Teresa Williams walked through the door at Cesare's of New York Pizzeria and stared hard at Silvana Bastone.
"Is it true?"
"Yes," Bastone said, her voice somber. She has made pizza at Cesare's for 38 years. But Thursday, she was stretching her last pies at the South Tampa landmark and closing the doors for good.
For decades, the pizzas here drew hundreds of Plant High School students across the street for lunch. Others came for the fresh tomatoes, spinach and the crispy crusts.
Williams, who owns nearby Enso Hair Studio, described her reaction as she ordered her last slice. "Devastated," she said. As former New Yorkers, she and Bastone always got each other's saucy comebacks, which can come off as rude to the uninitiated.
"Part of it is the entertainment," Bastone said about her business philosophy. "People love me or hate me."
"Well, we love you," said Tom Debrocke, eating a spinach pizza with his family.
Despite a cadre of loyal customers, the walls peppered with maps of Italy, family photos and newspaper articles will soon be cleared out of the corner restaurant at 2117 S Dale Mabry Highway.
Bastone counts 14 pizzerias located within a mile of her. It's hard to compete on price when she is making her own dough from her father's recipe and using fresh vegetables.
And don't ask her for that recipe.
"Ha! You and everyone else wants to know," she said.
The pizzeria was opened by her parents, who met in Italy and married when both were young. Cesare and Eva Bastone came to the United States in 1949 and began making pizzas in the Bronx. In 1976, they moved to Tampa and opened this pizzeria.
Cesare loved tomatoes and rented land in Manatee County to grow his own, along with swiss chard and basil. He sold his extra produce on the counter in the early years. He played the trombone and trumpet and brought recordings into the restaurant to play for customers.
Arthur Savage, 52, remembers those days. He has been coming to Cesare's since he was in Coleman Middle School and teasing Bastone the whole time.
"You still can't find good help, huh, Cesare?" he used to say.
Cesare died in 2008 and Eva in 2012. Silvana can't dwell on them without tears flowing.
She made her first pizza at 11. She turned 59 in July and has been working more than 100 hours a week, she said, without a vacation since 2001.
V.V. Pupello of Lutz got hooked on Cesare's spinach pizza, with a side of Silvana's fresh talk more than 30 years ago.
"She's very real, very honest," he said.
Behind the counter, Bastone hung up the phone.
"Those people drive me crazy — 'eat it here, take it out,' — Mama mia, make up your mind."
She winks at another customer as she rants.
"There's going to be a handful of people I'm going to miss," she said. "The rest of them … "
She wiped tears and hugged customers while serving up her last 60 pies for lunch. Bastone was out of dough by 12:30 p.m. A dozen red roses sat on the counter, a gift from Elizabeth Blalock, 24, who got the last pizza.
"It's been a long run and I miss my family," Bastone said.
Contact Elisabeth Parker at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.