Sal Grigoli Remembers Hard Work, Nice Folks
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – “Forty-one years! I haven’t even been alive that long,” Sal Grigoli reports people saying to him these days.
That’s the amount of time – age 19 to age 60 – that the founder and owner of the venerable Sal’s Pizzeria has been spinning dough disks at 110 Main St.
You’ll still see him there for the next few weeks as he guides the new owners and their staff through the transition, but as of June 13, the business was sold to Bob Hurley, franchisee of 11 Subways in the region.
Some of the longtime patrons expressing surprise are local, others are from all over the country. “They come back to visit family. They come back for class reunions.”
Others are old-time baseball fans who finally made it to Cooperstown. They’ve heard, “When you go to Cooperstown, you have to go to Sal’s.”
“It makes my day,” Grigoli said.
The pizzeria proprietor’s story is the story of the American Dream.
His father, John, immigrated from Italy, settled in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, and began working on big construction jobs, Rockefeller Center among them.
In 1966, Sal’s older brother Joe got a job at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, where a line of 10 vendors had been set up to give the world a chance to sample New York City’s signature thin-crust pizza.
Impressed by the profit margin, the father declared, “Let’s try to make pizza.”
And so he did, in Brooklyn.
Sal was a little boy. One of his earliest memories is walking down the steps of his family’s Brooklyn apartment: from one side emerge the smell of fresh-baked bread; from the other, fresh-baked pizza.
The aroma never tired. “I’ll miss eating pizza everyday,” he says on retiring.
The pizza parlor wasn’t the end of father John’s ambitions – he yearned to move out into the country, and before too long had bought a farm near Stamford, Delaware County.
His son spent his teen years doing farm chores.
Eventually, though, accepting how hard it is to make a living dairying, dad John was drawn back to the successful business he had run in New York, opening Tony’s Pizza in Stamford in the early 1970s.
By the time Sal graduated from Stamford High School in 1976, brother Joe had opened Sal’s Pizza on Main Street, Oneonta, and the younger brother worked there for a year.
Out for a drive one day, “Dad and I drove through Cooperstown. It was packed,” said Sal.
His father said, “What, no pizzeria?” The rest is local culinary history.
It was 1978, and Krazy Tom’s was moving out of 110 Main. Sal’s moved in. Dad John would work with son Sal the first dozen years.
“You’re going to have to close in the winter,” other downtown store owners told him. “But the locals loved it,” said Grigoli. “I was proud of keeping the place open, no matter what.”
After basketball games, the place was full. And after a movie at Smalley’s Theater, across the street, filmgoers would stop in for a pizza.
And, of course, “summers were busy.”
Sal Grigoli ended up working seven days a week for the next four decades, plus a year.
Love and marriage added a successful personal dimension to a successful business one: Diane Trophia moved to town from Rome to work for Dr. Donald Pollock.
“She came into the pizzeria for a slice of pizza,” the husband recalls. “That was all it took.”
At first, Diane made pizzas next to her husband, phasing out as the four Grigoli children arrived and rose through Cooperstown schools, active, successful and well-known.
The eldest, Roseanne, is now a linguist with Apple, married and living in Portland, Ore. The second, Natalie, was one of the top four graduates in the Class of 2010, and went on the become valedictorian of her class at Elmira College; she is now a speech pathologist in Burlington, Vt.
Christina, a recent graduate of SUNY Plattsburgh, is living in Brooklyn, providing social media expertise to real-estate clients. Son Samuel, a CCS junior, is still at home.
All the girls waitressed at 110 Main.
The Grigoli brood was raised in 111 Pioneer, where dad Sal, in his rare free time, restored the original woodwork and removed the hanging tiles in the diningroom to discover and repair the ornate hammered-tin ceiling.
Meanwhile, Sal’s Pizzeria added thick-crust Sicilian pizza to the thin-crust NYC-style pie. He experimented with novel toppings, Chicken Bacon Parm and Chicken Wing among the most recent. And summers, the crowd lined up out the door.
What’s not to like, said “Mrs. Sal.” “Eight slices and a pitcher of soda,” Diane said, “and you’ve fed your family.”
As to the regulars, “you knew everybody’s orders,” she said to her husband. He’d give them a little nod, and they’d sidle up to the counter to find their favorite hot slice waiting for them.
Of course, Sal has met too many baseball stars to remember, and in 1991 he and Diane began collecting signatures on a pizza paddle, beginning with Rod Carew, “one of my favorites,” the proprietor says. Today, it’s a beloved memento.
The national media loved Sal’s, too. “I had a lot of write-ups,” he said. “People raved about us.”
And then, as age 60 approached, Sal and Diane agreed it was time. It can take years to sell a pizzeria, he said, but Sal’s was special, and a sale was agreed upon in a matter of months.
The Grigolis continue to own the building, plus the one next door, so the husband will continue to manage the apartments.
The couple hopes to travel – in particular, to see their grandchildren on the West Coast, maybe Italy, maybe Greece. Who knows? He hopes to finally enjoy Otsego Lake, and maybe take up fishing.
Hearing the news, the kids all said, “Oh, Dad, we aren’t going to have the pizza anymore.”
The other Saturday morning, Sal Grigoli was getting ready to work out at the Clark Sports Center. “I’ve never been here on a Saturday before,” he said.
The transaction was low-key, and the word is just getting around. People ask him, “Are you going to leave the area?”
“Why would I leave here?” He looked at Diane; their eyes glistened. “I love it here.”