Grotto Pizza enjoys a big birthday this year

Grotto Pizza celebrates 60 years this summer—an astounding milestone for any business, let alone a restaurant chain. But as founder Dominick Pulieri reveals, it certainly wasn’t a slam-dunk start when the now-legendary pizza chain first opened.

That first summer, when Pulieri was only 18 and enrolling in Kings College, he and his sister, Mary Jean, had to give away free samples as many Americans in 1960 didn’t know what pizza was. That was back when pizza sold for 20 cents a slice.

Today, with 22 locations, Grotto has become a household name in Delaware and Maryland. The company looks to open its 23rd store in Millsboro later this year.

“We’re so thankful to the local community, visitors and our long-time employees that have supported Grotto Pizza for the last 60 years—contributing to the success of our business,” said Pulieri.

We caught up with Pulieri to ask him a few questions about a business he originally started to get him through college and now employs more than 1,800 people in peak season.

O&A: After 60 years of building a successful business with Grotto Pizza, what aspect or specific achievement gives you the most pride?

Pulieri: The consistency of the same regular customers that come in time and time again. For me, it’s generational: We’re getting first, second and third generations as repeat customers—and that’s what makes your business become iconic. Mom and Dad can’t be the only ones that like it—the kids have to love it. Then they grow up and bring their kids. That’s what it takes to grow your company.

O&A: What memories do you have about opening your first Grotto location?

Pulieri: It was a very humble start for us back in the earliest days. The locals didn’t know what pizza was when we first came to Rehoboth. If you can believe it, I didn’t have a soda machine or toppings the first year!

O&A: What are your favorite toppings for a Grotto pizza?

Pulieri: Mushroom and onions

O&A: If you had words of advice for a young entrepreneur going into the restaurant industry today, what would it be?

Pulieri: Believe in yourself. Focus on one main thing that’s unique and good. In our case it’s the pizza—the pizza is the hook. If you’re just getting started, you need to roll up your sleeves. Don’t be afraid to work. The restaurant industry is extremely competitive so you must be very consistent. It’s all about the customer, quality and consistency!

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