REHOBOTH — When Grotto Pizza founder Dominick Pulieri opened the first slice stand in 1960 in Rehoboth Beach with his sister and brother-in-law, Mary Jean and Joe Paglianite, he never imagined it being Delaware’s most iconic pizza chain.
“I was 17 years old,” Mr. Pulieri said. “I took it one day at a time. I never thought of how many Grotto Pizza locations could be possible. I never thought of having multiple Grotto Pizza locations.
“I always thought about how we could serve our customers best on that day.”
The restaurant was recently inducted into the Pizza Hall of Fame, which celebrates America’s oldest and most beloved pizza restaurants.
Created by PMQ Pizza Magazine, a trade publication for the pizza industry, the Pizza Hall of Fame pays tribute to the rich cultural history of American pizza and honors the perennially popular U.S. pizzerias that’s been in business for 50 years or longer.
“It is an amazing recognition for us and very humbling to me,” Mr. Pulieri said. “This honor is not just mine, but shared with many Grotto Pizza team members who have worked for Grotto Pizza over the past 55 years.”
Mr. Pulieri’s love for pizza is what made him want to open up the restaurant.
“I never looked at it as going into the pizza business,” Mr. Pulieri said. “I always loved pizza and people. It is what I enjoyed doing.
“I have fond memories as a kid eating pizza every Friday with the whole family gathered around the table, talking, laughing and enjoying pizza.
He said he never endured any difficulties except getting locals to try his pizza.
“I was a young kid and enjoyed being by the ocean,” Mr. Pulieri said. “It was fun for me.
“The interesting thing was most locals didn’t know what pizza was back then. I had a hard time giving away free samples to the locals. They were hesitant to try it.”
Mr. Pulieri recalled during his early years using different techniques to give the impression to customers that the restaurant was busy.
“There are so many great memories,” Mr. Pulieri said. “I wasn’t busy, but right next door the Dairy Queen would have a waiting line.
“Every now and then I would take a bunch of empty pizza boxes by the line of people, to my car to make it look like we were busy delivering pizzas. I just drove around the block and brought the boxes in the back door of the restaurant.”
Today the establishment has grown to 21 locations throughout Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania, as Mr. Pulieri hopes the business continues to expand.
“I hope we continue to grow regionally,” Mr. Pulieri said. “We have plans to open in Middletown and Columbia, Maryland. It would be nice to be a national company or global company someday.
“I want everyone to experience Grotto Pizza. We get a lot of requests to open a Grotto Pizza in the hometowns of customers and fans throughout the United States.”