I have a background in journalism. While attending my junior college, I wrote for the paper and ended up working as their feature editor my last semester before transferring to CSUF. This last semester at Fullerton I decided to tread back into journalism, at least a little, by taking a features writing class. For my final I decided to write on Pompeii’s Pizza Parlor. Although I have already done a write up on this community gem, I decided to share my article with you. It offers, much more history on this place than my past posts.
It’s tucked away in a strip mall long forgotten by time. With uneven payment and cracked cement, time has not been kind to the establishments on the corner of Maple Grove and Valinda in West Covina, Calif. Squeezed into a tight corner you find the city’s hidden gem, Pompeii’s Pizza Parlor.
Small in appearance from the outside, one step into Pompeii’s and it opens up before you. One nook of the restaurant, solely dedicated to take outs, offers a nice view of the always bustling kitchen. Through a small doorway, on your right, the restaurant expands into freshly painted room with classic and clean red and black booths. The walls are lined with murals, huge paintings of the ancient city of Pompeii.
Your ears will be filled with happy chatter and your nose will be overwhelmed with warm scents of cheesy pizza, garlic, and pasta sauces.
Pompeii’s opened their doors in 1960 by the Dimopoulos family.
“I remember having a lot of fun that night,” John Garside describes his first memory at Pompeii’s. “It was very dimly lit back then, so between the dim lighting and the amazing murals on the walls, for a kid who was probably 3 or 4, it almost felt like I was at Disney land.” Garside began going to Pompeii’s as a toddler in the mid 70’s.
Nikkitas Dimopoulos, or Mr. Dimopoulos as he is referred to today, began his career in pizza at Scardino’s, a literal hole in the wall, still open and popular today in the city of La Puente, just a few blocks away from where Pompeiis is located.
Scardino’s to this day is still a tiny operation, serving only take out, with room for no more than three people to stand inside their establishment while they wait for their pizza. Every night though, they still have a line out the door. This is where Mr. Dimopoulos learned to make pizzas and other Italian dishes people would demand.
Mr. Dimopoulos left Scardino’s and began his own establishment. Pompeii’s, modeled very similarly to Scardino’s, originally began as just a takeout restaurant, in the take out nook that still exists today. As the take out became successful Mr. Dimopoulos expanded the restaurant adding the dining area and a small banquet hall.
When Mr. Dimopoulos died the restaurant transferred over to his son, who people today simply refer to as Johnny. Johnny continued his father’s legacy and the restaurant continued to grow in popularity, until mid-2012 when Johnny decided to sell his family’s restaurant.
“I felt like a part of me was gone. I know that sounds dramatic, but I have been going there my entire life,” Garside describes his reaction to Pompeii’s closing its doors.
The neighborhood did not take too well to that and in the span of five months the location went through two owners. Both failed. The customers wanted Pompeii’s.
Johnny first sold to The Pizza Company which has a fairly successful restaurant in Hacienda Heights, just a few towns over.
They couldn’t make it in Pompeii’s location so they sold to Dominic’s, another established pizza brand, which also failed to find acceptance in the neighborhood.
“Customer’s wanted Pompeii’s,” says Raquel Barbiere. Barbiere runs Pompeii’s social media pages as well as helps out on the weekends.
After running through two owners in less than half a year, the building stayed empty for a few months and that meant trouble for the neighborhood. Barbiere said Pompeii’s brought life to the neighborhood and the surrounding area, and with it gone and the space empty vandalism and theft in the strip mall began to rise.
The owner of the building needed something back in Pompeii’s spot and approached Johnny to re-open. Johnny simply couldn’t handle the demanding work of running a restaurant and turned down the offer, but extended the offer to now owner Mike Bango. Along with the offer to buy Pompeii’s came the rights to the name as well as all the family recipes that the neighborhood had grown to love.
“I was born and raised in the city of Valinda and when offered the chance to re-open Pompeii Pizza, I couldn’t resist,” Bango says on Pompeii’s website. “I love the restaurant as much as all my dedicated customers.”
Bango has 20 years of work experience at Pompeii’s under his belt. Beginning when he was only 16, Bango began as a dishwasher and worked his way up. He even had the opportunity to work under Mr. Dimopoulos himself. Mr. Dimopoulos taught him how to prepare the amazing pizza and pastas Pompeii’s is known for.
When Johnny took over he taught Bango the business side of things. Bango learned how to balance a quality product with the financial side of things.
Today Bango is combining everything he learned from the Dimopoulos family and working to keep that which is Pompeii’s alive.
Running Pompeii’s is truly a family effort. New to the restaurant business, Bango has pulled help from all corners of his family. Barbiere’s sister runs the cash register, while nephews and cousins work the kitchen and the floor. Bango also does a lot of work himself.
For the young people working at Pompeii’s, family or not, the establishment looks out for them. With hours accommodating to high school and college students, all young employees are encouraged to attend school.
Since the re-opening the overall response from the public has been good. Barbiere says that re-opening Pompeii’s was like bringing something classic back, and because of that, they have gotten a lot of support from people and the overall community.
She says that Pompeii’s is a piece of many of their customers’ childhoods and people who have moved out of the area will re-route their trips and detour when they come through Southern California to simply stop at Pompeii’s.
When Pompeii’s first opened in the ‘60s a lot of its traffic and customer base came from the surrounding high schools, Workman and La Puente High School. Many of those alumni still frequent Pompeii’s.
Kelly Orr is one of those alumni who began going to Pomepeii’s in the ‘60s. He says his first impression of the restaurant was how good the pizza was.
Kelly’s wife, Sylvia Orr, didn’t begin going to Pompeii’s until the late ‘70s, but said she was initially attracted to the strange interior, the murals that are still on the walls today.
Both Kelly and Sylvia Orr were hesitant when Pompeii’s reopened, they said they were nervous that it would not be the same as before. They were pleasantly surprised that it had not changed a bit.
“Although we both really don’t eat much pizza anymore, it is still our go to place when family and friends come over,” Kelly said.
1425 Valinda Ave
West Covina, CA 91744
Pompeii’s official website – http://www.pompeiipizzaparlor.com/