by Aja Hannah
This year Regina’s Pizza in Kenmore is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The family-owned Italian restaurant and pizzeria was started in 1970 by a pair of best friends, who made pizzas and rolled meatballs well into their old age.
The friends, Steve Catalano and Louie Bamonte, grew up together on North Hill and served in World War II. They worked in a brewery before opening a bar called The Corners together in the ‘60s. When the bar was bought out in 1969, the two decided to start their own restaurant.
The shop was named after Steve’s daughter and Louie’s goddaughter, Regina.
The men created their own homemade recipes which are still on the menu today. The pizza dough, pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce and meatballs are all homemade. The pizza sauce, for example, is cooked daily for three to four hours. The pizzas use 100% provolone cheese instead of a mozzarella and provolone mix, and the loaves of cheese are ground by hand after delivery.
Regina’s is also one of few pizza places that still uses a deck stone oven.
The best friends say their food has “true Italian flavor.” Robert Catalano, Steve’s son, has kept these recipes alive as the current owner and operator. Robert tries to source the ingredients from other local mom and pop shops, including Shaffer’s Produce in Akron.
Robert says he works 75 to 85 hours a week at the pizza shop. He grew up in the business.
“It was a good learning curve for me and my siblings. It taught us responsibility — we always had jobs — and drove me to where I am now,” he said.
The original owners both died in 2008, and some things have been lost to time, including the exact date of the restaurant’s opening. Robert believes the business may have opened in October or November of 1970 because there is a photo of the owners with the original building dated around that time. The origins of the recipes are also a mystery — but Robert said it was probably a mix of trial and error and what the best friends picked up from their traditional family dinners. Steve and Louie grew up in Italian households where food and family values were ways of life.
Other parts of Regina’s Pizza have transformed to keep up with the changing times. In 50 years, the business has gone from a cash-only, carry-out pizzeria with six menu items on Mogadore Road to a credit-card-accepting, sit-down restaurant with more than 100 menu items on East Avenue.
The restaurant continues to be run by the Catalano family because Louie never had children.
“We were kind of like Louie’s children as well. He was a bachelor his whole life,” Robert says.
Steve’s other son, Stephen, is a silent partner in the business now. He’s the temper to Robert’s maverick most of the time, advising Robert on finances while his brother focuses on the food.
Amy, Robert’s sister, still helps out at the restaurant. Regina, the daughter whose name graces the store, has left Ohio because of her husband’s career.
Regina’s Pizza is planning to offer discounts throughout 2020 to celebrate their anniversary. Robert describes himself as a “shotgun advertiser” because he will try anything and everything to see what sticks.
For example, when LeBron James came back to town in 2016, Robert shared that Regina’s was honoring the basketball star with a large one-topping pizza for $2.30. Stephen suggested that customers buy one pizza at full price and the second for $0.23 to offset costs. But Robert already posted his idea to social media, where it had 6,000 views. They decided to see what happened. By noon, the phones had to be taken off the hook because they wouldn’t stop ringing. The line for Regina’s Pizza was out the door and down the street. There was a three-hour wait — and people actually waited.
“I thought people had to work on a Thursday afternoon, but it seems like they all took [the day] off. But people said it was fine and they would come back in three hours,” Robert says.
Robert hopes to mark the anniversary with an outdoor event when the weather is nicer, but nothing is set in stone yet.
2160 East Ave., Akron
11 am-9 pm Tuesday-Friday; 11 am-10 pm Saturday; 12-8 pm Sunday
Aja Hannah is a writer, traveler, and mama. She believes in the Oxford comma, cheap flights, and a daily dose of chocolate.
Photos: Used with permission from Robert Catalano.