Running out of food during a busy shift proved a fortuitous accident for a tight-knit SoCal Italian family—it was the day they introduced pizza.
In 1945, when Josephine Barone and her husband, Jerry, opened a small restaurant serving sandwiches and pasta in Sherman Oaks, California, she enlisted a small army of brothers and sisters as partners. With Tony, Frank and Mike Arpaia, Joseph Izzo, and Frank Monteleone, six Italian families pitched in and fostered early success. But pizza didn’t make the menu until they ran out of food on a busy day. “Josephine found a rectangular pie pan in the kitchen and put together her mother’s famous recipe for pizza,” explains Mike Monteleone, son of Frank and current owner with sons Michael and Stephan, and wife Stephanie. “People went crazy for it.”
The humble eatery soon expanded to a sprawling facility down the street—a 4,500-square-foot space with banquet area—and business boomed. Family members worked full-time as chefs, bartenders and maintenance men, with their kids chipping in. Eventually, the original pioneers retired, and Mike returned from the real estate biz to help his dad, the last member active, who has since passed away. The original (called Barone’s Famous Italian, now run by Mike’s brother Tom) relocated to Van Nuys in 2006, and in 2008 Mike’s family opened Barone’s Pizzeria, a casual-dining, 1,000-square-foot location in Woodland Hills. Today, a third generation helps lead the charge: Stephan fell in love with restaurants while growing up in the pizzeria and learning the ropes, while Michael, toting a background in marketing and technology, oversees the 2,000-square-foot location in Westlake Village, opened in 2015.
Spreading a wide web over the area for 70-plus years, Barone’s pizza—a thin-crust, rectangular style that combined the family’s Sicilian and Neapolitan heritages—has become famous in SoCal. “We’re not the average California pizza; it’s one-of-a-kind, so word-of-mouth is still the main way we reach new customers,” Mike notes. “We’ve stayed true to those old-school recipes, and we’re committed to making sure that doesn’t change. Once people try us, they’re hooked.”
Now, the Monteleones are looking to expand further, while consolidating the menu to best-selling basics (pizza and salad make up 80% of sales) and scaling down the size of future locations, focusing on delivery and takeout. The goal: one more location this year, and two per year for the next five years. They’re even looking into shipping nationwide on the heels of a November 2016 MSN article that proclaimed Barone’s the No. 1 pizza in California. “We never knew how famous we’d be, and we’re still growing,” Mike concludes. “We’re so blessed to be able to continue the legacy and do something special with it, even today.”
—By Tracy Morin