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Stefano’s Pizzeria

Pizzeria business that started in Pulaski just added a third location — owners say making pizza is a family tradition

By Stefan Yablonski

Amanda Magro and her husband, Salvatore, opened their pizza business 20 years ago in Pulaski. The Mexico residents then opened a second location in Mexico — in the former Crandall’s drug store. Now, just in June, they opened their third location — in Adams.

“Savie’s [Salvatore] uncles started a pizzeria in Sherburne in 1982, called Joe & Vinny’s. His dad [Stefano] began helping them on his days off from a textile factory,” Amanda said.

Stefano soon realized that he wanted his own pizzeria. He saw he could be his own boss and he really loved working in his brothers’ pizzeria.

“It’s ironic we are here today in Mexico because Stefano had the opportunity to go to either Mexico or Carthage and he chose Carthage because of the proximity to Utica [that is where he settled after he came to America and got married] and it ended up being the better deal,” she added.

Stefano opened his pizzeria in Carthage in 1985.

Savie has been in the pizzeria environment since he was a little kid, pretty much his entire life.

“He didn’t realize until later in life he would eventually want one of his own someday,” she said.

Amanda started working for her father-in-law the day after her 17th birthday; before she had even met her husband.

“I was on my way home from school one day; this was before cell phones were a big thing. And I wanted to stop by Stefano’s and check on my application. Stefano happened to be working at the time and interviewed me on the spot. I ended up getting the job and went home that day to hear a message from McDonald’s asking me if I was still interested in the job and if I would come in for an interview. I passed because I had just got hired at Stefano’s,” she said. “I started off as a dishwasher over 20 years ago and have learned the ins and outs of the business throughout the years.”

Savie grew up in the business; he has always worked for his family while in high school and attending college at Jefferson Community College. After finishing at JCC he went to The University at Buffalo to study to become a history teacher.

During this time, Savie realized his true purpose in life was the pizzeria.

After graduating from UB he decided with the help of his dad, he would open his own place. He always knew Pulaski would make a great place for a pizzeria, so that is where he wanted to go.

Working in the pizzeria was Amanda’s very first job. While in high school she did have another job — the dishwasher at her best friend’s family diner.

“I worked there on and off up until I graduated high school. After high school I went to SUNY Oswego because I wanted to be a physical therapist. Once I got into the program, after my first year, I quickly realized physical therapy was not for me. So, I left Oswego and I transferred to JCC. From there I graduated with a hospitality and tourism degree and instead of getting my bachelor’s, I went and got my real estate license and sold real estate for five years in Jefferson and Oswego counties, all the while, getting married, having two babies and running a young business with my husband,” she said.

Pizzas and wings make up 55% of their business in Pulaski, 75% of business in Mexico, 80% in Adams.

However, someone can sell 100 pizzas a day and still close their business six months later, she explained.

The amount of items sold and the amount of money something costs to start doesn’t determine whether or not someone is a success, she added.

“Starting the business required a significant investment; but it is hard to put an exact number on it. We are humble people and we happen to have a successful business because of the hard work that we put in day in and day out,” she said.

The secret to Stefano’s success?

Hard work and the willingness to do whatever it takes, she said, adding, “It is a lot of long hours, mentally and physically. You must be ready for anything and must be able to have the mental stamina to be the person that is going to answer all the questions and you have to have the physical strength to be able to work 80+ hours a week. Resiliency and determination are also a must. As the business changes, you must be able to change with it and to get back up when people knock you down.”

Every location has their favorite pizza.

“I would say Pulaski’s favorite pizza is cheese. Mexico, pepperoni and sausage; and Adams, it’s early to tell, but I would say anything with peppers,” she said.

Third location

As they have started their third location, they’ve had many growing pains.

“Savie and I have a plan to handle these locations once things settle down a little. We are working on a new routine. Since the opening of Adams, we have had to learn to adjust to challenges that have thrust upon us all the while trying to keep the consistency of what the customer expects,” she said. “Owning any business that relies on employees is and will always be the biggest challenge. We do have great staff and great managers. We do not have a lot of turnover with our staff, so it does make it a little easier to have that consistency that we all expect.”

The Adams location had been in the works since 2018. Due to various factors, including COVID-19, it delayed the opening by several years. It taught the couple that “opening any location now has the benefit of our 20+ years’ experience, yet without our youth, it does become more challenging. As for any future locations — our two kids 16 and 14, right now while they are still at home, they are and will be our priority. We know where we would like our next location to be. However, there are many factors to consider. Time, the right management and business structure, i.e., franchising and sustainability will be the ultimate determining factors.”

When opening any new location, their priority is to offer the opportunity to long-term employees. With any business there is always a ceiling. There is only so much a business can offer its employees, even the ones at the top of the proverbial ladder, she noted.

“What we try to do is offer them the opportunity to grow with the business. They have the potential to be their own boss and do something that they are very good at. We teach them everything we know and we are there for support every step of the way to help teach them and guide them. With doing this, it takes the ceiling away. They have something to work towards and can be as successful as they want to be, while we are able to still grow. It’s a win win for everyone,” she said.

Distinct locations

Each location varies. As much as they are the same, they are very different. Pulaski has a big dining room with servers; Mexico has a good size dining room, however no wait staff. (Having a wait staff in Mexico has proven to not be sustainable.) Adams is their smallest pizzeria to date.

“Business is changing and we must be able to adapt. It is no secret that everything today is expensive. And it’s not just for the consumers; it’s all the way around. Food costs, paper products, insurance, labor, all at an all-time high,” she said. “Over the last four years specifically the way people eat out has changed. A lot of that has to do with COVID-19. I can confidently say the rate at which business has changed in the last four years has been more rapid than the last 16. People are seeking convenience over most things. Look at Door Dash, Instacart, Grub Hub, Zoom. It doesn’t matter what your industry is. People are willing to pay more for what is easier for them and that is a huge factor.”

Employment has also been affected.

“Yes, it is difficult finding delivery drivers! I am not sure if it is because of the services like Door Dash or Grub Hub, but it does make finding your own drivers difficult,” she said.

What’s the busiest time for pizza?

“It is hard to say. Every year is different. There are a lot of factors that play into that. Super Bowl, it depends on the team that is playing whether you’re going to be busy. New Year’s, it depends on the weather. However, you always plan for it to be crazy. I would say they’re both good days for pizza. Halloween is a good one, too!” she said.

Amanda’s favorite part of the job is the people.

“Being in the service industry allows you to see people at their best — and their worst. The best part of this job used to be that at the end of the day, you got to enjoy it and then you got to start the next day. That also could go for bad days. Those days, you made mistakes or things didn’t go exactly how you wanted them to, and you could go home, reevaluate and learn from your mistakes and ‘leave it at work.’ However now, because of social media and different platforms like Google and Yelp even a good day and especially bad days you can never escape the negativities of a business. So even out of 100 experiences, 99 are positive and one is negative, the negative one is louder than all the good, and that is the hardest part of being in business today. At the end of the day, we’re human, we make mistakes and sometimes I think we all forget the human side of any business,” she said.

If they weren’t doing this — “We would be doing some form of this,” she said. “We both are extremely ambitious people and we love this kind of fast-paced business.”

Stefano’s Pizzeria — Where to Find

35 Main St., Adams

3852 State Route 13, Pulaski

3273 Main St., Mexico