Louie’s Pizza in Rehoboth Beach celebrated its 42nd year in business by remembering years gone by.
The local institution, known as the Home of the Grinder, has erected a mural of photographs tracing the history of Louie’s, from its origins as George’s Lunch to the founding of Louie’s in 1974, and up to the present day.
“We wanted to give back to the local community. I wanted to give a local flair, incorporating Rehoboth Avenue, since we’ve been on the Avenue for 50 years. That’s how we got the mural started,” said Tony Gouvas, son of Louie’s founder Louie Gouvas.
Tony and his brother, Tim, have taken over much of the day-to-day management of Louie’s, but the family patriarch still comes to work every morning at the age of 78.
“He still works. Every morning he comes out, and he spends his morning with his friends, has his coffee, sits out on the bench and does his morning routine here at Louie’s Pizza,” Tony said.
“He’s fully involved,” Tim said.
Sure enough, Louie is out on his bench in front of the restaurant, holding court before the restaurant opens. Louie came to Rehoboth more than 50 years ago from the Macedonia region in Greece. He came to work with his uncle, George, at George’s Lunch on Rehoboth Avenue. Louie said George also owned pizza shops in Philadelphia and he put Louie to work there even though Louie didn’t know how to make pizza.
“He said, ‘Give me a week, you’ll be a pizza-making expert’,” Louie said.
George died in a car crash in 1967; Tim said one of the pictures in the mural is a photo of George in his Ford Edsel, the car he was later killed in.
After eight years at George’s, Louie started Louie’s Pizza at 11 Rehoboth Ave.
“He didn’t want to open another hot dog and hamburger stand. The only thing he knew as far as restaurants was pizza,” Tim said.
What Louie’s is perhaps more famous for is their grinder sandwiches.
“Where my father learned the pizza profession, they used to make their own rolls. Timed it so lunch and dinner, hot rolls used to come out of the oven. So you would get a cold sub on a hot roll. So what he did, he knew the place was not big enough to bake his own rolls and a lot of places in Pennsylvania did the same thing. They would run the whole sandwich through the oven. So he just started doing that. We had a sign that said, ‘Oven-baked grinders,’ and people just shortened it,” Tim said.
The renovations also include a new paint job that brightens up the interior and contrasts with the red and black of the mural.
“Customers love it. Especially the locals. A lot of people know my father. He has a lot of history. This brings back the old feeling of Rehoboth,” Tony said.
He said the renovations will keep the Louie’s tradition alive - but while the Rehoboth Avenue restaurant is the flagship, the Gouvas brothers are not resting on their laurels. Tony said he would like to renovate the kitchen to improve efficiency and maximize limited space. The brothers are also considering opening a second location on Route 1 where they could add delivery service.
“We’re not going to change who we are,” Tony said.
He said his father takes a lot of pride in Louie’s and in maintaining a devoted local following.
“For me, I like the fact that because we are a local institution and we have a local following, with this town, that’s big for us when the locals are supporting you. That’s what I want to follow through in the future,” Tony said.
Tim said while Louie at first did not want his sons following in the business, he is filled with pride to see a third generation keep Louie’s alive.
“When we were younger he wanted us to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, whatever. But we did take over the business. In fact this year, my brother’s children came to work at the business. He’s very happy to see that,” Tim said.