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Looking for old pizza shops

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!

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  1. In Philadelphia, I believe that the oldest, still operating pizza place (although they do a full menu) is Marra's on Passyunk Avenue in South Phila. They don't seem to have a web site, but they do have history on the walls. I believe it is still family owned and operated. There might be someone who could give you some first hand knowledge there. My understanding is that the pizza in NEPA is very different - there was a thread about someone trying to find out how to make a pizza from their youth. Good luck!

    2 Replies
    1. I'm not sure how old they are, but Marra's, Tacconelli's and Celebre's have been around for awhile. Another avenue to possibly investigate are Italian bread bakeries - most of them make tomato pie or stromboli and have been doing so since they opened.

      1 Reply
      1. re: lawgirl3278

        Thanks for all the tips. I had not heard of Marra's or Celebre's, but will definitely follow those leads.

      2. FYI - here is the link to the thread about pizza in NEPA

        1. Pica's in Upper Darby - opened in the 1940s, moved in the 1950s... great unique pie

          1. I've read somewhere that there was a fellow who sold pizza ovens along the East Coast back in the day -- 1940's??. Supposedly one can find good pizza by retracing his sales route. Check out donrockwell dot com.

            1. While not owned by the Rizzo family anymore, you might contact the owner's of Rizzo's in Glenside to see if they can help you locate some of the original family. The Rizzos owned their restaurant on Glenside Ave. from the mid-40's until about 1990 when they sold it along with the name. (Some quality remains but I feel many corners have been cut since original ownership.) In its heyday, there was nothing better. It was my childhood standard of Italian cuisine. (Admittedly, we never got down to south Philly). But try locating some family who can fill you in on their history.

              1. Where particularly in NEPA are you talking about? If you are talking the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Area, you absolutely have to go to Old Forge, the self proclaimed "pizza capital of the world" As a matter of fact, Hillart Rodam-Clinton went to Old Forge for pizza when she was in town last week. Gihagrelli's (which I know I am spelling wrong) has got to be there fron the 40's and the interior hasn't changed in all that time. Also, Victory Pig Pizza has been around since the 40's. They still offer curb service. Google them, you'll be amazed at everything that comes up!There are so many in the area, it would be hard to name them all, but Old Forge would be your main go-to place. The old timers there would be able to help you with the paper.

                1. "I'd particularly like to learn of any shops from the 1940's or 1950's that might still be operating, particularly in NEPA."

                  Click on top ten lists -> pizza
                  The site is a little dated, but it lists the names and addresses of some of the old time pizza or "pitza" shops in the area.