Family's Pizza Tradition Passed Down Through Generations
Angelo's Pizza is a staple in Matawan and the stitching that has kept the Sanfratello family close for almost 40 years
John Sanfratello is standing behind the counter of Angelo's Pizza, greeting customers by name as they come in for lunch, while his 18-year-old son Joe, a senior at Christian Brothers Academy, is busy making pizzas and focaccia sandwiches.
It's a Thursday afternoon, and as the clock hits 12:30, the popular pizzeria quickly fills up, some grabbing take-out as they head back to the office and others finding a seat at a table to enjoy their meal.
This, however, is not just any lunch rush for John. Not only is his son working, but his father and the first Sanfratello to own the pizzeria, Jerry, is visiting from Florida.
"We're here third generation," John said. "I grew up here with my sister and my brother and my dad and my mom. It made for a tight family environment and now my kids have been able to grow up in the business as well."
The popular pizzeria is a staple in Matawan, standing proudly at the corner of Broad Street and Route 79 for forty years now. Many of the regular customers today, John said, are people that he attended school with as a child in Matawan.
"We have customers who are here with the third or fourth generation. Their great-grand kids come here now, they've been coming so long. It's great to see the community grow and the families in particular grow right along with us."
But the Sanfratello's pizza tradition dates back longer than 38 years that have passed since Jerry purchased the pizzeria from his good friend Angelo in 1974.
When Jerry was 39, he immigrated from Italy to America and joined his cousins at Pizza City in Times Square. It was there he learned the importance of properly kneading the dough, the perfect cheese to sauce ratio and every other element that goes into making an excellent pizza pie.
"He learned in the heart of Manhattan, in Times Square. Our family, his cousins, had one of the original pizzerias on 42nd Street in Times Square." John said, translating for Jerry, who spoke Italian. "He was there when the Twin Towers were going up; he says he saw the Twin Towers being built."
The hours at Pizza City were long, with the pizzeria closing at 4 a.m. only to reopen at 8 a.m., in order to complete all of the preparation work.
"As a young boy, I remember my dad coming home very late at night," John said. The family lived in Brooklyn while Jerry trained in the art of pizza making.
But the long hours proved to be worth it. It was at Pizza City that he learned all of the trade secrets that have made Angelo's a success for nearly four decades.
"When we go to Times Square with the kids, I tell him this is where our pizza tradition comes from, right in the heart of Manhattan because this is where he learned from his family," John said.
Today, the Sanfratello family still uses the same recipes and fresh ingredients. There are no canned tomatoes, no frozen cheeses, and everything, every day, is made fresh. John even has fresh rosemary drying in one of the pizza ovens.
"We do things in a very traditional way. It takes longer and it's more expensive, but we believe it's the best way," John said.
This traditional taste, he said, is what keeps his customers loyal.
"It's our consistency in our ingredients that we use. We've been here such a long time that people have invariably moved away or gone away for college. They come back and many times the first place they'll go to is Angelo's. It brings them back to their childhood, to being in Matawan," John said. "They all say the same thing, that it still tastes the same. We use the same ingredients, the same recipes, which is good for making a consistent product."
Even though the recipes originated from one of the first pizzerias in the heart of Manhattan, John emphasized that the family never claims to be from anywhere other than Matawan.
"We've always said we were from Matawan. We never claimed to make NY style pizza. We like to identify ourselves with Matawan, not some other town or borough," John said. "We're proud to be from Matawan, for Matawan and Aberdeen and the surrounding communities. That's who we cater to and people know that."
One customer, who comes in about three times a week, travels from his office in Lincroft just to enjoy lunch at Angelo's. Dave Bertone, who previously lived in Old Bridge but has since moved to Freehold, started coming to Angelo's 23 years ago.
"Most people look at the board and see cold subs and pizzas, but then you go to the menu and it's extravagant," Bertone said, who had chosen a salad that afternoon. "It's all fresh ingredients and it's a unique menu for a pizzeria."
Bertone even came up with his own roast beef sandwich, which, after some tweaks, is now on the menu as a focaccia sandwich with roasted red peppers, balsamic dressing and your choice of cheese.
But driving from Lincroft to Matawan is nothing nothing compared to the customers from across the country, who have called from as far as Seattle and San Diego to have an Angelo's pie overnighted to them, just for a familiar taste of home.
The family business hopes to have many more successful years ahead of them. Joe made his first pizza when he was about 6 years old, and John's younger son, Anthony, is 8 years old now and works on weekends.
"I've been making pizza for two to three years on a steady basis," Joe said. "It's pretty cool. It's an interesting experience to see my grandfather and then my dad."
"People like that. You don't see a lot of true family owned and operated businesses now," John said.
John's sister opened a pizzeria in Palm Beach in Florida, John said, and that's where she and their father live year round. His brother, who passed away in 1989, used to own a breakfast and lunch spot on Lower Main Street in Matawan named Carmen's. He has also had several cousins who came to Angelo's to train before going on to open their own pizzeria's.
Joe is leaving Matawan to study computer science and business at Lehigh University in the fall, and doesn't know yet if he will eventually take over Angelo's.
No matter what happens though, Jerry is just happy to see that the family hasn't lost sight of what's important.
"He's very happy when he sees the family together here, still able to work together and be united," John translated for Jerry. "It's always been an important thing in our family to be able to work together. We were always close."