When Aldo’s Pizza owner Aldo Alu opened his restaurant in 1971, he had a lot to learn.
He was still working on his English, which he did not know when he emigrated from Sicily, Italy, five years earlier, and he had “no clue” how to start a business.
Still, he managed to mix his experience of working at another Italian restaurant with his dough recipe and sauce recipes by his wife, Susie — and with just under $1,000, he launched Aldo’s Pizza at Fifth Street and Grand Avenue.
The store was 400 square feet, solely sold pizzas and employed only the couple. They had no slicer, no mixer, no cheese grinder. “Trust me, I had no idea; I had no idea what I was doing. Nothing,” he said. “I just knew one thing: that I had to do it.”
Fifty years later, Aldo’s Pizza has persisted and grown, with the Washington staple celebrating its anniversary July 2. The family also is preparing for a next step, as Alu will retire next year and turn over operations to his son Tony, 42.
It’s been a long journey for Aldo Alu, 73, who came to this country at age 18 to work in a marble factory in St. Louis. But an Italian man kept calling him about a job at his restaurant, Pino’s Pizza. The man was so persistent, Aldo Alu said yes to a second job.
After working there, Aldo Alu decided he wanted to open his own eatery in a community that reminded him of his 3,500-person hometown, Cinisi. He achieved his goal with his pizzeria at Fifth and Grand until 1984. Then he moved the shop to St. Petersburg, Florida, for three years before returning to Washington and opening a restaurant at 1205 S. Jefferson St.
Over the years, Aldo Alu has expanded into 4,600 square feet and now employs 15 people, who produce 50 to 75 pizzas per day for about 1,000 customers a week, with 20 to 40 percent of orders as carryout.
The recipe for his success? Aldo Alu said he listens to the customers and is not afraid to adapt the menu, keeping in mind one rule: “Don’t try to fix what’s not broken.”
Tony Alu said he plans to abide by his father’s motto as he takes over the restaurant where he has worked since he was 14 and now serves as general manager. He met his wife, Andrea, there, who worked in the front of house as he was stationed in the kitchen.
There are plenty of stories like this. Tony Alu said his former coworkers Sarah Buel and Josh Hamann are getting married this year, and “they asked us to do the catering for their wedding.” The restaurant’s Facebook page, @TrueItalianAldosPizza, is filled with residents’ stories of marriages originating in the shop and childhood memories of eating there after school.
Although COVID-19 cut business almost in half at the height of the pandemic, Tony Alu said the restaurant has returned to its normal level of operation, though it continues to seek kitchen staff, servers and a general manager.
“Do I make a big deal that I’ve been here 50 years?” Aldo Alu said. “Well, I didn’t expect anything less.”