Opera still fills the air at popular Victor Cafe in South Philly

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A lot has changed during this COVID-19 crisis, especially for the restaurant industry.

But a South Philadelphia institution is out to prove that, even in despair, some things can stay the same.

People have been packing Dickinson Street for live opera. You can catch the shows sporadically through the week.

The Victor Cafe took the show to the second-floor balcony after dining rooms shut down in March.

"We're doing the best that we can to ensure that there will be a place for our staff to come back to," says owner Rick DiStefano.

They are doing everything they can to save the South Philly family cafe and its 102-year history.

"My grandfather came over in 1908 and saved his money up working for 10 years and opened up Victor Record, a Victrola shop, in 1918," DiStefano says.

After the shop survived the Great Depression, his grandfather John pivoted.

"He was doing anything he could do to get through it, pretty much what we're doing today," said DiStefano.

After prohibition, he purchased a liquor license and moved across the street.

"He changed it from Victor Records to Victor Cafe, where he sat in the backroom and spun all the records while you enjoyed your spaghetti," DiStefano says.

The Victor Cafe, famously featured in films like Rocky and Creed, was booming.

"This became the big hangout for all of the big stars," DiStefano says.

DiStefano grew up in the cafe, vividly remembering the nightly live opera performances it's still famous for.

"When I was a child, it was the customers who did the singing," said DiStefano.

They started hiring opera students as servers.

"You'll hear a bell ring, and one of the floor staff will get up and belt out a nice aria for you," DiStefano says.

The cafe initially closed during the pandemic but is now doing take-out and delivery.

"It's definitely not a money-making proposition. We're barely covering costs. This is to keep our profile up there and to lend everybody a little optimism that some things will remain the same."

The Victor Cafe is now working on some sort of outdoor dining plan and hopes to welcome customers back to the dining room soon.

Until then, family members are doing free local delivery.
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