Pagliai's pizza celebrates 50 years of serving Iowa City
History smells like baked dough — and fresh cheese, rich tomato sauce, and a profusion of toppings. History smells like Pagliai’s Pizza.
Tuesday marks Pagliai’s 50th year of serving pizza. And after half a century of making Iowa City home, Pagliai’s has become a landmark, an example, and a piece of the community.
“It is a restaurant that is more than a restaurant,” said Nancy Bird, the director of the Iowa City Downtown District. “When you have a business that is doing something right, that recognizes their customers, they become a community landmark.”
Pagliai’s Pizza stands as more than a pizza joint — it is an example of a business that is “doing something right.”
“They are great examples for other businesses considering Iowa City as a location,” said Wendy Ford, the city’s economic coordinator.
For the Pagliai family, they are happy just filling stomachs.
“We don’t know if we have an impact on the community — we are just happy to be part of it,” Armond Pagliai Jr. said, who started cleaning dishes in the family restaurant at a young age.
Pagliai’s Pizza came to the Iowa City community from Ames 50 years ago, first landing on 127 S. Clinton St. After seven years, it relocated to 302 E. Bloomington Street.
“The reason we came here was because of the university town,” Armond Pagliai Sr. said.
Building a business meant to last did not come easy, though.
“It’s been a good 50 years, but it’s had its trying times,” Pagliai Jr. said. “People that get into the restaurant business think it’s easy, but there are a lot of sacrifices. [My father] made a lot of sacrifices to take this business where it is today.”
In the end, the Pagliai family said they have their customers to thank.
“We are really fortunate for our customer base,” he said. “We have a lot of good customers we are very thankful for. [We have] a lot of customers between the ages of 60 and 80 — they have been coming forever.”
Tony Pagliai, the next in line to head the business, agreed.
“If it wasn’t for the customers over the past 50 years, we wouldn’t be here,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how good your food is, if you don’t have anybody to eat it, you don’t have anything.”
Fifty years of business attests to a customer base that does enjoy the food.
“I’ve never told anybody once since I’ve been here that I have the best pizza in town,” Pagliai Sr. said. “I always let the customer decide. If they liked it, they came back. If they didn’t, they probably didn’t come back.”
And although some aspects of Pagliai’s Pizza have changed, there is one that has not.
“The pizza is the same from the day we started,” Pagilai Sr. said.
That same pizza recipe is part of what allows them to stand apart from other businesses in Iowa City.
“We grind all our meats fresh daily — we use the best ingredients we can get,” Pagliai Jr. said. “Some of the chain competition is not even using real cheese and real meats.”
But what about the next 50 years?
“Bring it on,” Tony Pagliai said.
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