Home of the Nic-o-boli

Nicola Pizza celebrates a milestone

Caggiano: I’m ready for another 40 years
June 10, 2011

It was 1971 when Nick and Joan Caggiano went into the pizza business, opening Nicola Pizza June 11 on First Street in Rehoboth Beach.

This weekend, the family-owned restaurant, now with two locations, will celebrate 40 years of tossing dough and spooning sauce.

“We sold 77 pizzas that first night in 1971; I’ll never forget that,” said Nick Caggiano, who still works every day and cooks occasionally, but leaves managing the restaurants to his son, Nick Jr. The original party pizza sold for $3.75; today they are around $30 for the crowd-pleaser.

“Back then, we only had pizza,” Caggiano said, recalling the early days in Rehoboth when only four stores existed on First Street. “No businesses were open year-round in Rehoboth then; they all closed. That first year we stayed open weekends year-round.”

To supplement his income during the early days when business was slower, Caggiano worked as a substitute English and social studies teacher. He would work at school during the week and run the ovens at Nicola on the weekends.

“Then we only had 24 seats; Joan ran the front, and I ran the back,” Caggiano said. “The year we opened was the big hurricane. The back door had water coming in and going into our basement. An employee bailed out the water, while I cooked the pizza.”

In the first five years, Caggiano remembers hard times, but he also remembers how close everyone in the restaurant felt.

“It was a family place; my wife and I had two waitresses and one helper in the back,” remembers Caggiano. “The lifeguards would come in, and they were a big part of our success. They got our name out there.”

Too small to fund

The Caggianos rented the building from the Jay Wingate for $3,600 per year. That money went toward the purchase of the property, which Caggiano bought in September 1971 for $36,000.

“In our first year, the bank wouldn’t give us a loan. They said we wouldn’t last,” Caggiano said. “Someone from the community went to the bank and said if we didn’t make it, he would purchase the building; so we got the loan. To this day, I don’t know who that person was.”

Caggiano said he remembers hearing often that Nicola wouldn’t make it; but he and Joan knew they had a quality product and quality customers who supported them.

“In my heart, I knew we had a winner,” Caggiano said.

The Nic-o-boli

Nicola Pizza really put itself on the map during 1972 when they started selling what would become the Nic-o-boli.

While we were working, I would make up this crude thing with dough and some ground beef, cheese and ketchup to eat, Caggiano said. That work meal became what is today the restaurant’s biggest seller.

“We called it the thing and then the twist, before we came up with the name Nic-o-boli, which is now trademarked,” said Caggiano.

The only reason the restaurant had ground beef was because the lifeguards requested it, to add protein to pizza. Caggiano just liked the taste as his afternoon meal and started serving it to his employees as well. One night, an employee asked him to sell her one for dinner, and he decided he could sell it regularly. That first Nic-o-boli sold for $.75.

“The lines started to form for it,” Caggiano said. “It was just incredible. The Nic-o-boli has been copied, but never duplicated.”

In 1979, Larry Coe was filming a documentary for the early days of PBS, funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Coe decided to frame the film around Nicola. Soon after the documentary aired nationwide, Nicola was also featured on the cover of a national business magazine.

“It was just astronomical,” Caggiano remembers. “It really opened the doors for us. The magazine sold 1 million copies, so you can imagine the impact.”

Nicola grows up

Starting with 24 seats, the Caggianos soon upgraded to 42 seats, then 100 and finally settled at 150 seats in the First Street restaurant, which still overflowed with guests waiting outside for seats on summer evenings.

In 2010, they opened the Rehoboth Avenue location with 115 seats downstairs and about 130 seats upstairs in the sports bar. Now they are starting to consider entertainment options for the sports bar, something entirely new to Caggiano.

“We have some bands scheduled for this summer, but we are going to just see how it goes,” Caggiano said.

The entire family now plays a role in the restaurants, Nick, Sr. is president, Nick Jr. is vice president, Joan is secretary, daughter Camille, who has Spina Bifida , helps out and keeps everyone smiling, while their niece, Kelly Munon is a big asset to the business.

“I consider myself one of the employees,” said Caggiano. “I wanted to open the new location because I needed another challenge. We had all these trademarks and good business, and I was getting bored.”

Nicola now serves lunch and dinner year-round and enjoys working for the community. At the end of each day, leftover bread is donated to charities.

“There’s nothing like being partners with your wife and your family,” Caggiano said. “Now having 40 years in the business, it is really a milestone. Over the years, people wanted us to franchise, but I wanted to stay small. I thought franchising would make the quality suffer.”

Now at 74, Caggiano said he is slowing down a bit, but he still enjoys helping out at the restaurant, where he can be found seven days a week.

“If I didn’t come to work every day, I’d have to move because I couldn’t handle it,” Caggiano said. “Rehoboth to me is Nicola Pizza. There is no finer town in America. I hope we’ve been an asset to the community because I’m ready for another 40 years.”

Weekend events

Saturday, June 11 marks the 40th year of business for Nicola Pizza. Everyone is invited to join the all-day party at the First Street location. Bill Earle will be performing and there will be plenty of giveaways, including T-shirts, pens, balloons for the kids, gift certificates to Nicola, Funland tickets, quarters for the meters and gas cards.

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