EricS.

Tony-&-Mary11

Employees at this Valparaiso, Indiana, restaurant have clocked decades on the payroll, while customers have included Phyllis Diller and Red Buttons.

A vintage photo of Anthony Sr. working the ovens now graces the menu's front cover.Fortunately for pizza fans in Valparaiso, Indiana, Anthony Gengo Sr. couldn’t deny his dough-bound destiny. He’d been born into the business; his mother owned a bread company in New York, delivering door-to-door. But when she passed away, he and his sister sold the enterprise, and Anthony took off for California. However, a fateful stop to visit his in-laws in Hobart, Indiana, changed his path. “He found himself a job on a bread truck, and eventually he started looking around for a building,” recounts Tami Charnas, manager of Tony’s Place. “He opened up the very first pizza shop in Valparaiso. That was in 1955, and 60 years later, Tony’s Place is still going strong.”

After juggling the bread route and pizzeria for seven years, Anthony Sr. gave up his “day job” to fully focus on the growing business, which found immediate success thanks to time-tested recipes from his Italian family (including his mother’s beloved dough and sauce). In 1962, he moved to a larger location down the street and helmed the business for 20 years before passing it down to his son, Anthony Jr.—who, for the past four decades, has carefully guarded those traditions. “Anthony Sr. had all those recipes in him when he came here,” notes Charnas, a 34-year employee at Tony’s. “And Anthony Jr. is still the only one doing all of the cooking every day: sauce, dough, lasagna.”

Anthony Jr. spins dough at the pizzeria.The iconic recipes are a definite draw, but something less tangible works to keep Tony’s an institution as it heads into its seventh decade of service: a sense of family. Even though the location seats 375 in its bar and family-friendly dining area, the sprawling size doesn’t detract from its decidedly personal touch. With several employees clocking not years but decades on the payroll, and customers who have been loyal since its opening year (not to mention visits by celeb fans such as Phyllis Diller and Red Buttons over the decades), Tony’s has become a touchstone in this Chicago suburb. “It’s like a Cheers place—a home, not a restaurant,” Charnas says. “I’m always amazed at how many people have grown up here. For so many people, it’s part of their life—Tony’s is just part of them.”

-Tracy Morin

14 Comments

  1. StuartReply
    March 17, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    Tracy that is awesome! But the name of the owners and Founders is “Gengo” not “Jengo”. it is pronounced the same but it is spelled with a “G” not a “J”.. Their beefs are out of this world too

    • EricS.Reply
      March 17, 2016 at 4:20 pm

      Thanks Stuart, we’ll get that fixed immediately!

    • The Paulsen'sReply
      March 21, 2016 at 4:12 am

      CONGRATULATIONS to TONY’S PIZZA! What a wonderful tribute to Tony’s! My husband and I, he being a native of Valparaiso, were married at the courthouse in Valparaiso in 2003 and we had our small wedding dinner at Tony’s! This has always been and still is his very favorite pizza eatery, even though we are retired and have moved to Michigan in 2006, we still have family in Valpo and surrounding towns, so whenever we visit there, he practically BEGS (lol) to dine at Tony’s. A few times when his daughter has come to visit us for a weekend, she treats her dad with a couple of “uncooked” pizza’s, that we either put into the freezer for later or have them then at that time! This is like heaven to him so he is one happy man whenever he can have TONY’S PIZZA!!!

  2. Jerald WoodsReply
    March 18, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    Tony congratulations to you and your family. You have been with our family my entire life. See you soon.

    Jerry Woods

  3. Peg P.Reply
    March 19, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    During high school THE place to hang out after games in the 70’s….best pizza around and big corner booth to fit the crowd around. Lots of good memories.

  4. Cathy ScottReply
    March 20, 2016 at 7:44 am

    Love this restaurant, and wonderful staff. The pizza fabulous and the many other foods they offer too. Don’t miss this gem if traveling through the area… simply the BEST!

  5. Christina PReply
    March 20, 2016 at 10:11 am

    Tony’s Place is a nostalgic land mark in NWI and Valparaiso is proud that Tony’s calls it home!!! I grew up at Tony’s and like many of you my children and grandchildren lovvvve Tony’s too!! The food is not only wonderful and made from scratch but you really can fill up a big family for a great price!!! I enjoyed many years serving at Tony’s and it will alwayssss be a big part of my life…. thank you for so many great years and many more years of success to you all!!
    This honor could not have been awarded to a more deserving restaurant…. You earned it Pizza Man <3

  6. March 21, 2016 at 8:35 am

    Congrats to Tony’s for being a new Hall of Fame pizzeria. The other dishes at Tony’s as just as great, so if they ever have a Lasagna Hall of Fame or an Eggplant Parmesan Hall of Fame, Tony’s will be in there, too.

  7. Ken TReply
    March 31, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    Definitely a part of my life…going to Tony’s after Jr High dances and movies at the Premier Theatre. I live out west now but always find my way back to Tony’s when I visit the Midwest. Like Stuart said in these comments, no better Italian Beef in this world!!! Congrats on the milestone – well deserved!!

  8. Rob and Gwen WorekReply
    April 21, 2016 at 10:04 am

    We’ve been going to Tony’s Place for the deep dish pizza for over 35 years. We want to congratulate them for their entry into the Pizza Hall of Fame. I can remember when we first were going there and the servers were Tami, Sandy and Donna. Their deep dish pizzas are #1 in our books. Looking forward to many more pizzas and of course cold beers at Tony’s Place.

    Rob and Gwen Worek

  9. Lisa L BradyReply
    April 28, 2016 at 10:49 am

    I have been coming to Tony’s almost every year for my birthday! 51 years of great memories! My birthday isn’t complete without pizza.

  10. Jennifer SmithReply
    August 16, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    Tony’s pizza is the best, and the bonus is it is the best value also. I am now a physician in Maine but when back in Indiana I go to Tony’s Place!
    Jennifer Smith

  11. Sue ClemensReply
    August 19, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    Congratulations Tony and Gang!!!! A well deserved honor! Looking forward to many more years of great meals and drinks and fun and friendly staff!!!

  12. MattReply
    August 1, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    That is as much of a chicago suburb as Milwaukee is… Lame… good pizza though damn good pizza

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