Winston-Salem has gained a third Mario’s Pizza. The latest location opened today, April 8, at 266 Harvey St.
The restaurant is part of a small local chain that began about 40 years ago when two Italian-Americans decided to move from Brooklyn, N.Y., to North Carolina.
Tony Franzese, a native of Puglia, Italy, came down first, lured to Goldsboro in 1975 by a job with a pizza franchise. By 1982, he had opened his own Tony’s Pizza in Jacksonville — and started talking to his childhood friend, Mario Alessio, about joining him.
“We grew up on the same street in Brooklyn,” said Alessio, a native of Calabria, Italy.
“We’re brothers from different mothers,” Franzese added.
Alessio followed his friend down South, opening the first Mario’s Pizza in Havelock in 1984. For years, the two friends maintained these two restaurants in small towns in Eastern North Carolina — until a builder mentioned a new shopping center going up in Winston-Salem. “I had never heard of Winston-Salem. But we had been in these small towns and when we saw how many people lived here, we packed our bags and moved,” Alessio said.
The Triad’s first Mario’s opened in 1998 at 1066 Hanes Mall Boulevard, in the Hanes Point Shopping Center shared with Target. Franzese started looking to nearby cities such as Hickory to open Tony’s Pizza locations.
After Mario’s brother, Vincenzo "Vinny" Alessio, joined the business in the late 1990s, all of the pizzerias came under one joint ownership. Despite the different names, the restaurants are virtually identical, with the same menu.
The move to the Triad proved to be a smart one.
Ensuing years brought a Mario’s location to 1469 River Ridge Drive in Clemmons and to 2205 Cloverdale Ave. in Winston-Salem. The partners also opened two Mario’s pizzerias in High Point in and two in Greensboro.
There also are now six Tony’s Pizza locations — three in Charlotte and one each in Hickory, Mooresville and Huntersville.
The new Mario’s is in a former Firestorm Pizza location in Hanes Towne Shopping Center, which faces Stratford Road and includes LA Fitness and Walmart.
The new restaurant can seat 54 at full capacity, or about 27 with 50% COVID-19 seating restrictions. There isn’t a patio per se, but two outdoor tables are set up on the sidewalk.
The restaurant is applying for ABC permits to sell beer and wine.
The heart of the menu is, of course, pizza. Prices start at $3.25 for a slice of cheese pizza and go up to $42.50 for a 24-inch “The Worx” pizza with pepperoni, sausage, beef, ham, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, & black olives. Customers can even add extra cheese and toppings to that monster for $3 to $4 more for each addition.
Customers can choose any combination of toppings they like, but popular ones includes the pizza bianco (with ricotta, mozzarella and fresh garlic but no tomato sauce), the “five boroughs” – a nod to Brooklyn with bacon, beef, ham, pepperoni and sausage. There’s also the Greenhouse, with tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, black olives, spinach and mushrooms.
Sizes start at 10 inches and go up to 15, 17, 19 and 24.
The restaurant also offers gluten-free crust and vegan cheese by request.
Kissing cousins to pizza are the calzone ($9.45) and stromboli ($9.70),
And the restaurant offers a lot of subs, salads and Italian entrees.
Subs ($8.40-$10.55) include Italian, meatball, veggie and chicken or eggplant Parmigiana. Steak subs are available Philly style (cheese, bell peppers, mushrooms, and onions) or Mario’s Way (cheese, banana peppers, onions, mayo, lettuce, tomato, oil and vinegar).
Entrees and pastas ($11.35 to $12.90) include lasagna, spaghetti, ravioli and baked ziti.
Among the salads are Greek and Caesar, available in side or main-dish portions.
Customers can even get chicken wings (12 for $14), jalapeno poppers ($7), onion rings ($4.20) and few other items.
Desserts include cannoli, tiramisu and limoncello mascarpone cake ($3 each).
Mario’s offers online ordering through its website or mobile app for curbside pickup. Delivery is available through Grubhub, DoorDash, Postmates or Uber Eats.
Mario Alessio said that the pizza business has been good this past year — though he knows that many of his fellow restaurateurs have been struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I know a lot of restaurants have closed down, but our business is better than it was before the pandemic. I think pizza is just the best thing for delivery.”