Decades before food trucks flooded the streets, an enterprising husband and wife peddled slices on the go in western New York—and, 60 years later, the tradition continues.
When the eldest daughter of Italian immigrants Salvatore and Philomena “Flo” Butera suggested turning their successful grocery store into a pizzeria (predicting that the new teen-fave snack food would become all the rage), they thought she was crazy. The couple compromised by opening an Italian restaurant in 1955, incorporating family recipes straight from their mothers’ kitchens and adding pizza to the menu. But the pizzeria’s reputation quickly grew beyond its four walls: When the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, New York, solicited vendors, Salvatore’s Pizza-ria became one of the first to offer pizza for its crowds in 1956. “My dad was always ahead of the curve,” recalls Salvatore Butera Jr., who currently oversees the operation. “He taught us that you have to take care of your customers—and 60 years later, those original customers come see us with their kids and grandkids. They’re the engine that runs our business.”
Though the elder Buteras were ready to retire from the brick-and-mortar biz in 1966, they kept up their annual fair schedule and introduced a roving pizzeria on wheels in 1972 for events. By the ’80s, the couple’s kids, especially Salvatore Jr., were primed to take over and keep the legend alive. No small feat—because part of what makes the pizzeria unique, especially in a fair setting, is its restaurant-quality product. You won’t find frozen dough or heat lamps here; dough and sauce is made fresh daily from scratch, and pizza is crafted to order. “We still work the old-fashioned way, working a little harder and maintaining quality ingredients to make our unique product,” Salvatore beams. “We’ve kept the same recipe and the same intimacy with our customers that my parents had back in the day. When your name’s on the sign, you look harder at those things.”
Salvatore’s remains seasonal, working festivals, fairs and carnivals all through summer. Family members continue to lend a hand, teaching younger generations important life lessons in work ethic and customer service. But for those who crave a taste of Salvatore’s pizza year-round, Salvatore Jr. has recently started a side business, creating products (sauce, dough mix and more) that are now for sale on Amazon, at local retailers and through its own website, salvatorespizzatrailer.com. “You never know where things are going to take you—we just sent products to someone in Germany, and it’s a really humbling experience that we’re very thankful for,” Salvatore Jr. says. “When you have a mom-and-pop shop, that’s your life, your DNA. Food guys never retire.
— Tracy Morin