By Molly Daly
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – On one of his many appearances on the Mike Douglas Show, David Brenner, who passed away over the weekend, put a small local hoagie shop on the national map. This happened in 1976, back when virtually no one outside of Philadelphia knew what a hoagie was.
“This is a real Philadelphia hoagie,” Brenner said on the show.
Tony and Al Ragozzino were both on the show as well, and Al’s son Frank says, with that appearance, Ragozzino’s at 10th and Fitzwater Streets became a Philly foodie mecca for the next ten years:
“Next thing you know, they were Best of Philly in Philadelphia Magazine, for like three years in a row for Italian Hoagies, and my father always said, that David put them on that map.”
Brenner kept plugging Ragozzino’s on every national talk show. And he kept in touch with the Ragozzino family, making sure they had front row seats to his shows. Frank and his brother last saw Brenner in August in Atlantic City.
“David just treated us like royalty, and talked about the Mike Douglas Show,” says Frank. “And I said, ‘David, do you remember when we were on the back (Ranstead) street and they strapped that jet engine to your back and you were on roller skates?’ He got so excited, because he finally realized there was a witness, because he said ‘I’ve been telling that story for years, and nobody believed it’!”
That stunt “took him two or three feet off the ground! He was really excited about it, and he had me and my brother telling everyone in his dressing room about it.”
Ragozzino says the striking thing about Brenner was that, no matter how big he got on the national stage, he was very much from and of Philadelphia:
“I think that was his charm, the accent, talking about Philly, the rowhouses, where he grew up. A lot of his jokes were about Philly, and New Jersey, and New York. He never lost sight of that. And I think he was very proud of that. He talked a lot about Temple University, that he graduated from Temple.”
With honors, in mass communication. Before his standup career, Brenner worked at KYW-TV, producing documentaries with Tom Snyder — another fan of Ragozzino’s. It was during his time at 5th and Market that the comedian became a Ragozzino’s customer.
“When David became a comedian, he would frequent the shop often. and made sure, every trip back to Philly, whether it be for the Mike Douglas Show, or appearing at Palumbo’s, or the Valley Forge Music Fair, or even later, Atlantic City Casinos, always made it a point to stop in the store for hoagies.”
It was through Brenner that Frank met comedian and actor George Wallace.
“In fact, it was George who called me yesterday to tell me that David passed away,” he said.
When asked what he’ll miss the most about David Brenner, Frank told KYW Newsradio “My dad passed away in 1993. And every time I saw or heard from him, it just reminded me of the great memories of my dad. My dad loved knowing him, and calling him a friend, and vice versa, and every time I see or hear or think of David, I think of Dad in the hoagie shop. And that’s what I’ll miss the most.”