Iconic Wilkes-Barre Pizzeria Owner Ricci Dies

March 7, 2019
Iconic Wilkes-Barre Pizzeria Owner Ricci Dies

Angelo Ricci, the iconic Wilkes-Barre pizzeria owner who inspired his two sons to open their own pizza shops in the city, died Wednesday. He was 87.

Ricci, who retired several years ago but still had a passion for the brand he built, had been hospitalized for several weeks with a virus, his sons said.

In 1963, Ricci purchased a struggling pizza shop in the city, learned the business and then relocated Angelo’s Pizza to its current location at 445 Hazle St.

There, he groomed his children for a future in the business.

His eldest son, Angelo Jr., opened Ricci’s Pizza on Park Avenue in 1979 and his other son, Gerry, opened Gerry’s Pizza on Carey Avenue in 1981.

Ever since, it’s been a friendly family competition. A new twist was added to the rivalry several years ago when Ricci’s grandson, Billy, the son of Ricci Jr., purchased Angelo’s Pizza.

“We keep it in the family. We were never competition. We call Angelo’s the flagship. We learned everything there. We took the recipe with us, but we run our own businesses,” said Angelo Ricci Jr., 65, who runs Ricci’s Pizza at 155 Park Ave. “It’s a pizza empire and he created the whole thing himself. He created a shot for us to carry everything on.”

Ricci Jr. shared the advice he gave his son Billy, 34, when he took over for his grandfather.

“We told him not to change anything. It it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Ricci Jr. said.

Gerry Ricci, who owns Gerry’s Pizza at 496 Carey Ave., called his father a “legend.”

“He taught me everything I needed to know to get into the pizza business. He never tried to hold me back,” Gerry Ricci, 61, said.

Gerry Ricci said that although the family has three separately owned businesses, they are run in a similar manner and help each other.

“We all buy from the same supplier, use the same sauce, same cheese, same ingredients,” he said.

Each tweaks their sauce, though.

Of the three, Angelo’s pioneered the sweet sauce pizza.

“That was a big hit. We followed shortly after that when we saw it was taking off,” Gerry Ricci said. “If we told them we didn’t have sweet sauce, they’d turn around and go to Angelo’s.”

In an effort to top one another for family bragging rights, the owners also kept a scorecard on positive media attention or accolades bestowed, such as being selected as part of The Citizens’ Voice Readers Voice Awards.

They’d also be sure to alert one another when a loyal customer to one particular store tried either of the other two.

“We had a lot of fun with that,” Gerry Ricci said. “We’d be like, ‘This one was here to see me today, one of your customers.’”

Gerry Ricci said it was “weird” that Ricci died on Ash Wednesday, one of the busiest days of the year in the pizza business because many people give up meat on certain days in Lent.

In addition to his sons, Ricci, of Hanover Twp., is survived by his wife, Bernadine, 87, two daughters, Deborah Buratti and Carmalina Nealon, and many other family members.

A viewing is slated for Sunday at the McLaughlin Funeral Home in Wilkes-Barre and the funeral will be held Sunday at St. Leo’s Church in Ashley. Times were still being determined.

Angelo’s, Ricci’s and Gerry’s were all open on Wednesday as usual.

People arriving at Angelo’s to pick their orders offered condolences to the staff, which was working hard with a heavy heart.

“We feel he wouldn’t want us to close,” Gerry Ricci said.

Contact the writer:

bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2055, @cvbobkal