DiCarlo’s Original Pizza
Big-name and small-town pizza buffs alike are avowed fans, but the DiCarlo family cherishes first-time customers above all else.
Italian immigrants Michael and Caroline DiCarlo didn’t originally set out to helm a pizzeria that would thrive through the decades. In fact, pizza wasn’t even on their radar when they opened an Italian grocery store in Steubenville, Ohio, in the early 1900s. Eventually, the business evolved into a full bakery known for delectable bread loaves and decadent cakes. But when their son, Primo, returned home from serving in WWII, he raved to his family about the popular food he’d spotted everywhere in Italian cafes: pizza.
By 1945, DiCarlo’s Original Pizza opened its doors, serving crispy-crust square pies that quickly became a local favorite. “They were already famous for their bread, which inspired our crunchy crust, made with high-gluten flour,” notes Anna DiCarlo, current co-owner. “We pride ourselves on quality—sauce made with California tomatoes, aged provolone and no preservatives. There have been a lot of copycats!”
In 1949, a second location opened to serve fans in Wheeling, West Virginia, and over the years nearly 20 pizzerias would open—through both family members and franchisees—in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Today, Michael’s granddaughter, Toni, runs most of the West Virginia locations with her son, Christopher; Anna and her son David focus on franchises; Anna’s son Nick manages the Columbus, Ohio, location; and Primo’s great-grandson operates the downtown Steubenville shop. But Anna still plans to grow and evolve: “I’m really picky about franchisees,” she explains. “I’ll open a couple more locations by myself, but I want to grow very slowly. We’re even working on experimenting with an organic, lower-gluten pizza recipe. But our original will always stay on the menu.”
The DiCarlo’s dynasty has received well-deserved media accolades from Parade, Gourmet and Plate magazines, and it has scored kudos from big-name pizza buffs: Then-presidential hopeful John Kerry offered a shout-out to DiCarlo’s while stumping in Wheeling back in 2004, while country music star Brad Paisley has professed his love for the Ohio Valley institution. But though the pizzeria counts plenty of loyal regulars, Anna cherishes the first-timers. “I love seeing the new customer,” she laughs. “When he comes in and tries the pizza, he loses it over how affordable and delicious it is. Then he’s hooked.”
By Tracy Morin