Patti Vinson: Pietro and his family remember 50 years in the restaurant industry

Pietro’s is that wonderful, old world restaurant on Richmond Avenue, just steps from Lower Greenville. That lovely little place with the red-checkered tablecloths, piped-in Pavarotti and eggplant parmesan like no other.

Sadly though, it’s soon to be no more, no closing date has been announced. Owner Pietro Eustachio plans to lease the property when the right offer comes along.

Until then, he and his family will continue to welcome customers as family, serving up big platters of comfort. If you’ve visited the establishment, chances are you saw Pietro himself wandering around the restaurant, tossing his famous Caesar salad tableside, or chatting with customers in his thick Sicilian accent.

His is an American dream kind of story. A native of Mezzojuso, a small town 20 miles southeast of Palermo, Pietro was 16 when he and his parents and two brothers boarded a ship in 1950, bound for New York City.

“We came to the United States for a better opportunity to make a living,” he says, remembering how the ship was “very crowded with others from Italy.”

Eventually, the family made its way to Dallas to stay with relatives who had already settled here.

Pietro found work making dough in a frozen pizza factory, where he toiled for seven long years. He then made a fateful trip back home to Italy, a two-month visit during which he caught up with family and met the lovely Grazia (Grace) Sciortino, at a dance. “We fell in love,” he smiles, and promised to send for Grace when he was better established.

But Pietro was disheartened to return to his pizza factory job and learn his pay would be cut in half for missing work.

So Pietro, along with parents Salvatore and Rosalia, and brothers Vince and Joe, decided enough was enough and formulated a plan. Pietro approached a friend with means, presented his case and, based on a handshake, walked away with a $40,000 loan to open his own pizzeria.

The little place that served mostly pizza and sandwiches was located in a storefront near the present-day The Grape. Business was good, and Pietro and family expanded to the current location in 1972, making good use of Mama Rosalia’s recipes.

They built their restaurant with living quarters upstairs, a common practice in Europe. “We raised our kids there,” nods Grace, Pietro’s wife of 52 years. And the children, Pietro Jr., Rosalia and Claudia, all helped out in the restaurant.

Claudia laughs. “The kids at school thought it was cool my parents had a restaurant,” she says.

It truly has been a family affair, with immediate and extended family pitching in. Cousin Santo Spataro is the chef, Grace’s brother Enzo Sciortino serves as sous chef, and nephews wait tables and help as needed. Daughter Rose fondly remembers working in the restaurant. “We had fun running around and working together.”

Pietro and Grace work in the kitchen every day starting at about 8:30 a.m., with Pietro making his coveted red sauce, meatballs, sausage and lasagna, “all from scratch.” Grace bakes bread and makes cheesecake and cannoli. Chef Santo is ever-present in the immaculate kitchen. Almost all the pasta is freshly made onsite.

But five decades in the restaurant business is a long time, and Pietro’s has enjoyed a good run. Pietro has served up chicken parmigiana and spaghetti with meatballs to the likes of Stanley Marcus, former governor Bill Clements, Italian crooner Al Martino and many a Dallas Cowboy. Loyal customers routinely celebrate milestones at this welcoming bistro, and it’s been found to be the perfect venue for engagement parties and other festivities.

Walk into the unassuming lobby, and you’ll see a stately portrait of Pietro from the 1970s and a couple of framed reviews. But on every available tabletop, on the walls and at the bar, you’ll see family photos, almost every one of Pietro and one of his grandsons, Peter, Nicholas and Joseph.

The restaurant business is hard work with long hours, and Pietro and Grace, now in their 70s, are ready for more time with those grandchildren. They beam as they show off photos of their newest grandchild, 15-month-old Grace. “She’s so smart,” boasts Pietro, who is teaching his little granddaughter Italian. “She’s my princess.”

Pietro’s daughter, Claudia, admits she and the rest of family are sad about the restaurant closing. But it’s time. “My parents are the most wonderful, giving, hard-working people in the world. They have worked so hard, not only for them but for their children. They deserve to finally get a chance to relax and enjoy life.”


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