Northeast Times

Dough boys

Ral­ph Cres­citelli shows that he can still send kneaded dough air­borne. JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES PHOTO

A cel­eb­ra­tion of 60 years at the same May­fair loc­a­tion in­spires some long-ago pizza makers at Tony’s Place to show they haven’t grown crusty … oops, we mean rusty.

Back when Harry Tru­man was pres­id­ent, a couple of South Philly guys de­cided to move their bar-res­taur­ant from 10th and Jack­son streets to the North­east. Tony and Domin­ic Mal­lamaci brought their re­cipes for old-fash­ioned to­mato pies and hand­made meat­balls with them when they opened Tony’s Place on the 6300 block of Frank­ford Ave. on Ju­ly 2, 1951.

El­ev­en pres­id­ents and 60 years later, those re­cipes have not changed — something Domin­ic’s son, Joe, is proud of.

“I’m a stick­ler about stay­ing the same way,” he said.

When the broth­ers opened on Frank­ford Av­en­ue, they couldn’t af­ford to buy cheese for the to­mato pies, Joe Mal­lamaci said. A pie was dough with sauce and season­ings only. When they began put­ting cheese on the pies, he ad­ded, they put it right on the dough and put the sauce on top.

The menu has ex­pan­ded, of course, and cus­tom­ers can get their pies pretty much any way they want as long as they don’t ask for any out­land­ish top­pings. Mal­lamaci is par­tic­u­larly proud of the roast beef, roast pork, Itali­an saus­age and those homemade meat­balls.

“We make five-hun­dred a week,” he said.

Al­though tra­di­tion is big at Tony’s, there are some mod­ern touches, too. Sports fans won’t miss any tele­vised ac­tion. There are eight TVs in one room, three in a second room, and a 104-inch pro­jec­tion set in a third.

A BIG RE­UNION

On Ju­ly 12, some of the men who worked at Tony’s when they were teens dur­ing the 1950s and ’60s showed they still knew how a pie is sup­posed to be made.

John Lindell, Pat Baker, Mike Speak, Charlie Garuffe and Ral­ph Cres­citelli kneaded dough and spooned on sauce to some ap­plause as Tony’s staff and cus­tom­ers cel­eb­rated the bar-res­taur­ant’s six dec­ades in the North­east. 

“You can make it in your sleep after you worked here,” Cres­citelli said.

Garuffe was 13 when he star­ted mak­ing dough for to­mato pies at Tony’s in 1953.

“We did it by hand. No ma­chines,” he said.

Garuffe worked at Tony’s while in ele­ment­ary school and at Fath­er Judge High School, took a few years off to serve in the Air Force and came back in the 1960s. In 1971, he bought a bus to ferry Tony’s cus­tom­ers to Eagles foot­ball games and back.

He even­tu­ally gradu­ated to alumni status and said he’s among a half-dozen pat­rons known as the “Old Buz­zards,” who have their names on Tony’s bar stools.

Baker worked at Tony’s in the late ’50s, and so did his broth­er. Speak was in sev­enth grade at the Al­len Ele­ment­ary School in 1964 when he star­ted do­ing food pre­par­a­tion in the base­ment for a buck an hour.

They all were part of an army of loc­al kids who worked at Tony’s over the years. 

“Every­body in the neigh­bor­hood got a job here,” Speak said.

And a few kept those jobs as years turned in­to dec­ades.

Wait­ress Debbie Colfer said she star­ted at Tony’s 24 years — and two hus­bands — ago.

Man­ager An­drew May, 46, was a 14-year-old stu­dent at Fath­er Judge when he star­ted down in the base­ment. He has been man­ager now for 20 years, and his 16-year-old daugh­ter, Colleen, also works at Tony’s.

“I’ve been em­ploy­ee of the month 384 times in a row,” he said.

Wait­ress Louise Berry has seen ro­mances blos­som and little kids grow up dur­ing her 30 years at Tony’s.

“It is like a fam­ily here,” she said.

Fam­ily mem­bers also were on hand on Ju­ly 12 — Mal­lamaci’s 94-year-old moth­er, Mary; his sis­ter Mary; and one of two sons, Joe Jr., who op­er­ates his own res­taur­ant in Ivy­land, Bucks County. Son An­thony, a New York po­lice of­ficer, couldn’t make it.

GOOD OLD DAYS

The em­ploy­ees of any busi­ness that has been op­er­at­ing for six dec­ades are sure to have a few choice stor­ies to tell. Tony’s cur­rent staffers, as well as the “alumni”, have theirs.

May said one long­time cus­tom­er once told him he al­ways felt safe at Tony’s. “He said no one was ever yelling or scream­ing,” May said.

That’s not to say there haven’t been the odd in­cid­ents, Mal­lamaci said.

There was the time a man came in with an ima­gin­ary drink­ing buddy. May re­called that the man ordered two beers. Noth­ing un­usu­al there, but the guy drank one beer as the oth­er sat on the bar in front of an empty chair. Oth­er cus­tom­ers, no­ti­cing that the man was talk­ing to the empty barstool, were  amused. 

One joked to May that he wanted to buy the guy and his friend an­oth­er round. May fi­nally told the man he could have an­oth­er — but his friend would have to go.

THE LURE OF THE BEVER­AGE

As­sist­ant man­ager Car­ol Camm, who worked at Tony’s for 13 years, found there was a little mys­tery in pizza or­ders.

She said she couldn’t un­der­stand why some men would come in and or­der pies and sit there to wait for them. Why didn’t they just or­der them by phone? Why sit at the bar and wait? … and pol­ish off a few drinks while they were wait­ing.

“It took me six months to fig­ure that out,” Camm said.

Berry once chased two guys down Frank­ford Av­en­ue after they left without pay­ing their tab. She caught up with the duo and shamed the money out of them. She also took an­oth­er ten from them for her trouble.

“I can laugh at it now, but then I was so mad,” she said, adding that it’s very un­usu­al for cus­tom­ers to stiff Tony’s.

“I know of maybe three in­cid­ents in thirty years,” she said.

Then, there were the dough fights.

Yep, dough fights. Homemade, hand­made pizza dough lasts only so long be­fore it must be thrown away. Some­where in time, one of the many teen­agers who worked at Tony’s ap­par­ently de­cided it would be a lot of fun to chuck the dough at his co-work­ers be­fore dump­ing it. 

“What else are you go­ing to do with it?” Speak said. 

Evid­ently, over the years, Domin­ic and Tony de­veloped a tol­er­ant at­ti­tude to­ward some of the mis­chief that is sure to be part of hir­ing teen work­ers.

Speak re­called how he and a co-work­er tried to make off with two cases of beer quarts that they figured would add fizz to a party they’d planned while their par­ents were at the Shore.

Us­ing a ploy that wasn’t un­heard of, they toted the full cases out­side and put them among the emp­ties stacked be­hind Tony’s, fig­ur­ing they’d re­trieve them later.

Domin­ic, however, caught on. The boys wer­en’t fired, Speak said, but Domin­ic told them how dis­ap­poin­ted he was.

“He was dis­ap­poin­ted!” Speak said, laugh­ing. “We had twenty people com­ing over!”

KEEP­ING IT GO­ING

Not all the memor­ies are happy ones.

“In 1989 we had a fire and lost everything,” Mal­lamaci said. “We were closed for sev­en months.” 

De­term­ined to keep the look of the neigh­bor­hood land­mark that Tony’s had be­come, the bar-res­taur­ant was re­built “the same way,” Mal­lamaci said. 

“All our cus­tom­ers came back. All our work­ers came back, too,” he ad­ded.

Joe Mal­lamaci and his wife, Joanne, took over Tony’s after his fath­er’s death in 1976. Uncle Tony had died a few years earli­er. 

Mal­lamaci said he couldn’t run Tony’s without his wife. “She keeps the place run­ning,” he said.

And they couldn’t do it without great em­ploy­ees, he ad­ded.

“I’ve got the best staff in Philly,” Mal­lamaci said.

He looked up at the wall near the pizza oven — at pho­tos of his fath­er and uncle.

“They’re the ones who star­ted it,” Joe Mal­lamaci said. “All we did was keep it go­ing.” ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

comments powered by Disqus