‘Pizza Is Our Business, Our Only Business’

March 6, 2019 GMT

They don’t take credit cards, they don’t deliver and they don’t serve wings, subs or stromboli.

Still, Angelo Ricci, owner of Angelo’s Pizza in Wilkes-Barre, has kept his family business thriving for 50 years by focusing on the basics: making quality pizza.

Although many city businesses have come and gone since 1960 — when a 16-inch pizza at Angelo’s cost $1 — not much has changed at the shop on Hazle Avenue.

Owner Angelo Ricci, 78, still tosses dough two days a week. Manager Donna Sofa has been trading quips with customers for 38 years. Workers banter as they use wooden pizza peels to slide pies in and out of the brick ovens.

The primary upgrade to the restaurant since the doors opened is the installation of an automatic teller machine, because “no one carries cash,” Sofa said.

Ricci purchased Anita’s Pizza, a struggling pizza shop near Angelo’s current location, in the late 1950s. After learning the basics, he wanted to put his stamp on the place.

“I figured Angelo’s Pizza sounded better,” he said.

A few years later, Angelo’s moved across from the now-shuttered Hart Restaurant, where it has remained for half a century. The inside of the shop is tiny, with seating for about two dozen people. The majority of business is takeouts, especially on Fridays when there are so many orders workers usually answer the phone, “Angelo’s. One hour wait.”

Despite the delay, most customers want their pizza, sometimes calling on Thursdays to place an order for the next day, Ricci said.

The pizzeria’s success is also evident by the number of faithful customers that walk through the door, Sofa said. The children that once came in with their parents now stop for a pie to share with their own little ones.

“It’s still the same families,” she said.

Angelo’s sells four sizes of pizza pies ranging in price from $3 to $8.55, with the choice of regular or sweet tomato sauce and the choice of about 17 toppings. The restaurant once had a sale on mini pies called “Mini-mania,” marking the smallest, four-cut pies down to 99 cents. They made about 1,000 in one day for a local office, Sofa said.

“If he ever does that again, I’m taking a vacation week,” she added.

Unlike other pizzerias, Ricci doesn’t offer wings, sandwiches or side dishes. Their commitment to keeping the menu simple is evident in the restaurant’s motto: Pizza is our business, our only business.

About seven years ago, Ricci introduced the sweet tomato sauce, which became an instant hit. It was first made for Sofa’s son, who requested the sauce on his pizza taste a little sweeter. Word soon got out and the workers were bombarded with requests. “I had to put in another (sauce) pump,” Ricci said.

In the past, Angelo’s prepared takeout pizzas for Bon Jovi — “double anchovies,” Ricci said — and ZZ Top. Engelbert Humperdinck picked up his pizza in person. Ricci recalled Humperdinck purchasing a church raffle ticket, and recited the Hollywood address the singer wrote on the ticket: “I still remember it.”

More recently, Angelo’s hosted a birthday party for the four-year-old son of Mark Klepaski, bassist for Breaking Benjamin. “(His parents) asked him where he wanted to go, and he said ‘Angelo’s.’” Sofa said.

The restaurant is also a haven for pregnant women trying to satisfy cravings, the Riccis said.

“Instead of ice cream they go for Angelo’s,” Bernadine Ricci, Ricci’s wife, said.

Ricci agreed with his wife. “Instead of pickles, they go for pizza.”

Angelo’s Pizzeria is open seven days a week, and inclement weather doesn’t mean the doors are locked and the ovens cold. During the winter, the restaurant stays open on the snowiest days, serving plow drivers and others willing to brave the conditions.

“People come on their sleds,” Sofa said, adding no one should go too long without having a slice — seven days without pizza makes one weak.

Ricci said his sons, Angelo Ricci Jr. and Gerald Ricci, had the choice to go to college or follow in his footsteps. Both sons decided to stick with the family business — Angelo Ricci Jr. opened Ricci’s Pizza on Park Avenue, while Gerald Ricci debuted Gerry’s Pizza on Carey Avenue, both in Wilkes-Barre.

Over the years, the Ricci’s children, grandchildren and other relatives have staffed the pizza parlor. They supplement the neighborhood residents hired to foster close-knit community ties, Sofa said. “It’s a true family business,” Sofa said.