A Slice of Pie – Hold the Onions
In 1905, the first pizzeria in the United States opened in New York City’s neighborhood of “Little Italy.” Eventually, it made its way to our area. In Walla Walla during the 1960s, the pizza pie was just as popular back then as it is today.
Eugenio “Geno” DeLuca came to New York from Calabria, Italy in 1920 and made his home in Walla Walla five years later. He purchased the Liberty Cigar Store on 223 West Main Street (the former home of the Marshall Hotel – a two story building, of which Deluca would remove the second story). In 1963, DeLuca remodeled the tavern and reopened as DeLuca’s, serving Italian fare and steaks.
When it came to pizza pie, DeLuca had his own thoughts about the American version – he wouldn’t eat it. Therefore, in 1975, DeLuca marketed his own Italian pie, producing 2,500 pizzas in a week in the back of his restaurant and selling pizza throughout the Walla Walla markets and the neighboring Tri-City area. He eventually retired in 1984.
Geraldo Leo Magnoni, fondly known as “Jerry Manuel,” was born in the Walla Walla Valley. He was best known for bringing pizza to the area. In 1961, Pizza Pete, a Seattle-based franchise, sought potential owners to become part of their chain. Shortly after, Jerry Manuel and business partner Ed Chadek made the investment. Pizza Pete was first located at 311 South 9th Avenue. They offered 52 pizza toppings. Manuel’s motto: “Take it to the edge.”
In the fall of 1968, Manuel built a new structure at 1533 East Isaacs. It was a popular dining place for families and especially teenagers. In 1980, Manuel found the cost of owning a franchise too expensive, so he went “rogue” – independent. The new name of Walla Walla’s original pizza place became “Pepe’s Pizza.”
After 33 years in the pizza business, Manuel sold the restaurant in December 1995. Shortly after the sale, the old pizza kitchen closed its doors.
By Catie McIntyre Walker