Baseball-loving Joseph Santarpio gave up a shot at playing for the New York Yankees to run his dad’s bakery—and Red Sox pizza fans are forever grateful.
Pizza might never have been introduced at Boston-based Santarpio’s Pizza (santarpiospizza.com) if Joseph Santarpio didn’t turn down an offer to play for the New York Yankees. His father, Francisco, owned a bread bakery he’d founded in 1903 and insisted that his baseball-playing son abandon his Major League dreams and work for the family business, hauling bread on his shoulder to sell in the streets of Boston. After Prohibition ended, the bakery became a bar that served lunchtime fare such as spaghetti and meatballs, and, by the 1940s, Joe Timpone, Joseph’s brother-in-law, came in to make pizzas at night while working as a mason in the daytime. A third generation inherited the business in the 1960s, when Joseph’s son Frank took over. “My father made the pizzeria what it is today,” says Joia Santarpio, daughter of Frank and current owner of the pizzeria with siblings Joe, Frank and Carla. “He was at the pizzeria six or seven days a week and just retired seven years ago!”
Santarpio’s, says Joia, has always been “nothing too fancy”—a pizzeria with “grumpy waiters,” no windows, nonexistent parking, and a bare-bones menu with only pizza, homemade sausage and lamb tips. But people still visit from all over the world, and it consistently places on “best of” lists. The pizza itself is stripped down, with a thin crust, fresh-cut mozzarella, plain tomato sauce sans herbs or spices, and traditional toppings such as sausage, peppers and onions. It’s assembled “upside-down,” with pizza makers adding toppings, cheese and finally sauce, and then cooked until the crust becomes crunchy and crispy. This simplicity, Joia says, is key to the pizzeria’s success. “Try to keep it simple; you should do a few things really well,” she advises. “A lot of places you go to, everything is good, but nothing is great, and customers can find that anywhere. But where else can they get your one-of-a-kind grandmother’s secret recipe?”
Santarpio’s existed for more than 100 years with only one location. Then, in September 2010, the family decided to branch out and open a second, more family-friendly location in Peabody, Massachusetts, just 14 miles from the original. As the fifth generation gets involved in the family enterprise, Joia says, there might be room for additional pizzerias in the future. But, for now, she celebrates the melting pot that the original location has become. “There’s not just one type of person coming in,” she notes. “People can come in a limo, wearing sequin dresses, or they can show up in pajamas—everybody feels comfortable here.” —Tracy Morin