It’s where everybody knows your name. Westchester’s own “Cheers,” Tower Pizza, is making sure their customers are still being taken care of even though business looks a lot different these days.
Owner Tony Seruto opened Tower Pizza in August 1986. He had spent his life working in other people’s kitchens and he and wife Joanne dreamed of having a restaurant of their own. They envisioned opening a family-friendly eatery located close to where they both grew up–Joanne in Westport Heights and Tony in Playa del Rey. As an added bonus, they’d also be able to raise their kids back in their hometown. When Tony realized that no local place offered pizza delivery in the 80s, he saw an opportunity to try something new, so they sold their home near Glendale and opened their restaurant on Lincoln Blvd.
“It was an empty saloon with no kitchen,” Tony said. “So me and my father-in-law Richard Leger, an electrical contractor, physically built the location.”
Tony’s mother, Dr. Marilynn Pratt, a GP with a practice in Westchester, helped with a loan as well.
“My focus was on doing pizza delivery because of the university. Since I knew the neighborhood so well, I knew it would be a great opportunity,” he said. “At first, delivery went gangbusters, but the dining room was slow to catch on.”
Then a pizza franchise opened nearby and saturated the market with advertising. Tony and Joanne knew they had to do something different to really set themselves apart.
“I started to build a small family restaurant within the restaurant,” Tony said. “I focused more on the dining room and began sponsoring Little League teams, added TVs and a small arcade. Today, Tower is more like a sports grille inside. It ended up being a good marriage; delivery might have been slow, but the dining room became busy and filled with locals.”
They also began to offer catering, which before the Coronavirus, represented about 25 percent of their business.
Over the years, Tower Pizza has continued to give back to the community that supports the restaurant and is proud to sponsor youth sports like AYSO, DRALL, Westchester Little League, LMU Athletics and St. Anastasia and Visitation teams. Those partnerships have also made Tower the place to be after games and for team celebrations.
“With everyone coming in after their games, it made my sister Danielle and I very popular in grade school!” laughed daughter Nicole Pelka.
And after being in business for more than three decades, the Serutos are seeing more familiar faces.
“We’ve seen some of the kids from the teams we’ve sponsored grow up and now they’re coming in with their own children,” Joanne noted.
Retired regulars came in almost daily and many Westchester dads liked to come in and have a beer and a chat while their kids played videogames.
“We hear from so many parents that Tower is such a great place to go with kids because you can relax and your kids can have fun,” said Nicole. “You don’t have to worry about them being too loud or bothering anybody. Everybody has a good time.”
Tony adds, “It’s like a big family when you come in. We pretty much know everybody’s name, drink order and favorite food!”
A true mom and pop business, the Serutos and their two daughters work at the restaurant and all live near each other in Westchester. Their son Joseph lives in Portland, otherwise he’d probably be helping out in the family business, too.
Since the Coronavirus pandemic and the state order that restaurants must close their dining rooms, Tower Pizza has had to become more creative in order to keep their doors open. They’ve added contactless parking lot pickup where you pull into the parking lot after paying with a credit card over the phone. After popping the trunk, staff in masks and gloves place your order in your vehicle for you. They’ve also expanded their delivery area and have lower-priced daily specials.
“Our prices are always good, but they’re even better now!” laughs daughter Danielle Gulalo.
Danielle is also the mastermind behind the pizza kits Tower is now offering. With a 7-year-old, a 5-year-old and a 9-month-old, she knows firsthand about the difficulty of entertaining kids during quarantine, so she brainstormed ideas on how to keep them occupied.
“I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we made little kits to send home with them? I did a test run and it turned out great! It was just like my dad’s pizza,” said Danielle. “The kits include a ball of dough, some cheese, sauce, pepperoni if they want it and is enough for a personal size pizza. We also posted a tutorial online on how to stretch the dough nice and thin, the temperature to cook it and how long it should be in the oven. Westchester has become quite a family hub with so many young families moving in, so moms especially have jumped at the chance for their kids to learn something new.”
With the popularity of the kits for kids, they’ve now added one for couples, which is the Thursday dinner special.
“There are a lot of people stuck at home right now that are tired of their own cooking. Our kit includes everything you need to make a 12-inch pizza, as well as a salad and a bottle of wine of your choice. Takeout is the new eating out nowadays,” Danielle said.
Thanks to help from its dedicated fan base, Tower Pizza has also been feeding local essential workers.
“We’ve had a few of our customers reach out and donate money to us with the caveat that we turn around and put it back into the community,” said Danielle. “So far, we’ve provided lunches for the workers at Little Vons, the Pacific Division Police Department, Fire Station 5, the Ralphs on Lincoln and urgent care and emergency room workers.”
Inspired by the generosity of others, Tower Pizza is doing its own giveaway this month in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week and one lucky classroom will win a virtual pizza party, with kits for all the kids and their teacher. Details can be found on the Tower Pizza Facebook page.
While they’re grateful for the support from the community during this difficult time for all restaurants, the Serutos are looking forward to being able to do what they do best—greeting their customers as they walk through the door and being the community hangout for their regulars.
“Our customers are the best people! We can’t really put into words how much we appreciate the community and their support right now. We can’t wait to have our doors open and our dining room full and see everyone again,” Danielle said. “Over the years, my dad has been quick to lend a hand, sponsor a team, or donate food or gift cards. It’s now coming back tenfold, with the community showing their appreciation for us and standing by us during this time.”
Echoes Nicole, “It warms our hearts that despite not seeing these people daily, they’re thinking of us, praying for us and wanting to help in any way they can.”
As much as their customers have kept the business going over the years, so has the whole family that has worked to build a neighborhood institution in Westchester.
Said Tony, “I love my family and I couldn’t do this without them.”
By Consuelo Israelson.
Posted May 2020.