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May 23, 2024

Police investigating suspected arson at site of Joey Merlino's planned South Philly cheesesteak shop

The former reputed mob boss announced in March he would renovate the Broad Street storefront and get behind the grill.

Investigations Arson
Joey Merlino Arson StreetView/Google Maps

A small fire was reported Thursday morning at the former Ace of Steaks cheesesteak shop at 3006 S. Broad St, Philadelphia police said. The fire was ruled an arson. The storefront is where former reputed mob boss Joey Merlino plans to open a new cheesesteak shop.

Police are investigating a suspected arson at the South Philly storefront where convicted mob boss Joey Merlino plans to open a new cheesesteak shop, authorities said.

Around 2:15 a.m. Thursday, firefighters responded to a small fire at the former Ace of Steaks at 3006 S. Broad St. The shop is on the same lot as a Citgo gas station at the corner of Pollock Street. The flames were extinguished before significant damage was done to the building, investigators said. 

Police confirmed that the Philadelphia Fire Department ruled the incident an arson. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is assisting in the investigation, authorities said.

6ABC reported that investigators found multiple incendiary devices inside a vestibule at the storefront.

On March 25, Merlino posted a video on X, formerly Twitter,  announcing his plan to open a new business called Skinny Joey's Cheesesteaks. Merlino said construction would begin that day.

"We're going to gut it. Fix it. We're going to be the cleanest, best cheesesteak place in the city. If you're going to any sporting event — Flyers, Sixers, Phillies, concerts, Eagles — come by here. Stop and see me," Merlino said. "I'll be behind the grill making steaks."

At one point in the video, Merlino gestures at the husk of Ace of Steaks.

"This is the before," Merlino said. "Wait 'til you see it in a couple months."

Merlino, 62, gained notoriety as a key figure in what remained of organized crime in Philadelphia in the 1990s after violence had claimed most of its forebears. He and six co-defendants were acquitted of murder charges in a 2001 trial, but Merlino was convicted on lesser racketeering charges and spent 12 years in federal prison before his release in 2011.

Merlino later ran a restaurant in Florida and claimed to have given up his ties to the mob. Federal prosecutors alleged that he remained involved in crime through a series of gambling and health insurance fraud schemes. After a mistrial in 2018, Merlino took a plea deal to avoid a retrial and was granted early release during his two-year prison term.

More recently, Merlino returned to Philadelphia and launched a new podcast — "The Skinny with Joey Merlino" — that he co-hosts with Joe "Lil Snuff" Perri. The podcast covers Merlino's life stories, as well as sports, betting lines and politics.

Police declined to share additional information about the investigation.