Robert D. “Bobby” DePhilippis, long-time owner of Filippi’s Italian restaurants and lifelong promoter of boxing matches, died Sept. 11 in Coronado after going into a diabetic coma. He was 72.
“As a father, he was always there to guide us and then teach us,” his daughter Michelle DePhilippis said. “He was a great provider and gave us an opportunity in the business.”
Billy Moore, son of the legendary boxing champ Archie Moore who founded the Any Boy Can charity in San Diego in 1957, said DePhilippis was responsible for keeping boxing in the forefront of San Diego sports.
“He loved boxing, but wasn’t really making a lot of money (at it),” Moore said. “He just loved the sport, loved helping out.”
DePhilippis was born Oct. 17, 1949, in Pennsylvania and moved with his family to San Diego when he was 15, and attended San Diego High School.
Following in his father’s footsteps, he took up boxing but family restaurant duties kept him from advancing in the sport.
His father, Roberto P. DePhilippis, who died in 2008, owned the Butcher Shop Steakhouse restaurants in Chula Vista, Mission Valley and Kearny Mesa and Caruso’s Italian restaurant in downtown. He was boxer Ken Norton’s first manager and a boxer himself.
Bobby DePhilippis’ grandparents had preceded his family in moving to San Diego in 1949 and started what came to be the chain of Filippi’s Pizza Grotto restaurants. Family members operate 11 Filippi’s in San Diego County, one in Napa Valley and two in Riverside. Bobby opened his first in Escondido in 1972, followed by three others in Poway, Jamul and Santee. Michelle oversees the business today.
But it was boxing that energized him the most, his friends said.
“Bobby had the greatest right hand in boxing,” said former Chargers placekicker Benny Ricardo. “He would sign any check to put on an event to further the guys’ careers. He produced world champions. Boxing would be nothing if not for his right hand.”
DePhilippis obtained his state promoter’s license in 1980 and put on his first event at the Palisades Garden roller rink in North Park the following year. He operated under “Pro-Box Promotions” and “Bobby D. Presents.”
He staged more than 80 boxing shows in the 1980s at the convention center that once sat next to El Cortez Hotel downtown with some broadcasts on ESPN.
“Bobby began bringing in fighters from all over the country and across the border,” said a tribute in 2012 when he was inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame.
When El Cortez was no longer available, he held bouts at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Lakeside Rodeo, Golden Acorn Casino, Golden Hall at the City Hall complex downtown, and hotels in Mission Valley and Kearny Mesa.
Among the champions he promoted or managed were Jesus “The Hawaiian Punch” Salud, James “The Heat” Kinchen, Tony “Bazooka” De Luca, and Terry and Orlin Norris.
Ricardo, who wrote the tribute, called DePhilippi boxing’s “greatest unconditional friend.”
“Without him there would be no ring and no boxing,” he said.
Retired Union-Tribute sports writer Bill Center, who covered the sport, said DePhilippis put together cards or lists of matches at an event that often featured young fighters in San Diego and Tijuana.
In a 1987 article, “Boxing is back in San Diego despite its history of failure,” Center said DePhilippis and his then-wife Lillian plus Jack Favale put together a five-bout event at El Cortez that drew almost 900 fans, “proving that at least a few people believe the fight game can survive in San Diego.”
One friend, Jeff Kacha, owner of Rudford’s Restaurant in North Park, said DePhilippis promoted events internationally, from London to the Philippines and up to a year ago in Tijuana.
“One thing Bobby never did — he never complained, never explained,” he said. “Everything was always positive.”
Another friend and his food purveyor, Peter Lalli, said besides Italian restaurants and boxing, DePhilippis loved to sing in public. His band was “The Sound Doctors.”
“He had a voice like an angel,” Lalli said. “We went out on Friday and Saturday nights and did karaoke all over town.”
His favorite songs: Paul Anka’s “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” and the Platters’ “Twilight Time.”
In DePhilippis’ last days when he was in a coma, Lalli said he sat close to him in bed and whispered two jokes in the hope of getting a response:
“The price of mozzarella is $9 a pound” — no answer.
Next: “A lot of people are coming up to me lately and told me I was a better singer than you were.”
“I swear, when I said that to him, in the corner of his mouth was a tiny, tiny little smile,” he said.
DePhilippis is survived by his former wife, Lillian, and current wife, Marga Laija; three children, all of San Diego, Michelle, Andre and Robert Jr.; and three grandchildren. After the funeral service at 11 am Tuesday at St. Rose of Lima Church, 293 H. St., Chula Vista, he will be buried at Glen Abbey in Bonita. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the American Diabetes Association.