Comedy show producer — and familiar face at Rudy’s Bar & Grill — Joe Sallabi started coming to Hell’s Kitchen in the 1980s, and now is proud to live and work in the neighborhood. This is his West Side Story.

Joe is happy and grateful to be a resident of Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Naty Caez

So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I grew up in New Jersey. I’ve been hanging out in Hell’s Kitchen since the 80s, when I started producing comedy shows. That was when there were thousands of rooms to perform at across the US, and every place that could try and do a “Comedy Night” did one.

I would come into Hell’s Kitchen to drop off comics to their shows and scout out other comedians at the original Improv, a space that was created by Budd and Silver Friedman at 358 W 44th Street and where the famous “Brick Wall of Comedy” stood. It’s where Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld and so many of the world’s greatest entertainers began their careers. Today, the building is occupied by Don Giovanni’s Restaurant, and the famous “Brick Wall” is still used as a tribute to the original Improv. I was lucky to be a small part of bringing laughter back into that space, 25 years after The Improv left.

In July 2021, I produced a comedy show at my friend Al Martin’s Broadway Comedy Club in Hell’s Kitchen. My friend of 30 years, Danny DePamphillis, of Rudy’s Bar & Grill, asked me if I wanted to help out when the place reopened after the pandemic. The plan was to help for just a couple of weeks. I started on August 1, 2021, and here we are two years later! I’m very happy and grateful to be a resident of Hell’s Kitchen and to be able to work here, right in this little neighborhood nestled in the Big Apple. 

Joe Sallabi Baron Von Swine Rudy's Pig
Joe’s first selfie of just “Me and the Baron Von Swine” In August 2021. Photo supplied

What was your first job? What do you do now?
Besides the typical “jobs” as a kid like a newspaper route, shoveling snow, pumping gas, et cetera, my first real job was working at a hamburger chain called Gino’s in Edison NJ. I became the first male besides a manager to work the register in the chain’s history.

As well as working at Rudy’s Bar & Grill, I continue to produce comedy shows, which is what originally brought me to Hell’s Kitchen back in 1986. When the original Improv was at 44th and 9th, we would run over to Rudy’s back then for a quick drink during a comic’s set and then go back at the end of the night before we would go to the Westway Diner and hang out until the sun came up. Back then they didn’t give “Free Hot Dogs” but had a sign saying “FREE CHICKEN DINNER” and when you would ask for that, they gave you a “Hard Boiled Egg”! Now, I’m excited about continuing to spread laughter with my shows, starting at the end of August, at Hell’s Kitchen’s very own Laurie Beechman Theatre in the iconic West Bank Café that has been a part of this neighborhood and providing quality shows since 1978.  

What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
Not to sound corny, but there are so many favorites, with new favorite ones created every day. It always involves some interaction with the people of Hell’s Kitchen. I’ll try and get back to you on just one of them, it might even be that I was asked to tell my West Side Story by W42ST.COM!

Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
The people, the location, and the community. When I told my childhood friends that I was asked to do this, I told them that I wouldn’t have a West Side Story to tell if it weren’t for the people that I get to interact with every day. It truly is all the interesting people who I get to meet here. From visitors who come from all around the world, to the many longtime and new residents of this great neighborhood, to the people on the street, they are all what makes living in Hell’s Kitchen feel like a community that welcomes everyone. 

What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
I never thought I had one, but people tell me that I connect with all different kinds of people, and I’m genuine. I’ve always tried to help people in any way I can, something that was taught to me by my mother and sister. I still have a lot of the same people in my life from my childhood, and I always enjoy meeting and adding new friends to my life.

What else should we know about you?
I worked as a volunteer with Hell’s Kitchen Community Cupboard even before I moved here. It’s a perfect example of how people in Hell’s Kitchen take care of their neighbors. We provide food in a cupboard that’s located in front of the Ryan Health Center at 645 10th Avenue. It’s all volunteer driven. The food donations come from many of our Hell’s Kitchen businesses and are picked up daily by our many volunteers, who help to cut down on food waste. It really showed me what kind of amazing, caring people we have right here in Hell’s Kitchen. I tell everyone that this is just a small town in The Big City. Although I’m not good at social media, I started a Facebook page called I Love Hell’s Kitchen, NYC.

For more information about the Hell’s Kitchen Community Cupboard, you can email or IG @hkfridge. Donations can be made via Venmo/Cash App to @hkfridge and via PayPal to

Joe’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places

Rudy’s Bar & Grill — 627 9th Avenue (bw W44/45th St)
Of course this is my number one favorite. From the first time that I stepped into Rudy’s, back in the 80s, I knew the place was special. I love hearing the stories of so many people from all around the world about what Rudy’s means to them. I was able to make new lifelong friends, from local regulars to people that came to visit once or twice and we still keep in touch after they went back home.

Joe Sallabi
Joe has been going to Rudy’s since the 80s. Photo: Naty Caez

Hell’s Kitchen Community Cupboard — 645 10th Avenue (bw W45/46th St)
When you go there — and I suggest everyone should go and volunteer for just one day, to really see what Hell’s Kitchen is really all about — you will see the very best of humanity and people devoting their time to caring and helping their Hell’s Kitchen neighbors.

Anywhere on the Hudson River
Hell’s Kitchen’s border to the west is the Hudson River. It’s nice to be able to walk a couple of blocks to the west, enjoy the sunset, and watch the boats go by. Just need to prepare and bring a bite to eat and a beverage or two…non-alcoholic of course, wink, wink. It makes a perfect place for a semi-quiet date, in a beautiful setting, just blocks away from the hustle and bustle of Times Square.

Bea Restaurant — 403 W43rd Street (bw 9th/10th Ave)
I first went to Bea years ago because of the name. My sister and my aunt are both named Bea. From the first time I went, until now, I can now call many of their employees my friends. Great food, great drinks and now great friends.

Steak Frites, Lovely’s and Zillions
I started to go because of my longtime friends, Stephane and Adam. They created these amazing restaurants and put together a fantastic staff. I love to go and see them, and besides their amazing food, the people who work there make me feel like family and that makes me happy. I became friends with Stephane before I even moved here. Stephane along with and his whole family, from his mother to his daughter Olivia and her mom Kim, along with all his nieces and nephews have also become like family to me.

Joe at Steak Frites. Photo: Naty Caez

Broadway Comedy Club — 318 W53rd Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
I have had the pleasure of working with great people and bringing my Salami’s East Coast Comedy shows to the Broadway Comedy Club. I have been longtime friends with the owner Al Martin and his family. It’s a great place to go and enjoy a night of laughter with friends and family, as they have shows 7 nights a week, right here in Hell’s Kitchen.

La Pulperia and Turkish Cuisine 
Besides La Pulperia being my business neighbors at Rudy’s Bar and Grill, I enjoy going there, not just for their delicious food, but even more for their amazing hospitality from the whole staff. We greet each other with a hug, whether it’s at the restaurant or we just run into each other on the street, and we always say, “I love you” and mean it. Those are three very powerful words, when they are expressed to another person and truly meant. They also give back to the community and help to sponsor our “Fresh Fruits and Veggies Tuesdays” for The Cupboard”

Turkish Cuisine is another Rudy’s business neighbor of ours and they show the same love to me whenever we see each other and also with their food — to share their food with them, is them sharing their love with me.  They are also a part of my extended Hell’s Kitchen family. 

Don Giovanni’s — 358 W44th Street (bw 8th/9th Ave)
This was the former location of the original Improv where I spent most of my time in the 80s scouting out new comics. Over the years, I have become close friends with the owners and staff of Don Giovanni’s. I have even produced comedy shows there, in front of the original “Brick Wall,” which they wisely kept from the original Improv. I brought back many comics from the 80s and 90s to bring laughter back in front of the wall. We were all happy to be back together. Don Giovanni’s truly makes me feel like family, and I always get a huge hug from Asaf, Nina, Chris, Roi, and Kimi.

Joe in front of the original brick wall at Don Giovanni’s. Photo: Naty Caez

Plaza Gourmet Deli and Fruit Stand 43
When I got out of work, and I wanted to pick up something to eat and buy some fresh fruit and veggies before I went home, I started to stop by both places. However, as you learn in Hell’s Kitchen, you will meet the most amazing people, and sometimes it’s people who work overnight to provide us “late night people” with fresh food and a little friendship. These two places on 43rd and 9th provided both.

At Plaza Deli, when you walk in, you get be greeted by the smiling face of Idris (more about him later). You then head over to Fabian, the guy who makes sure you get to eat. He prepares your food with the same love as if he were feeding his own family. He takes the time to prepare what you what you want, just the way you want it.

There was a time that I had to get a procedure done at Mount Sinai, where they had to put me under anesthesia. Although I live close to the hospital, I still needed someone to pick me up. Then my driver had to be back at work and Idris said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be there to get you.” When I woke up from the anesthesia, I walked into the waiting room and got to see that smiling face waiting to get me home. That’s the kind of great guy Idris is.

My friends at Fruit Stand 43 provide a place for all of us in Hell’s Kitchen to buy fresh produce 24-hours-a-day. They have helped me do what I love doing, in providing fresh fruits and vegetables for the Hell’s Kitchen Community Cupboard. David, along with the everyone who works at the stand all work hard and are a big part of what makes Hell’s Kitchen great.

Fruit Stand 43 helps provide fresh fruits and vegetables for the Hell’s Kitchen Community Cupboard. Photo: Naty Caez

My Apartment
Although I’ve been hanging out in Hell’s Kitchen for 40 years, I never thought I would be living here, but I’m so happy that I do. It’s been a life-changing move for me, besides losing 100 pounds since I’ve been here. Even with all the amazing food here, I lost the weight from all the walking I do, as I walk around and visit every part of Hell’s Kitchen. I am truly the happiest I’ve ever been in my life and really feel like this is where I belong. The only drawback, and it’s a big one, I really do miss being with my sister, Bea. Very proud to tell everyone when asked “Where do you live?” and I get to reply  “I LIVE RIGHT HERE IN HELL’S KITCHEN”

Anything else you’d like to tell us?
I would not have a West Side Story, if not for the people of Hell’s Kitchen. I thank them all for giving me a story to tell. I am so incredibly grateful for all my friends here, new and old. I’m looking forward to bringing my shows to amazing places like the iconic West Bank Café, starting at the end of August, and I am very excited to see what the future here holds along with all the other great things that living in Hell’s Kitchen brings. 

This is why I tell everyone, “I LOVE HELL’S KITCHEN, NYC.”

You can follow Joe on Instagram @joesallabi. If you know someone who would make a great West Side Story (or you would like to nominate yourself), please fill in this form —

You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App.

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