Grotto Pizza, the iconic pizza restaurant chain, is celebrating 60 years in business this summer.
Grotto’s instantly recognizable swirl, a combination of sweet tomato sauce and a blend of cheeses, has been baked into the dining traditions of Delaware beach vacationers and pizza aficionados for decades. Cheese first, swirls of sauce second – that’s what makes it uniquely Grotto Pizza.
Dominick Pulieri, Grotto Pizza founder, was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., to Italian-immigrant parents. After graduating high school, Pulieri enrolled at Kings College and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1964. He taught biology, general science and chemistry in the Smyrna School District from 1965 to 1970.
Pulieri first started making pizzas with his brother-in-law, Joseph Paglianite, at his pizza restaurant in Harvey’s Lake, Pa. Looking for a way to fund his college tuition, Pulieri ventured to Rehoboth Beach in 1960 to open a pizza restaurant with his sister Mary Jean and his brother-in-law Joe. That restaurant became Grotto Pizza. During his first summer in business, pizza slices sold for 20 cents and a whole pie was priced at $1.60. Pulieri celebrated his first $100 earned on July 2, his 18th birthday.
It wasn’t easy selling slices during that first summer in business as pizza wasn’t a well-known delicacy. To get the locals interested, Pulieri and his sister talked to everyone about pizza and handed out free samples to folks who passed by his store. In 1963, Grotto Pizza opened a second location along the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk but remained a seasonal operation as Pulieri taught school in Smyrna during the year. Pulieri opened Grotto Pizza as a year-round restaurant in 1974 to meet the growing demands of his guests. Today, Grotto Pizza operates 19 locations in Delaware and Maryland with its 20th store slated to open in Millsboro in late 2020.
As the company continues to grow, the Grotto Pizza core values of excellent pizza, delicious food, friendly guest service and community involvement have remained unchanged. In fact, the company leadership is proud to share that more than 100 of its 1,600 employees have worked at Grotto Pizza for over 20 years. Grotto Pizza also has contributed more than $1.5 million to nonprofit organizations through its community pizza night program.
“We’re so thankful to the local community, visitors and our longtime employees that have supported Grotto Pizza for the last 60 years, contributing to the success of our business,” said Pulieri. “The Grotto Pizza experience is 100 percent customer-focused, and we’re committed to ensuring that our pizza, our commitment to the community and our guests’ experience remains legendary for years to come – thank you for your business!”