If you’ve been initiated into the world of DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies, you know how it goes. One minute, you see two mouth-watering tomato pies sitting in the center of an empty six-top right in front of the pizza oven. A newcomer might wonder, “Who are those for?” But not you.
Sure enough, the front door opens to let in a brief sliver of daylight, and six hungry customers pile in – right on schedule. Before their eyes even adjust, they light up at the sight of their pies, already waiting to be devoured. It is not implausible that they have eaten here a 1,000 times, or more.
That is the kind of loyalty that Chambersburg restaurants have always counted on. But while other restaurants have fled the city’s historic working-class district – some for the comfort of the suburbs, others for the uncertainty of some new venture – if things go well, DeLorenzo’s is going to eat its tomato pie and have it too.
That’s because DeLorenzo’s – the Hudson Street one, not the one on Hamilton Avenue – is about to enter a new chapter in its more than 60-year history. Soon, it too will open up in the suburbs; in this case, the Washington Town Center in newly renamed Robbinsville Township, less than 10 miles away.
But unlike the likes of Sal DeForte’s (closed, gone to Ewing) or Tattoni’s (replaced by Casdeluna, gone to Hamilton) and Marsilio’s (closed except for special events), DeLorenzo’s has no intention of shuttering its nationally known pizza Mecca. Why would it?
“Business is good,” Sam Amico said, 25 minutes or so before he set to making those steaming pies for Friday lunch. “If the demand is not here, there’s no reason to be open. But right now, business is still strong.”
Amico, 36, is third-generation operator of the restaurant, which was founded by Alexander “Chick” DeLorenzo in 1947. Chick passed away in September 2007, and his wife, Sophie, died in 2003.
Like the generations before him, Amico is a familiar face to customers who make DeLorenzo’s their dining room away from home on a regular basis. During lunch, he is often stationed behind the counter, making pies. His father, Gary, stalks the dining area with a towel and a sharp gaze. His mother, Eileen, has in her hands a script for the next two hours: who’s coming in, where they’re going to sit, and what they’re going to eat.
It can’t hurt to have that kind of blueprint to follow for success. And it has to be daunting to give up that kind of security and start over in Robbinsville. You sense that for the Amicos, staying open in Trenton may be a matter of tradition, and it may be a matter of good business. But it’s also something the Amicos can count on even as they face the uncertainty of opening any new restaurant, even one that has so much history to fall back on.
When you’ve been in business for 60 years and you’ve never even needed to add a rest room – go easy on that soda! – it’s easy to see that the Amicos aren’t the types to jump willy-nilly into a new project.
But after bouncing the idea of opening a second location around for a couple years – Amico can’t pinpoint exactly when discussions started – Washington Town Center was too good to pass up.
“It’s just the right time, right place, right market, I believe,” Amico said. “That area is growing big time. We’re fortunate to get the opportunity to go in there,” he said.
The Robbinsville restaurant, set to open in the first couple weeks of January, has been under construction for nine months. Bill Bensch and Melissa Raccagno of Casa Bella Design have worked with Amico on the project.
In December, Amico made the first pizzas in the new oven, and said they passed muster. He’s excited, but cautious about the new venture.
“It sort of resembles a little bit of what [Trenton] was, as far as being an urban setting,” Amico said of the retrochic town center, which features multistory, multiuse buildings and residential neighborhoods with smaller yards and a turn-of-the-century feel.
He will spend much of his time at the new location, making sure the pies are up to DeLorenzo’s standards and that the new venue offers the same sense of tradition as the old one, even if the setting is very different. One thing that won’t be much different, though, is the menu: the new restaurant will add salad to the menu. Other than that, DeLorenzo’s is sticking with what’s been proven to work.
So with so much going for them – a new, 90-seat restaurant in an up-and-coming part of Mercer County about to open, complete with his and hers rest rooms – anyone but the most devoted Chambersburg purist might wonder: Why not close on Hudson Street?
“Trenton’s been good to us for a long time,” Amico said. “We have a loyal clientele that we’re fortunate to have. I know a lot of businesses are closing in the area, but our business has stayed the same.”
Amico said he hopes the new restaurant appeals to both old and new customers, including those who frequent Hudson Street and those who may have stayed away for one reason or another.
But he is adamant that while the Hudson Street location will have reduced hours, those loyal customers can continue to count onto their culinary treasure.
“We will not close,” he said.
New hours of operation for Hudson Street had not been determined at press time, but Amico expected Hudson Street to be open Thursdays through Sundays, probably from 4 to 9 p.m. each night.
DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies, at Washington Town Center, 2350 U.S. Highway 33, Robbinsville, is set to be open Tuesday through Sunday from 4 to 10 p.m. for dinner and Tuesday through Friday lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch. It will be closed Mondays.
For more information, call DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies at (609) 341-8480 or visit delorenzostomatopies.com.