'This pandemic really put a stone on our grave': Famous Toronto pizzeria closes due to COVID-19
TORONTO -- Long-time customers began lining up four hours before Vesuvio Pizzeria and Spaghetti House opened its doors for the last time; each hoping for a last meal at a Junction institution that’s given many of them lasting memories.
“I travelled two hours from Muskoka today to be here,” Kevin Harrell, the first customer in line on Sunday said. “My family moved here in ‘62, so it was probably around ‘62 sometime when we had our first pizza in our house behind the laneway here.”
Michael Grech, who was next in line, says he first came to Vesuvio’s in 1973.
“And this is the first restaurant I brought my uncle to eat – to eat spaghetti and lasagna.”
Owner Ettore Pugliese says he is “devastated” to be closing his doors. The 81-year-old was just 19 when he opened Vesuvio’s alongside his brothers Attilio and Rocco, and his father Dominic.
“My God, I feel like crying. Some of these people I know for 40, 50 years,” he told CTV News Toronto. “Right now I feel devastated, very sad to end up like this, but we have no alternative.”
“This pandemic really put a stone on our grave.”
Pugliese’s brothers and father have passed on. His daughter Paola, who has worked with him for 28 years, says managing the business on her own would be too much.
“It’s an exhausting kind of life. Not having your weekends, your evenings, and having a family, they want to see me too... It’s a lot,” she said.
Ettore Pugliese says the business has hit rough patches before. In fact, the family closed the dining room for 16 years and only offered takeout until an alcohol ban in The Junction was lifted in 1997.
“Oh my God, by one vote. There was four recounts. It took four or five days to make it legal,” he said. “Was a tremendous celebration for us.”
But even that pales by comparison to the hit his business has taken from COVID-19. Pugliese says he’s lost 60 to 70 per cent of his customers.
“After the lockdown for restaurants, that finally put a nail on my coffin.”
Sunday was the last day Vesuvio’s would ever produce the New York-style pizza it became famous for. And while Pugliese, who has had triple-bypass surgery, could not be there in person to say goodbye, he had these parting words for customers.
“I kind of grew up with them, you know, so I’m really going to miss them. I like to thank ‘em. I wish I could hug ‘em all.”
Meanwhile, Sunday’s first customer, Kevin Harrell, left Vesuvio’s with two pizzas just after 3 p.m. He told CTV News Toronto his four-hour wait was worth it, for a memory that will last a lifetime.
“I’m going to frame this pizza box when I’m done.”