Owner Ettore Pugliese
If Toronto had a pizza hall of fame, Vesuvio Pizzeria and Spaghetti House would have its own wing. The family affair put the 416 pie on the map and, after more than 50 years, has stayed true to its roots and recipes. Eater recently met with owner Ettore Pugliese to find out more about the ground-breaking pizzeria and run down the crucial ingredients it takes to be the king of cheese mountain.
How long have you been around?
We were the very first in Toronto in 1957. My family emigrated from Italy to America in 1955, later moving north to Canada. We started the pizza shop in a building just down the street and, in 1962, we moved to this current location. My brother and myself started the business. Then our third brother came in, followed by our fourth brother. I've been here since day one.
What brought you to this neighbourhood and how has it changed over the years?
The area was mostly European and we thought we would fit in. We started very slow; we had to introduce what pizza was in this town. We did okay all along but, as the years went by, the area went downhill. We fought for a liquor license in 1997, which changed things for us. The neighborhood is still changing a lot.
What's your day-to-day like?
I'm semi retired but I can't stay home. I come in on Monday, Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. The weekends are really busy so I have to come in. I like to be in control. My roll now is quality control. When my customers see my face around it's a different ball game. We've been here for so many years. They look for my face.
What topping should never be on a pizza?
It's more the combinations that are weird. People ask for anchovies and pineapples together and that's odd to me. When rapini became very popular we never wanted to use it, but then we developed a good recipe.
How have your pizzas evolved with new food trends?
Pizza is a product that you can top anything on. When we started we had fourteen ingredients/toppings and now there's up to seventy. Whatever the customer wants we can do it.
Any secrets about pizza?
I don't think there is a secret; it's mostly dedication. When we first opened my brother went to NYC to learn how to make the dough. It's hard work. That's the secret.
Top 3 things you need for a great pizza?
Dough, sauce, and the appearance: Half is the taste and half is how it looks.
What do you think of the competition?
I don't think we have competition. There are a lot of little places that do a good product. Our product is a 100% everything it can be: Authentic and fresh everyday.
Who do you think has the best pizza in town? (Besides you)
Il Fornello has fantastic food.
Worst pizza trends?
I don't think pizza is a fast food. It's baked and should be made to perfection slowly.
How has the pizza scene changed since you first opened?
A lot of corporations came in. Of course they don't compare; it's a big town and there is work for everyone. Our customers are so loyal that some call two to three times a week. We're pretty good at what we do: I think we are here to stay. But not me; I just turned 75! — Hana Hussein