SPRING HILL — Early Italian immigrants passing through Ellis Island brought along their "tomato pie" and pasta culture, introducing the starch-heavy fare to New Yorkers.
When Danny and Angela Leporino emigrated from New York to Spring Hill in 1988, they brought those same recipes here, to the community’s ongoing delight.
Pizza Villa, founded by the husband and wife team and located off Cortez Boulevard, celebrated its 30th anniversary on Aug. 26.
The secret of their success? It’s in the recipes.
"I haven’t changed anything," Danny Leporino said. "Nothing’s changed, and there’s always a family member present."
Additions and modifications have ensued. From the original pizza and three pasta plates, today’s menu touts 14 pizza toppings, more than 30 entrees and a dozen heroes and sandwiches. There are appetizers and desserts, too.
A second Pizza Villa opened in 2004 on Spring Hill Drive under the guidance of son Anthony. Employees now number 35. And Angela Leporino doesn’t wash the dishes anymore.
"Maybe 55 percent of the business (today) is pizza," Danny Leporino said. Sausage, pepperoni and meatballs lead the list of brandishments that stretch to pineapple and broccoli. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are available.
No one is surprised the pizza is New-York style, "crispy crust that’s soft inside," Danny Leporino, 62, explained.
The kitchen can use 30 or so 50-pound sacks of high-gluten flour a week, dough formed and proofed overnight for the next day’s baking. The pizzas cook in one of four 450-degree ovens. The combination keeps people coming back.
"There’s some who’ve been coming since we opened," the owner said, gesturing to the booths that seat up to 58.
"We came here when he was across the street," said Ed Soucie. Ed and Karen Soucie, and Ron and Kim Loomis — almost daily diners, same table every visit — were finishing a round of minestrone soup, fried mozzarella sticks, wings and a salad while awaiting a pizza to share.
"Spaghetti and meatballs to take home," added Kim Loomis.
Referencing other long-time customers, Danny Leporino said, "Their kids’ kids are now bringing their kids."
The most popular among pasta dishes is the Villa Seafood, with half-shell clams, scallops and shrimp in the long-simmered, fourth-generation recipe sauce.
Veal Sorrentino, with layers of eggplant, ham and mozzarella among veal slices, is a favorite among meat dishes. Sliced veal, he emphasized, not ground patties.
At their Spring Hill Drive location, Anthony Leporino, 32, has found favor for an array of steak dishes to feed the mainly dinner crowd.
Danny Leporino started rolling out dough at the age of 4 in his grandfather’s pizzeria in Brooklyn. Before he left New York, he was working at this dad’s restaurant on Long Island.
He and Angela plunged all they’d earned and saved into their Florida endeavor. The evening before their opening, Danny recalled, "we were broke" and had no money to stock the till. They grabbed two gallons of pennies they’d collected over the years, counted and socked them into 50-cent paper rolls to use next day as change.
The next day, customers lined up out the door.
"I’ve seen a lot of (pizza shops) come, and I’ve seen a lot go," Danny Leporino said. Pizza Villa has proved its staying power.
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]