Jo Ketler: A Taste of Philly At The Beach
Those of us who are “transplants” from the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area (self included) can easily spot our fellow “Philladelfyans” by virtue of our speech. Whenever I hear someone ask for a glass of “wudder,” or talk about shopping at the “Acka-me”, I feel right at home. When you meet Jo Ketler, owner of Murph’s Beef and Ale, ask for your cheesesteak “wit” and she’ll know how to make it!
Born in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania just outside of Philadelphia, Jo and her four siblings were raised by devoted parents. Her father was self-employed as an auto mechanic and collision specialist, with a shop in Upper Darby and later Yeadon. With five kids to look after, Jo’s mom specialized in being a stay-at-home mom.
All the kids went to parochial school, including high school, which meant Monsignor Bonner for Jo’s brothers and Archbishop Prendergast for the girls. At a young age, Jo’s dream was to be a police officer—which did not coincide with her father’s dream of Jo going to college.
A compromise was reached after Jo graduated from Delaware County Community College, as Jo enrolled in the Delaware County Police Academy. Jo’s first job was as a police officer in 1977 at the University of Pennsylvania, where she stayed for 30 years, until 2007. That’s when she met her partner-to-be Pat Cippollone, originally from Swarthmore and Southwest Philadelphia.
Shortly thereafter, Pat and Jo decided to make the move to the beach. Jo wanted to stay in law enforcement, so she got a job with the Dagsboro Police Department, while also attending the Delaware State Police Academy. Pat got a job in the finance department of the City of Lewes. As luck would have it, a full time job soon opened up with the Lewes Police Department and Jo became a patrol officer closer to home.
A serious knee injury curtailed Jo’s active patrol duty. “Back in Upper Darby, a much larger police department, I would have been able to transition to desk duty. But most of the police units here at the beach are smaller, strictly patrol, without many desk jobs,” says Jo. “So I had to give up my dream job.”
Still determined to stay on the fringes of law enforcement, Jo went to school and became a paralegal, working at an attorney’s office for about a year.
One day, Jo and Pat were reminiscing about “Philly” and Jo said “you know, we can’t get a good hot roast beef or roast pork sandwich down here.” Then in the same breath, Jo dropped the bomb: “How about we look around for a little place where we could open a Philly-style sandwich shop?”
Pat looked at her and said “Are you crazy or what?”
Jo said “What’s the worst that could happen?” And, thus in 2015, began the creation of Murph’s Beef and Ale.
Jo and Pat wanted a place just on the outskirts of Rehoboth; almost in downtown but just outside. Then the former Primo’s Hoagie shop in Henlopen Square shopping center became available. It was a perfect setup for their dream, where they could have a big open kitchen framed by a long bar and plenty of room for tables and live entertainment.
Asked about the name, Jo says “we named it after Pat’s dad. We’re both from Irish-Catholic families. But his name wasn’t Murph, it was Joe. However, as he aged and developed dementia, he wouldn’t answer to Joe. Whenever someone asked him his name, he’d always say Murph. So Murph’s it was.”
In addition to providing the beach area with fantastic Philly-style food and drink, Jo and Pat are active in the community, joining with the Rehoboth Bears and CAMP Rehoboth for their annual holiday toy drive, as well as donating to Sundance and Womens FEST.
Now that Murph’s has been open for nearly three years, I asked Jo how she feels about the venture.
“This has been the absolute best thing to happen to us. We have met so many wonderful people, including many people from the Philly area who are transplants like us. Someone once said to me, ‘you know what Murph’s feels like? It’s like someone picked up the corner bar at 10th and Shunk Streets in South Philly and brought it to the beach.’ I consider that a compliment of the highest order.”
Murph’s is open seven days a week, starting with lunch at 11 a.m., and they have become THE place to go for authentic Philly-style sandwiches. Their specialty is roast beef and roast pork with sharp provolone, topped off with broccoli rabe and long hot peppers. Murph’s also features old-fashioned home-cooked meals and they will gladly cater your special event. Murph’s proudly features the best in local entertainment including John Flynn, Viki Dee and The Girlfriends.
Thanks Jo for bringing a taste of “Philly” to the beach!
When she is not aimlessly wandering about the hardware store, Kim can be reached by email.