We always hear about the shiny, new restaurants. The Spot is a series about the Philadelphia area's more established dining establishments and the people behind them.
When Ted Volikas was 13 years old and living in Upper Darby in 1965, his parents lost their lease on the luncheonette they had been running in Springfield. Looking for what to do next, Tom and Athena Volikas happened on a 10-year-old pizzeria in Media that was up for sale. They realized the shop was one of the only places in the area to serve pizza, hoagies, and tacos, so they made an offer. They bought Pinocchio's Pizza for $25,000. There were three employees.
Five years later, Tom had a heart attack, and - on doctor's orders - stepped away from the business. Ted had just graduated from high school and was ready to jump in. From 1970 onward, he's managed Pinocchio's and grew it into a Delaware County icon.
In 1978, he made the first of many expansions, adding seating to his dining room, where you could order not just pizza and sandwiches, but also entrees and platters. Four years later, he converted the three-story building behind the shop into extra space for the restaurant - a prep room, offices, an extra dining room - and built connecting hallways so the entire structure is like one big, pizza-scented maze.
Fifteen years ago, Ted's son Tim came on board, and in 2010, convinced his father to convert one of the back spaces into a to-go beer garden stocking more than 1,000 bottles of sought-after beer, along with 25 on tap. Ted's daughter Athena now also works at Pinocchio's, handling the all the marketing and finances for the business, which this month celebrated its 60th anniversary (50 of those years under the Volikas family - Tom died in 1996, following the 1995 death of his wife).
As whirls of flour flew from pizza dough tossed through the air and regulars and their grandkids enjoyed slices and sodas in the orange-walled dining room, Ted sat down next to his daughter in a high-backed Formica booth to reminisce about life on his corner of Baltimore Avenue.
What's your first memory of Pinocchio's?
I remember one night my dad came home and plopped a pizza on the table. He said, "This place is for sale." He actually made me come along with them when they signed the papers. It was done at a booth right up in the front of the dining room, with all these attorneys standing around.
Did your dad change the menu when he took over?
Not really. The guy who had opened it in 1955, his name was Stu, he was ready to move on to something different, so he sold all the recipes along with the business. My dad was a great chef, so the platters escalated a little bit, but it's mostly the same. We sell a four-piece, honey-dipped chicken that's been on the menu for 60 years.
And he kept the name?
He didn't want to change the name. He liked it, he thought it sounded good. I get asked all the time where the name comes from, and I don't know. Some people have told me I should just make up a good story.
What about the logo?
The logo changes every 10 years. We have them all printed in order on our menu. You can see at one point it looked like the Disney character, but then they got pissed at us so we gave him a chef's hat. Then we put him in a tux. Then, when we opened the beer garden, we had him holding both a pizza and a six-pack. We really struggled a bit with that, because we're a family restaurant, very community-conscious. So we use both logos - when we do school events, we use the logo without the beer.
Has there always been a liquor license?
No. We've only - and I say that laughingly - only had it 22 years. We still get people who walk in and are surprised. They'll ask, "When did you get a liquor license?" and I feel embarrassed when I have to tell them, "It's been 22 years!"
Why did you decide to get one?
At the time, there were only six available in all of Media; you weren't allowed to bring them in from other places. One came up for sale, so I called my dad, who I often asked for advice. He's like, "Buy it!" It was $160,000. But it was good advice.
We had a little cooler of beer to-go, and I'll never forget the first time someone came in just to buy beer. He put a six-pack on the counter, and I asked him for his name, because I thought he was here to pick up food. He was like, "What do you need my name for?" When I realized he was just here to buy beer...wow. Other than my kids being born, that might have been the greatest moment of my life. I was like, "Holy mackerel!" - I had just made $8 or something I didn't need to get burned, or work dough to get it. That's when I realized how powerful the liquor license was.
Is pizza still your top seller?
Oh yes. Probably 60 percent of our food sales are pizza.
What makes your pizza so popular?
That we've been making them the same way for 60 years. Also the ingredients. The thin crust. The cheese - we do a blend of mozzarella and provolone. Our sauce - the pizza sauce is not cooked. Although we do have a marinara sauce that simmers for like 15 hours, and some people ask to get that on their pizza instead.
Are you sick of pizza?
Oh, no. I eat it almost every day.
Fork and knife for pizza - yes or no?
Personally, I don't use a fork and knife, although we do serve them our pies, if you're eating in. The true test of a pizza is if you pick up the slice and it stands out straight. Ours does.
Do you fold the slice before eating?
Yes, I'm a folder. Unless it's a small - I think the small, 10-inch size is the best, actually. I'll do two smalls as opposed to one jumbo.
What about the whole Neapolitan pizza boom that's going on now?
Oh, the "brick oven" pizza? Don't get me started. We have a brick oven, we've had it for 60 years - what do you think we're cooking it in? I don't understand that, where they put the wood in. It's called natural gas, you turn it on and you forget about it. But the more places open, the busier we get.
What's the hardest part about running a restaurant?
Employees. That said, we have an incredible staff. We have people who've been here 15, 20, 25 years. One person started here under my dad, 35 years ago. He's still in charge of making most of the dough.
Best thing about owning this restaurant?
Money. No, just kidding. The best thing is walking around talking to customers who've been coming here for 50 years. Now we're have our third generation serving the customers' third generation. People who grew up coming here bring in their grandkids. June is our busiest month because all the college kids want to come here when they move home for the summer. We had a week-long 60th anniversary celebration leading up to a Family Fun Day on Saturday, and the whole community came out to support us. It was wonderful. We had music and moon bounce and face painters and balloon people. Just a really great day.
131 E. Baltimore Ave., Media, 610-566-7767
Hours: 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday to Saturday; 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday