The State Journal-Register has a story today about Sal and Vita DiCarlo who are celebrating thirty-five years in business:
VIRDEN — When newlyweds Salvatore and Vita DiCarlo opened their 10-table pizza parlor on Jackson Street in Virden, an older man with a business in the front half of the building made an observation.When you go, be sure to give them my greetings; they are former parishioners of mine. Congratulations, Sal and Vita!
“He told somebody, ‘They’re just kids. Six months and they’re out,’” Salvatore DiCarlo said.
The DiCarlos indeed were out after 12 years -- but only to build a larger DiCarlo’s Pizza on Main Street.
The family is observing 35 years in business this weekend.
“We’ve seen a lot of people,” Vita DiCarlo said. “School kids who get married and move away, when they come home, they have to have our pizza. They tell us that. They like our pizza.”
One customer who now lives in Texas takes pizza with him when he returns from visiting, she said.
DiCarlo’s also serves pasta and sandwiches and has a family buffet on Wednesday nights, but it is the pizza that keeps people coming back.
Online reviews demonstrate its wide appeal.
“Best pizza EVER!” writes Tiffany H., who now lives in Seattle. “Every person I have exposed to this place asks for me to deliver every time I go home to visit.”
Another reviewer, Karen, said she was born in Chicago and lived in North Carolina for 10 years.
“Until moving to the Virden area, I have never been able to find a pizza that has met up to Chicago standards until now,” she wrote.
The DiCarlos met in Sicily, although Vita’s family came to the United States when she was about 10 years old.
Her family had roots in the pizza business. Her uncle Joe Dimaggio had a pizza restaurant in Lawrenceville, and her cousins have them in Carbondale and Carmi. Salvatore, who now makes many of the pizzas, had to learn on the job.
Salvatore Galati, another of Vita’s cousins, helped teach Salvatore DiCarlo about pizza preparation and the restaurant business.
“It’s a family recipe,” Vita said. And although they’ve been asked many times, it’s a secret, she said.
The DiCarlos’ three children used to help out in the restaurant. All are married now. Their son is in Cincinnati, and one daughter chose the medical field as a career.
But daughter Josephine Hickey, 27, is still there and runs the restaurant when the DiCarlos go back to Sicily to visit. She intends to carry on the family tradition.
“We have a lot of loyal customers,” she said.
‘It’s a family’
DiCarlo’s employees are loyal, too.
“We’re like a team,” Salvatore said. “We’re mostly united all together.”
Michelle Kraus has been a waitress at DiCarlo’s for 20 years.
“We have a handful (of employees) who are in and out, and one has been here a little longer than me,” she said. “But we have several who have been here at least 10 years.
“It’s a family,” Kraus said. “I’m part of the family, and the customers feel they’re part of it.
“They treat people with respect,” she said. “And that goes a long way in any job.”
Kraus also sees former customers returning after they’ve moved away from Virden.
“We had a guy come in this week from California,” she said. “We have several who grew up in Virden, and whenever they come home, they come in. One customer freezes pizza to take back to Georgia.”
Another woman drives up from St. Louis about once a month for take-out, Kraus said.
Running a successful restaurant isn’t easy.
“We work hard,” Vita said. “We get up at 5 and come here. Somebody is here making dough.”
“Some people say they like our sauce the best,” she said. “Others like the crust. But it’s always the same.”
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” Josephine added.