This once-modest operation evolved into the self-proclaimed world’s largest pizzeria—and a multistate franchise.
Joe Aurelio Jr. started Aurelio’s Pizza in 1959 with a $2,500 loan. Business was initially slow at the little four-seat restaurant; Aurelio kept it afloat through sales of his beef sandwiches—only six or seven pizzas were usually sold in an evening. But after he’d made some adjustments to his dough and sauce, the business was swinging by the mid-1960s, with a line of customers frequently stretching outside the door.
Aurelio’s soon expanded by taking over a second storefront, and by 1977 the business had moved into a 12,000-square-foot building that seated 600. Meanwhile, Joe Jr. began to sell franchises in 1974, a decision that has grown Aurelio’s to 43 locations in six states. “My dad did everything in those early days of the pizzeria,” recounts Joe Aurelio III, current president of Aurelio’s and Joe Jr.’s son. “He wanted to be an achiever. He believed in keeping it simple and not doing more than what you’re good at.”
But Joe Jr. was also an innovator. For starters he helped develop a sausage dispenser that would take the manpower out of sausage prep. This proved especially handy at Aurelio’s since Joe III says 98% of all pizzas sold at the restaurant—which serves up to 8,000 customers per week—feature sausage. Today, the company guarantees both consistency and uniqueness by branding its main products, which are made to the Aurelio’s specifications by suppliers and making its own sausage. The company also distributes supplies out of a commissary, allowing the franchise owners to keep food costs low through bulk purchasing.
Although the pizza may have remained essentially the same for 50-plus years—and pizza now makes up 75% to 80% of sales—efforts to evolve with the changing times have helped attract new generations of Aurelio’s fans. Kirk Mauriello, Aurelio’s director of franchising, coordinates radio and billboard ads to increase brand recognition, and the company garnered more than 10,000 fans within a year of starting its Facebook page.
Meanwhile, Joe III, after spending a lifetime in the pizza business, still lives by his dad’s creed: Stick to basics, offer top-notch food and customer service, and give back to the community. “Believe in your product, and never skimp on quality,” he advises. “And be a giver, not just a taker. When you give back to the local community, you’ll feel the love in return.” —Tracy Morin