Now in its second generation of ownership—with a third in the works—this Maplewood, New Jersey, staple melds old-school work ethics with modern-day updates.
When Italian immigrants Anthony and Giovanna Loffredo arrived in the United States in 1968, they didn’t have much, but they did have a strong work ethic and an entrepreneurial spirit. While working in a Jersey City, New Jersey, pizzeria, they saved their money to open their own place, Roman Gourmet, about 15 miles away in Maplewood, in 1971. “Some of the recipes came from the old country—they were from Salerno, south of Naples,” explains Vinnie Loffredo, their son and the restaurant’s current owner. “They learned how to make pizza in Jersey City, took a chance, and it worked—the place became famous.”
Over the years, all four of the couple’s children paid their dues by helping out in the pizzeria, but Vinnie was the sibling who fell in love with the business. Since transitioning into ownership in the early 2000s, he has ushered in plenty of modern updates: a POS system, delivery, ordering through third-party companies and the Slice online platform, and 40 or so specialty pies on rotation that expanded the menu from its bare-bones beginnings. Vinnie even expanded to a still-thriving second location in Hillsborough, New Jersey, in 2013.
At the same time, however, he upholds the old-school business wisdom passed along by his parents. “They told me, always work hard and never change the quality of the food or the recipes, and you’ll always be successful,” Vinnie recalls. “Now, we’re a Maplewood staple—the oldest restaurant here that’s stayed in the same family. I have two boys and a girl, and my son, at 13, is working with me the most. He helps the customers, and he’s really into it! If you don’t love this business, don’t get involved with it, because you have to sacrifice a lot.”
Though the pizzeria’s 50-year celebration was put on hold in 2021, Vinnie plans to mark the occasion this year with a big bash, including rolling back prices to 1971 levels for a day, giveaways and social media tie-ins. As a longstanding member of the community, Roman Gourmet will be celebrating with a big family—from the seven elementary schools it provides pizza for each Friday morning to the generations of regular customers to the remarkably loyal employees, many of whom have logged a decade or more at the pizzeria. “You come to know everyone in town and become part of their family; you know their aunts, uncles and grandparents,” Vinnie says. “With our employees, too, it’s a family affair—we’re very lucky, we all work together. As the owner, you’re not better than everyone—you’re actually the one person who has to be willing to do everything yourself, no matter what. But I couldn’t even imagine doing anything else.”
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor and the editor of PizzaVegan.com.