Looking for old pizza shops

Junior Burger
2008/03/20 23:37:40
I am researching mom-and-pop pizza shops in Pennsylvania for a grad school paper. My curiosity was peaked when I read this article:


The fact that NEPA tops the list (Johnstown and Altoona are also in the top ten markets) struck me as unusual and made me want to dig deeper. I half-jokingly mentioned the idea to my professor, and he said to run with it.

So, I understand that Lombardi's in NYC was the first American pizzeria. From there, I presume Philadelphia had the first Pennsylvania pizzeria (perhaps the branch of Lombardi's that recently closed).

But when the popularity of pizza really took off after WW2, how did all these little pizza joints pop up all over the landscape? Were they always Italian-run?

So, if you have any suggestions for my research, I'd love to hear it. I'd particularly like to learn of any shops from the 1940's or 1950's that might still be operating, particularly in NEPA. Thanks!
Ort. Carlton.
Filet Mignon
RE: Looking for old pizza shops 2008/03/21 00:14:29
Start in Hazleton at the local "PITZA" places... I'm too tired to Google for you, but one of 'em has been there since something like 1908. There is also a good one right where Hazleton abuts West Hazleton on the highway off the interstate, coming in from Wilkes-Barre... might be PA. 49.
Speaking of Wilkes-Barre, near there is Old Forge, which does pizza not in slices but in "cuts." This is a local phenomenon worth checking out.
Now, on the topic of pizzarias run by other than Italians (or Greeks), check out Hruniuk's Pizza & Subs in Mahanoy City. They'll make you a kielbasy pizza if you wanna. There's another such place in Shenandoah, but from my informant I'd say you start at Hruniuk's.
One thing you can try... most Internet sites are gonna send you to the chains. Blecch! Go to a town and ask the cops... they'll know where the good pizza is; they eat it! Tell 'em you're doing a paper... you're gonna end up with a plethora of information.
All I ask is that you let us here know of any real treasures you run across. I've only been through that area once, and that was many times too few.
Tiredly Pieing The Type As I Peck This Out, Ort. Carlton in Amazing Athens, Georgia.
P. S. Our oldest pizzaria here opened in the likes of 1959. It's no longer operating; it was run by a Greek fellow who went by the name of Steve Napoli (I think his name had been Napolopoulos).
Double Chili Cheeseburger
RE: Looking for old pizza shops 2008/03/21 12:48:03
There's not much I can add from what Ort has already mentioned, but you do need to check out Old Forge Pa. A lot of the mom & pop places there have a tavern operation as well. I'm sure if you get the locals to talking at the bar you can get an earful of anecdotal information of why & how these places have survived and are thriving. Good for quotes.

You should also search the Roadfood formus for background. There's a wealth of information here about both Old Forge and Hazleton. That's what I did prior to my weekend trip to Old Forge last year and what I am planing to do on my weekend trip to Hazleton this year. (Some people go to the Poconos or the Catsklills for the weekend, I go to Old Forge and Hazleton Pa.)

Hope this helps.
Double Chili Cheeseburger
RE: Looking for old pizza shops 2008/03/21 15:52:13
While most people don't realize it, much of the population of NEPA is of Italian ancestry.
Double Cheeseburger
RE: Looking for old pizza shops 2008/03/21 16:20:14
Philadelphia has a lot of Greek-run pizza shops, and there is a noticeable difference in the style of the pizza in many cases from the pies in Italian-run shops. The style of the crust is different and there is usually less sauce. I prefer the Italian style, but a lot of people must like the Greek ones since there are so many of them.
Ort. Carlton.
Filet Mignon
RE: Looking for old pizza shops 2008/03/21 20:13:11
Now I am told of pizza places run by Russian Orthodox families, who have a similar food in their tradition, but without many of the quintessential Italian ingredients. There's a gorgeous Russian Orthodox church in St. Clair, between Frackville and Pottsville -- and another in Browndale, near Vandling and Forest City, up above Carbondale... I've noted both of these domes as I was driving. Asking about in those areas may well net you a real culinary surprise!
Cross-cultural gastronomy is entirely likely in such a melting pot of ethnicity as NE Pa. -- I wish I were closer so I could go out and explore it myself.
Unhalupkefiedly, Ort. Carlton in Athens, Georgia, where there are Georgia crackers, but no Coal Crackers!
RE: Looking for old pizza shops 2008/03/23 08:59:31
In Philly for some background for your paper.

Tacconelli's around 1920 or so
Marra's 1927

Look at the historic areas around Philly. Bristol, Langhorne, etc...

The reason these things took off after WWII was the advent of the highway after WWII. Highways made ease of transportation and Suburbs a reality. Then with Levitt applying the assembly line philosophy to housing there was no turning back. Instead of the summer bungalo's people would travel to for summer fun along the Delaware river, they could now live there. People needed to eat and a variety of food places opened to suffice the mass movements of populous from all different ethnic backrounds. Instead of ethnic foods staying in the ghettoes it traveled with the people when they moved...

RE: Looking for old pizza shops 2008/03/23 09:32:19
There are two old pizza places in western PA: Art's in Beaver Falls and Buzzi's in Rochester. I remember having great slices there in the 1960's and the joints looked liked they had been around forever then.

I don't know about Art's or Buzzi's ethnicity, but if I have a hankering for red sauce Italian I'll always pick a place owned by Greeks. E.G.: Carraba's and Romano's Macaroni Grill-type sauces are too over-herbed and taste metallic to me. Ugh.
RE: Looking for old pizza shops 2008/03/23 15:43:28
Try Len & Jo's in Port Jervis, NY. I used to go there in the 50's and am not sure how long it was operating by then but it still is now and makes a great pie. My favorite in the same area was "Villa Suprano", which I don't think is there now (Rt 6 just east of town).
RE: Looking for old pizza shops 2008/03/23 19:39:06

Do a search on this site for "Review of Ghigarelli's in Old Forge PA" by MOSCA. Not much has changed at Ghigarelli's since the 1940's. When you walk in the door its like going back in time. And I don't mean that as a bad thing. This is the best of Old Forge. Be sure to try my personal favorite, the Sofritta.

When I went there as a kid you couldn't even order how many cuts of pizza you wanted. The waitress (I think shes still there) would come out of the kitchen with a tray and give out one cut per person until the tray was gone. Then you had to wait for the next tray. And as you were served she would take the money from the table as if it was bar service.

After Ghigarelli's just keep walking up the Main Street stopping in the many Pizza Joints until you can't eat anymore.
Junior Burger
RE: Looking for old pizza shops 2008/03/23 22:55:28
Wow, gang, thanks for all the responses. I'm hoping to make a field trip sometime in early April, driving up 81 to Hazelton, Old Forge and Scranton, then down through the Lehigh Valley. I grew up in Schuylkill County and get back there fairly often. I'm not as familiar with the North End, however, and may travel there as well. I'll be sure to share whatever I dig up (and chow down).
Junior Burger
RE: Looking for old pizza shops 2008/04/09 08:54:59
I was blown away by the number of small pizza joints in Johnstown when I was there a few years ago. Most of the ones I sampled were very good. My mom said a lot of them got started after the steel mills closed and some of the displaced workers got grants/loans to open small businesses.
seafarer john
Filet Mignon
RE: Looking for old pizza shops 2008/04/09 09:57:56
In Poughkeepsie, Aloy's Italian Restaurant on Garden Street, although a full service Italian restaurant has always been known best for its Pizza (I think in the 40s it was called Apizza). they have been in business since at least the late 30s and maybe before that. I believe it is no longer in the Aloy family having been sold some years ago to another local family.

Cheers, John