Pizza joint celebrates 50 years

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published June 8, 2011

 Tony’s Pizzeria & Restaurant owner Danny Nieri will roll back prices on popular menu items June 14-16 to near 1961 prices to thank customers for 50 years of loyalty.

Tony’s Pizzeria & Restaurant owner Danny Nieri will roll back prices on popular menu items June 14-16 to near 1961 prices to thank customers for 50 years of loyalty.

Photo by Deb Jacques


When the Nieri family first opened Tony’s Pizzeria & Restaurant on Dequindre in 1961, the cost of a small pizza was just under $2; a plate of spaghetti with chicken liver cost a little bit more; and oysters were a hot seller.

Customers could watch the “pizza guy” flip the dough into the air in the kitchen from their tables.

Fifty years later, some of the same things are still on the menu and in the kitchen. You can still get a plate of spaghetti with chicken liver, and the Nieris still use the same dishwashing machine and bread and pizza dough maker they did in 1961. The dough machine turns out more than 150 pounds of bread dough a pop, and the pepperoni is still sliced by hand on site.

Danny Nieri, the current owner, started helping out at the restaurant when he was 9 years old.

His job was peeling potatoes.

“I had it down to a science,” he said. “I could do 100 pounds at a time.”

His father, Oriano Nieri, and aunt, Flora Frank, started the business with a loan from their father and named the restaurant Tony’s after him. Louise Budzanowski, a neighbor of Oriano Nieri’s, started in 1961 and cooked for Tony’s for 25 years.

Danny Nieri stayed with the business while he studied hospitality at Michigan State University and earned a Bachelor of Business from Walsh College.

“I worked three jobs to put myself through college,” he said. “I never abandoned Tony’s.”

His wife, Andrea, and three sons, Justin, Jordan and Jonathan, help out at the restaurant. His youngest daughter, Jessica, 8, helps to “motivate him,” Nieri said.

“She tells me I need to go to work and take care of the customers,” he said.

The recipes are inspired by the Nieris’ visit with Danny’s grandparents in Lucca, Italy — in the northern part, near Milan — when he was about 9.

He remembers waking up early to go into the town for fresh bread, which his grandmother would spread with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with sugar. He remembered that taste, and duplicates it with his own Italian dressing he makes on site, about 12 gallons worth a week.

The city of Troy awarded Tony’s a quota liquor license in 1991. Nieri explained his father had attempted to buy a transfer license, and the city awarded him a quota license instead. So his father used the money set aside for the more expensive transfer license to remodel the restaurant.

Nieri remembers a lot of customers and employees spanning 50 years — “Buzzy,” the customer who borrowed $50 for a “sick aunt” and really gambled it away; “the professor,” who drove a Jeep used for delivery into a ditch, flipped it, and it caught fire; “Carmen the waitress,” who fooled a young Nieri into believing a restaurant filled with people was waiting for him — it was empty; and Mr. Russell, a customer who would hang out in the kitchen and tell customers, “We don’t serve crabs.”

Nieri said the best selling menu items these days are spaghetti, chicken parmigiana, pepperoni pizzas, lasagna, Italian subs and antipasto salad. Erin Levitt, who’s been with Tony’s for two years, said she serves a lot of the chicken and the minestrone soups.

Nieri’s favorite part of the restaurant business is “always trying to make it better. I meet a lot of nice people, and I get to do something people enjoy,” he said.

As a way to give back to the community and celebrate 50 years in business, Nieri said Tony’s will roll back prices June 14-16 and charge $5.99 for a large one-item round pizza, $4.99 for a medium and $3.99 for a small. Free cake will be served at 6 p.m. June 15.

Tony’s is located at 34781 Dequindre and open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, and 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday; the restaurant offers a full-service bar. Carryouts are available. Call (248) 588-1636.