Focusing on a single location since 1966, three brothers from Abbruzzo, Italy, grew a 600-square-foot carryout joint into a massive Baltimore-area pizza mecca.
When John Coruzzi landed Stateside from Abruzzo, Italy, at 16, he was soon prepping for the pizza life. After honing his skills over a decade while working in a bakery, then a pizzeria, he opened his own carryout location, Pizza John’s, in the summer of ’66. Months later, his brother Peter joined the Essex, Maryland, operation—then a mere 600 square feet, but already a hit with locals—and, a year later, a third brother, Anthony, also jumped on board. “In 11 years at that original location, we worked 16-, 18-hour days to build the business,” recalls Peter, who now owns Pizza John’s with his son-in-law partner, Bret Steall (John and Anthony retired around the turn of the millennium). “We started with one employee, and after 11 years, we had 18. But the place had no A/C, ventilation or storage; we knew we’d have to improve things or get out of the business!”
That move, to a new 2,000-square-foot building, was only the beginning of what would become a string of constant upgrades and expansions in the decades to come. By 1981, its first dining room opened, a greenhouse was added in 1985, and the ’90s ushered in regular improvements. But in 2003, the building was completely renovated and expanded with 100 extra seats and an ice cream bar; in 2012, another 100 seats were tacked on. Today, the mega-pizzeria clocks in at 12,000 square feet, with seating for 320, 200-plus parking spaces and 106 employees (40% of whom, Peter estimates, have been with the company 15 years or more). “Our philosophy never changed from day one,” Peter notes. “We always wanted to focus on one location, with consistent product and a good staff, giving value to our customers. With one location, we reach the whole Baltimore area, building our reputation over the years, and by now we’ve become an institution. Everyone knows us!”
Of course, that philosophy dictates a do-it-yourself, hands-on approach. Peter says that the pizzeria hasn’t gone unsupervised by an owner since opening day, and everything, from butchering meats to making dough and sauce from scratch, is done in the old-school tradition. But that doesn’t mean the owners aren’t constantly seeking improvements. “We try to do better every day,” Peter says. “I’m 71 years old, and every day I learn something new and see something we can make better. We always try to innovate and bring in new ideas. I’m a worker, with the staff every day—not an owner with a suit and tie.”
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.