I take my two boys to Vito’s Pizza in Pennington for lunch during the week after school, after story time at the Pennington Library, for dinners on weekends…for any reason at all. We usually order plain cheese slices, cut into tiny square pieces for my kids, and a slice of Brooklyn or Bronx. I can’t say no to a birch beer soda and we often leave with a cookie.
The boys like to sit near the front windows and play a game of “I spy,” watching school buses, different kinds of trucks and colorful cars pass through the intersection of Delaware Avenue and Main Street. No matter what mood we were all in when we walked in the door, all seems right with the world at Vito’s.
The food is definitely a huge part of why we come (who doesn’t love good pizza?), but the atmosphere is like the famous bar Cheers, “where everybody knows your name.” The familiar faces of the guys behind the counter, the fact that they never seem to mind if our kids jump in the booths or leave pizza squished on the floor under their highchairs, and the likelihood that we’ll always bump into friends makes it a magnetic spot for us and many others in town.
The store celebrates its 25th anniversary this Saturday, June 7 and is offering free slices of pizza, free t-shirts and face painting for kids from noon to 3 p.m. They also will hold a drawing where a lucky winner will receive a free large pie each week for a year.
When Vito’s opened in their Pennington location the spring of 1989, they were based a few doors down in the space currently occupied by the Pennington Apothecary. Eight years ago they moved to their current spot, where sauce and dough is homemade, and premium cheeses and fresh ingredients go into pizzas, pasta and salads.
The Pennington restaurant was the second Vito’s Pizza location for owner Nat Casano, Vito’s father. After moving to the United States from Sicily, Nat opened his first restaurant in Highland Park, NJ in 1971, then began Vito’s Pizza in Hamilton, which is currently on Rt. 33. Nat also owns Hamilton-based Spigola, an Italian fine-dining restaurant.
Today, Vito Casano can often been seen in the Pennington restaurant each day, joined by fellow longtime employees Pasquale, Luigi and Enrico. Pasquale has been working with the family for 35 years, and taught Vito himself how to make pizza.
Vito, who lives with his wife Erin and two children, Gunnar (8) and Ashley (11) in Pennington, says “that’s what I think makes a good neighborhood place, people come in and say ‘Hey Luigi, hey Pasq.’ The guys recognize the customers and know their birthdays.”
Vito often rehires former employees when they are in town on college break, and says he sees many people come to the restaurant as young children only to return throughout the years and bring their own families back. He’s had some customers stay in touch as they moved across the county, even sending photos of their kids around the world wearing Vito’s Pizza t-shirts.
Looking ahead, Vito says he thinks the restaurant will stick with the recipe that has worked throughout the years. Open seven days a week and only closed on major holidays, the crew clocks 65 hour weeks, working by the motto “you got time to lean, you got time to clean.”
“We want to perfect pizza, sandwiches and salads,” Vito says. “We want to keep everything fresh and new.”