Swapped Stories: With Sammy’s Pizza Downtown Duluth
Sammy’s Pizza is Duluth’s longest existing pizza restaurant. Many people see Sammy’s Pizza as home to some of their fondest memories. From being the site of first dates to school reunions, team bonding dinners, and so much more, Sammy’s Pizza has become a part of life in Duluth, Minnesota. To learn more about this iconic restaurant, we were fortunate enough to be able to talk with Alex Perrella, the Co-Manager at Sammy’s Pizza in Downtown Duluth. Not only is Alex a life-long pizza lover, but she is also part of the Sammy’s family. Her great grandfather, Sammy Perrella, founded the first Sammy’s Pizza in Hibbing, MN in 1954. Through our conversation, we were able to ask her a few questions about the history of the business, how they have expanded their operations while sticking to traditions, fun facts about Sammy’s Pizza, and how the current pandemic has affected business overall.
Sam and Louise Perrella, Alex’s great grandparents, first owned a small café near Wahkon, MN. While running this café, they realized they wanted to grow their knowledge around other foods, like pizza. So, Sam traveled to Chicago to see first-hand how authentic pizza was made. He then brought back what he had learned and begun experimenting with pizza recipes. After this experience, they opened the first Sammy’s Pizza in Hibbing, MN. At that time, not many people knew what pizza was, so customers would stand outside in front of the large store window to get a glimpse at what pizza was and how it was made. After a while, Sam the 2nd, Sam and Louise’s son, opened a second location in downtown Duluth in 1956. The downtown Duluth location is still in its original spot, right off West First Street and North First Avenue West. Over the past 60 years, the downtown Duluth location has kept its originality by hanging old photos of the restaurant, keeping the same aesthetic, and using the iconic family recipes when making pizzas.
With its beginnings being in northern Minnesota, the Perrella family has expanded Sammy’s Pizza to a total of 14 different locations across Minnesota and Wisconsin. All 14 locations are owned by Perrella family members or distant relatives. To ensure that each location is doing the best that they can, the family members at each restaurant meet up three times a year to check in with each other and to discuss what is happening.
All 14 locations use the same made from scratch recipes that were created by great-grandpa Sam and his wife Louise back in the 1950s. Sammy’s pizza dough as well as its sauce is made with those family recipes that have been passed down. All locations also use the same mozzarella cheese, which is sourced from a farm in Wisconsin. The history, homemade recipes, and food options are what have made Sammy’s Pizza stand out against other pizza restaurants and will continue to help them grow.
What are the top-three selling food options at Sammy’s Pizza?
Alex answered this question by stating,
“I always tell people pizza, of course, but probably our most popular ones are anything with the Italian sausage. One of the most popular pizzas is the Sammy’s Special. This pizza was on the original menu and is still on the wall down here. I would also say our crew special is really popular. This pizza has pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, and double cheese on it. Lastly, I would say any of our kinds of pasta do well because of our homemade sauce and meatballs.”
It might come as a great surprise, but Alex says she still loves pizza, even though she is around it 24/7. When I asked her what her favorite food item on the menu was, she said pepperoni and pineapple pizza. This combination might sound a bit off-putting, but she promises it is the perfect combination of sweet and spicy flavors.
How Has Your Business Been Affected By COVID-19?
Operating a business, especially a restaurant, during a pandemic can pose plenty of challenges. Alex explained Sammy’s Pizza’s situation throughout the past few months by saying,
“Being in downtown Duluth, I think we are probably one of the most affected locations, unfortunately. There is not a lot of people working downtown like there was previously, and we are missing out on the large groups we use to get from hockey tournaments, hotels, and more. We have been open, and we plan to stay open; we just have been doing a lot of delivery and take-out orders, which is currently working for us.”
Alex also talked with us about how every time Sammy’s Pizza has had to close their dining areas, they have seen a significant increase in curbside pick-up. This curbside option has become extremely popular with customers and has helped counterbalance the effects the pandemic has had on the business overall.
Dave Portnoy’s Review of Sammy’s Pizza
Some recent exciting news for Sammy’s is their experience with Dave Portnoy from Barstool Sports. When the first COVID-19 shutdown happened, Dave Portnoy started doing reviews on frozen pizzas and sharing his opinions with his millions of followers. Seeing this as an excellent opportunity for Sammy’s Pizza, the owners reached out to Dave numerous times to get their pizza reviewed by him. When he responded, Sammy’s shipped a pizza to New York. Sammy’s Pizza owners never thought he would come to this area, so they believed it was a great opportunity to ship him a frozen pizza. About a month after sending the pizza, Dave finally chose Sammy’s frozen pizza to review on his social media platforms. Because of his great review and accurate storytelling of Sammy’s history, Sammy’s gained a lot of attention. On social media, people loved watching his review and commenting their own perspectives of Sammy’s Pizza. On the business side, they saw a boost in online sales and an increase in their shipments of frozen pizza.
Current Sammy’s Pizza Promotions
All Sammy’s locations, through December 31st, are doing a gift card special. When you buy $50 in Sammy’s Pizza gift cards, you get a $10 gift certificate for free. Gift cards can be used at all Sammy’s Pizza locations across Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Are you carving some pizza after reading this blog? Go to a Sammy’s Pizza near you and support a traditional family business!
If you have liked this blog or want to share some of your family memories at Sammy’s, give us a shout at [email protected]!
Happy swapped stories, friends!
Photo from Sammy’s Pizza Downtown Duluth’s Website