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Friday, December 11, 2009

A little Rochester pizza history

(Pizza Guy note: be sure and read the comments to this post for some updated information on this topic.)
In the course of doing this blog, I’ve been to some pizzerias dating back to the 1970s and even ’60s, and I got to wondering - what’s the oldest pizzeria in Rochester? So one afternoon I stopped by the Central Library downtown to do a little research among the old city directories.
Supposedly pizza’s widespread popularity in this country dates to the post-WWII years, with the return of GIs who had discovered it while serving in Italy. By the 1950s, it was enough of an American staple to show up on popular sitcoms like the Honeymooners, though it also took some pretty bizarre forms in those days (tuna pizza, anyone?)
So I started with the 1950 directory. No business heading for pizzerias - no surprise there - and none of the restaurant listings mentioned pizza, either. That’s not to say that pizza wasn’t served at any local Italian restaurants, but there’s no evidence of it from the 1950 directory.
Moving forward, the first place calling itself a pizzeria, by the name of Giuseppe’s, shows up in 1954, at 324 Lake Ave. I doubt if the building's even there today. Now there is currently a Giuseppe’s in Gates, and they do serve pizza, but at this point I don’t know if there’s any connection. The Giuseppe's website claims that Giuseppe's was "est. 1927," but it doesn't provide any detailed history.
The year 1958 brings us a Perri’s Pizza at 1899 East Main St., which now is the address of Main Place Tavern. Again, there are a few Perri’s in existence today, but can they trace their lineage back that far? I don’t know. The Perri’s website has a “Perri’s History” link, but it’s one of those “Coming Soon!” pages (why is it that when a web page says “Coming Soon!” you know that it’s not coming anytime soon?).
The first mention of a pizzeria that I’m sure is still in existence comes in 1961: Pontillo’s, at 3194 Lake Ave., an address that, according to Google, today is that of a vacant movie theater. Pontillo’s started out in Batavia in 1947 - unfortunately the original location closed a while back, due to unpaid taxes, I believe, though the building’s still there, vacant - so within 14 years Pontillo’s had reached Rochester, making it perhaps the first local pizza chain, if not the first Rochester pizzeria.
Also of note, Amico Pizza appears on Waring Rd. in 1965. Amico is now located on E. Ridge Rd. in Irondequoit, and it’s still in the family. Their website says that Amico Pizza was founded in 1962, but the first listing for it I could find in the directory was in 1965.
There’s also a mid-1960s listing for a Proietti’s Pizzeria at 1717 N. Goodman (where today you’ll find an insurance office), and these days Proietti’s Restaurant in Webster does serve pizza. Again, the connection, if any, is unclear to me as of now.
Finally, the year 1965 also brought us Mama Taccone’s at 495 Monroe Ave., the present-day address of Acme Bar & Pizza. I remember Mama Taccone’s, which closed in the early '90s, I'd guess, and this reminded me of the likely reason why Acme has always served pizza - it inherited the pizza ovens from Mama Taccone's.
So here’s how things stand right now: (1) Giuseppe’s, or Perri’s, might be able to lay claim to the title of oldest existing pizza purveyor in Rochester, but their connection to the originals by those names is not established. (2) If they’re not the oldest, then Pontillo’s is. They date back in Rochester to 1961. (3) Barring any claims by Giuseppe's or Perri's, the oldest family-run pizzeria originating in Rochester appears to be Amico. Proietti’s may be in the mix as well - again, the connection is uncertain - though today Proietti’s is a full-service restaurant rather than a pizzeria. (4) The geographical location with the longest history of serving pizza seems to be Acme.
When I have time, I’ll try to follow up on some of these leads with the current owners of some of the places mentioned. In the meantime, if anybody can shed any additional light or has any memories to share, please do.

29 comments:

  1. Hey, Pizza Guy! Great historical information...thanks for putting this together.

    I can find out the exact date for the 1st Proietti's on Goodman Street...I always thought my grandfather started it in the early '50's...but I am not sure.

    Proietti's in Webster is the same family, even though Goodman St. is long gone (it was right next door to Pudgies). My Uncle Whitey Proietti started on Goodman St., and went to Webster for a second location in the 70's. Same pizza now and then.

    Thanks again, and Happy Holidays!

    --Amy Proietti

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    1. Your Grandfather bought it from my Grandfather- ("Ozzie" Orlando Ozzimo) who I was told had the first bar/restaurant in town to serve pizza ( my Grandmother's idea!) He owned both Ozzie's on N. Goodman, and on Park Ave- Proietti's came later

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  2. Thanks for the info! I didn't notice any Proietti's listings in the 1950s, but I was looking for "pizza" or "pizzeria," so if it was listed simply as a restaurant I could've missed it. If you can get an exact date, do let me know.

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  3. My Dad took over the old Ozzie's Pizza on Goodman Street around 1962-63 and renamed it Proietti's. All three sons grew up working there. Pat stayed on to manage the Goodman Street place until its closing in 1992. Whitey opened his own place in Wenster in 1968/9. He has been there ever since -- an amazing 41+ year run. And the pizza is as good if not better. He also features an incredible menu of soe of the best Italian cusinie in the area and an even better pizz than originally appeared at Proietti's on Goodman Street.

    Thanks for the information and the posting. A fun and informative read.

    Tom Proietti
    The Middle Son Who Did Not Like the Business But loves the food.)

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    1. Tom...............I remember the location fondly. Both as Ozzie's and Proietti's. Your brother Pat and I were good friends, playing organized baseball together; and playing in a couple of bands as well. I remember your dad was our Pony League manager. Fond memories. Hope everyone is well.

      Tony Pulvino

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  4. I think I do recall seeing the name Ozzie's in the 1950s directories. So it sounds as if Proietti's in Webster can trace its lineage directly back to Ozzie's. Thanks for sharing that (and for the chuckle at the end).

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  5. OK Pizza Guy, here it is from the horses mouth. Good info but not quite accurate. In August of 1965, my dad (Pat Proietti) and myself (Whitey Proietti), bought Ozzie’s Pizza, from Olando Ozzimo, thus Ozzie’s. We changed the name to Proietti’s Pizza and the rest is history.
    Sam Amico was working there when we bought and shortly after that,opened Amico’s Pizza on Waring Rd. In 1969, my brother (whose name
    is also Pat), joined the business which forced me to open another location.Thus the birth of the Webster store some 40 years ago, and going
    stronger than ever. You can still get the exact same pizza that we had on Goodman St in Webster. Hope this helps clear thing up. Feel
    free to call or send me an email. Give me a call and come out and have what we think is still the best pizza around!
    Thanks,
    Whitey Proietti www.proiettis.com

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  6. Well, I think we've finally got that straightened out. I do appreciate all this historical information, especially from the horse's mouth, as you say.
    The Amico part is interesting too - funny with stuff like this how often several places can trace their roots back to one person or establishment. There's a similar pizza "family tree" in NYC, going back to Lombardi's.
    I live on the west side so I don't often eat dinner in the Webster area, but I did enjoy a good meal at Proietti's about a year ago (not pizza though). I'll be sure and stop back sometime for a "slice of history."

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  7. The moral of this story - don't trust the grandkids to get the details right! Thanks, Pizza Guy! --Amy P.

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  8. Angela Polino said.....
    Hey Pizza Guy....Whe you do get back to Proietti's be sure to have Whitey show you the family pics on the walls. They aren't just ther for ambiance. They really are ancestors. They really do make the restaraunt a piece of family history.

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  9. Thanks - I do very much want to make it out there for dinner some night. It's just a matter of finding the time.

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  10. When my father was a little boy in the 1940's, he grew up in the old Italian neighborhood. (My grandparents came from the old country in the 1920s.) He told me about how he and his friends would collect old bottles to turn them into cash to purchase a "nickel pizza" and a bottle of Coke-a-Cola at the local bar. (Yes, the kids could get pizza and pop there.)They also would purchase pizza from the old Italian bakeries, such as: Petrillo's and Veltri's. Eventually, Veltri's opened a pizzeria, and Tom Petrillo and his wife, Nancy, opened Tom and Nancy's Pizza (sold off in the mid to late 1980s - never the same) which used to be among the best pizzerias in Rochester. You may want to dig further into your research about pizza in Rochester. Many were little neighborhood stores without telephone listings.

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  11. Thanks for that information. I'd love to dig deeper into it, but as you said, the phone books aren't enough. If you'd like to sit down sometime and tell me more, I'd be glad to do it.

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  12. Greetings:

    Are you still doing pizza research?
    There was Ozzie's Pizza on Park Ave., corner of Berkeley...across the street from what is now CVS and a bank.
    In 1960 we were 13 yrs. old and Ozzie's was the place to go, possibly as we [our bunch of friends/school mates] could walk there. [I used to live on Park Ave. by the alphabet streets. The most distant person was dropped off by his mother and nobody laughed at him.]

    The very best pizza in town, however, was made in my Sicilian grandmother's kitchen!

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  13. Generally, your grandmother always makes the best food. Thanks for sharing those memories.

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  14. Hey Pizza Guy,
    I might be able to help you out with a little history on Ozzie’s Pizza. I worked for “Ozzie” on Park Ave. and Proietti’s (Goodman & Webster) in the mid 60’s on and off through the late 70’s. One afternoon while bowling with Ozzie at Brighton Bowl on east ave., he told me how he got started making pizza. I don’t remember the dates but he told me a little about his business experiences. In the 30’s he was a Golden Gloves Boxer. His first business was a bar in Buffalo NY; he borrowed $5000 from his brother to buy it. When he moved to Rochester, he was looking for a business opportunity and noticed there weren’t many pizzerias. So he opened one of three that he owned. He told me that he was building his pizza empire for his son. When his son graduated from college, he went to work for his dad (Ozzie) I believe on Goodman St., but it was short lived. His son ended up being allergic to flour dust. Slowly Ozzie sold the pizza businesses but kept the buildings. Park Ave was the last Ozzie’s Pizza. I could not thank Ozzie and the Proietti Family enough for helping to shape my character. They showed me the true meaning of honesty, hard work and family that I wouldn’t have had in my childhood.

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  15. Thanks for sharing the memories!

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  16. I remember getting pizza from Giuseppe's when we lived in the 19th Ward in the mid 50s, but I recall that it was on the east side of State Street across from Kodak Office. They later moved over to Brown Street. At which point my folks switched to Campi's on Genesee Street.

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  17. Giuseppe's did indeed start on State Street. I believe that's what I was told by the current owner.
    Would that be the same Campi's ("Where Sandwich is King") that is now on Scottsville Road? And did they serve pizza?

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    1. Wasn't Giuseppe's on Jay Street, near Verona Street, not far from State. We went there from the early 50s to mid 60s.

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  18. Probably. Their sign was "Campi's Subs," and they did have pizza. They were, as I recall, on the east side of Genesee south of Arnett.

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    1. Campi's was down Genesee Street, not far from Eckl's Hardware Store.

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  19. Hi, for the life of me I can't recall the name of the old pizza place in the late 50's on the corner of Hudson Ave. and Norton St. (across from Ben Franklin H.S.) I lived in the area in the mid to late 50's and as a kid we used to go there and buy the best little pizza for only a $.25 at the time. They weren't a big pie but more of a "personal size" and we couldn't get enough of them. Presently there's a convenience store/gas location on the spot. Anyone know what that place was called?

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    1. That was Ma's Pizza on the NW corner. I used to love it. There also was JB's Pizza on Lowell St. (upper Falls Blvd now). He also made those personal pizzas. Everyone could get their own favorite. Johnny's on the corner of Trust St. and Portland Ave. was another old time pizza joint.

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  20. Orest, thanks for the information and question. Was this purely a pizzeria, as you recall, or a restaurant, a bakery ...?

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    1. Hey Pizza Guy, thanks for the reply, this place was just a small neighborhood pizza shop, don't think they baked bread or anything else but they were delicious. Someone suggested it was a place called "Mamma Mia's" perhaps. Any way of checking that out...on Hudson Ave at the corner of Norton St. thanks Pizza Guy

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  21. I remember family pizza nights at mama taccones in the 70s. Mama would sit in a big overstuffed chair at the cash register, to me she was as intimidating as they come. The pizzas were the forerunners of pizza huts personal pan pizzas, good thick crust but not too thick with plenty of cheese. I always thought to myself that I'd try something else on the menu, but every time my family and I made the trip up Monroe ( we lived near the old YMCA by the highway) I could never bring myself to order anything but pizza. Good times.

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    1. I went to Mama's very often. Mama was intimidating to those who didn't belong in the restaurant or troublemakers. She was very demanding with her employees. She insisted on perfection. She was always very nice to me. In fact, while I always paid for what I ate; one night she said the food was free because I was such a good customer of hers. I always use to sit near the big aquarium that was against the wall. I wish I could track down some of her relatives to find out more about her. All the food was great, especially the "greens and beans".

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  22. Hello Pizza Guy and Pizza Community! I'm just starting some research on a place called Dante's Pizza and Spaghetti House. It was located on 488 North Goodman between a bootery and grocery store. I have a picture of it from 1961. Anybody have any memories or facts to share about this place? Many thanks!

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