NEW PORT RICHEY — Carl Serpe Sr. had been a cop for the New York Police Department for a decade when he had to do something he didn't want to do — retire.
A back injury was to blame. But Serpe still needed an income. So, he opened a restaurant, which has turned out to be a much more successful endeavor.
This year, Leaning Tower of Pizza is celebrating its 40th year.
It's a family-owned and operated Italian restaurant — and also "a legacy," its owner says.
Serpe, who laughs as he insists that "nobody knows how old I am," was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and lived in Queens and Long Island. His parents were from Italy. His dad was from Genoa; his mom, who died when he was 9, from Naples; and his stepmother, from Sicily.
All his life, Serpe wanted to be an officer. To stop working as one "was horrible," he said. "I think I went through a depression."
By then, his dad had moved to Holiday, so Serpe visited.
"I said, 'Boy, this is a nice place to live,' " he said. "Found a lot, bought it, sold my house in New York and came down here."
His dad had a suggestion for his son: start a restaurant. A distant cousin owned one in Holiday and could help. Serpe decided to try it.
His cousin found the spot on Grand Boulevard in New Port Richey, then across from a field of cattle. Serpe created the menu.
"Pizza, calzones and some sandwiches," he said. "That's all I had."
But the public in Pasco liked it.
"Six months in, we had a good, steady clientele," he said.
Four decades later, he still does.
"I have customers that used to come here as kids," Serpe said. "Now, they're bringing their grandkids."
His restaurant, one of the oldest in Pasco, has grown with his customers' families. It started as one shop in a strip and could seat 45. Now, it's the entire strip and seats 120. It also has a full Italian menu.
Serpe's son, Carl Serpe Jr., 47, is now his business partner, co-owning Leaning Tower.
"I started working (at the restaurant) when I was like 12" on Friday and Saturday nights, said the younger Serpe.
He washed dishes until high school. Then he took on more hours and work. By 18, he knew what he wanted to do for a living: own and operate the restaurant.
"I wanted him to take it over," said Serpe Sr., who now considers himself retired. But he spends a lot of time at Leaning Tower, like lots of his customers.
When customer Frank Gucciardi first showed up, the restaurant hadn't opened yet.
"He was a week short of opening," said Gucciardi, who also is a retired NYPD officer. "I went back when he did open, bought a pizza, loved it."
Forty years later, he eats there two or three times a week.
"The food is delicious," Gucciardi said. "And (Serpe Sr.) makes everybody feel very comfortable."
Leaning Tower of Pizza is open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 10 p.m. Sundays, for dine-in, pickup or delivery.