cutting, so what does an Italian cafe owner do when there is no ribbon in sight? Use a red, white and green banner of course.

Jan. 30, 2016, was a Saturday afternoon like no other for Lisa and Mike Lorenzo. It was the grand opening of their family-owned business, Lorenzo’s Café Espresso, something that they have been looking forward to for years.

Italian flags placed by the entrance let customers know that they are in for an authentic meal
Italian flags placed by the entrance let customers know that they are in for an authentic meal

“My family grew up in the restaurant business. It actually started here in Tacony with Spinelli’s Restaurant back in the 1940s. In 2001 my dad sold it and then passed away, so all these years we have been wanting to do a café in memory of him,” Lisa said.

The café is located on 4741 Princeton Ave. right off of Torresdale Avenue, Tacony’s main road. Lisa and Mike, who have been together for 34 years, purchased the property in August 2015 with the hope of bringing close-knit, family-run businesses back to the neighborhood.

Mike preparing the Spinelli pizza bread with meatballs.
Mike preparing the Spinelli pizza bread with meatballs.

“I grew up four doors away when this used to be a barbershop and even then there were no Italian restaurants like this,” Lisa said.

Mike’s goal is to provide the community with a little slice of Italy.

“We’re in the heart of Tacony. This used to be — and still is — a predominant Italian neighborhood and people are still looking for good, homemade Italian recipes,” he said.

The Spinelli pizza bread was a staple at Lisa's father's restaurant
The Spinelli pizza bread was a staple at Lisa’s father’s restaurant

Mike hopes to create an atmosphere where everyone walking through the door feels like they have entered their own home.

“Great food is the number one priority, but also talking to people and making them feel happy,” he said, and according to posts on the business’s Facebook page, they are doing just that.

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Joe Sannutti and Michael Thaete, president and vice-president of the Tacony Civic Association, were pleased by the positive impact that Lorenzo’s has had on the community thus far.

“This is the first venture to put a restaurant here,” Sannutti said. “It has brought a lot of people in the neighborhood together as friends as well as created an opportunity to meet new friends. It is bringing the neighborhood together.”

He believes that institutions like this create interest and bring more business.

“As a matter of fact, next week there is a grand opening for a bakery down the street,” Sannutti said. Michael Thaete agreed, adding that, “the Civic Association and the Community Development Corporation (CDC) are very active.”

The CDC’s  mission is to combat blight, lower vacancy and improve the physical condition of the commercial corridor of the Tacony community.

“With this much community involvement, people are saying, ‘Hey I want to live in Tacony,’” Thaete said.

Many neighborhoods in Philadelphia have been seeing an influx of new businesses and reconstruction. Mike Lorenzo believes that Tacony is on its way up as well.

“Fishtown really came alive. It’s just amazing. I was always told that every fifty years a neighborhood comes back around. It happened in Northern Liberties, then Fishtown, Port Richmond is next, and now they’re saying Tacony. So I’m hoping,” he said.

Though it took Lisa and Mike a few years to finally get their business going, Lisa said that they are happier than they have ever been. Her brother and sister passed away within a year of each other and for a long time she felt that she had nothing to live for. Now, five years later, she looks back and says that never in a million years did she believe that she would be where she is now.

 Lisa with one of her daughters, Gianna.
Lisa with one of her daughters, Gianna.

“I felt my father the day we signed the lease and when we opened up I found a feather and heard Rocky on the radio. All we heard was Rocky, Rocky, Rocky, and you never hear Rocky on the radio! He was my dad and my brother’s favorite, so I know they were with us,” she said.

“I wish he were here to see it, but I know he sees it. He would definitely be proud.”

Mike and Lisa celebrating the cutting of the ribbon during the grand opening of their new restaurant.
Mike and Lisa celebrating the cutting of the ribbon during the grand opening of their new restaurant.

— Text, images, and video by Margery Cedano and Mackenzie Mooney