Customers are the ingredient to success of a New York Style Pizza restaurant in Gilbert.
Not only do local residents know about Sal’s Gilbert Pizza, but the whole country does – thanks to Guy Fieri featuring the popular pizzeria on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” on the Food Network.
“It was beautiful,” said owner Sal Cuffaro, referring to the filming of the segment. “It was very energetic.”
Fieri and his crew visited the Gilbert pizzeria two years ago.
“We had to cook everything prior to his visit,” Cuffaro said.
That’s so the crew could immediately videotape the “before” and “after” of an entree or pizza going into the oven and coming out.
“I had to do everything. Nobody helped me,” Cuffaro added. “It was just me. He wanted me to cook off the menu,” referring to Fieri.
While Cuffaro cooked many dishes, only two were featured on the show.
“He chose the baked ziti pizza and the chicken marsala pizza. He loved everything. He picked those two.”
Cuffaro admitted it was a little nerve-racking cooking in front of a famous chef and TV crew.
“In the beginning, I was a little nervous but once you know him, he’s a very nice guy. He jokes with you so it makes you feel good.”
He had to close the restaurant for four days since the crew was there with Fieri showing up the final day of videotaping.
All of this for a segment that lasted just a few minutes.
But Cuffaro said it was worth it. Not only was it a good experience, but he said business picked up by at least 25-30 percent right after the segment aired on the Food Network. The segment is still airing.
Cuffaro runs the restaurant with his wife Grace Cuffaro. They have three children, 18, 15 and 13.
Born in Italy, Cuffaro visited his brother in New York in 1988 and ended up liking it so much he stayed.
Cuffaro worked at his brother’s Stars Pizza restaurant in Brooklyn. Together, they opened another Stars Pizza in Queens. Cuffaro then moved to Gilbert in 2005 and opened Sal’s Gilbert Pizza.
So, what makes this pizza place stand out from the rest? Customers love the different pizza concoctions.
“We do a lot of creations like pasta pizza, lasagna pizza, spaghetti & meatball pizza, chicken marsala pizza,” Cuffaro said.
“We have one pizza called ‘grandma’ — it’s a lot of peoples’ favorite. It’s a little square with provolone cheese, crushed tomatoes, garlic and basil. It’s one of my favorites.”
Customers also keep coming back for the “good quality, good service, personality.”
Despite intense competition from nearby restaurants along Gilbert’s “restaurant strip” downtown, Cuffaro has managed to survive.
He readily explains why.
“We have a lot wonderful customers. Customers love us, we love back so it’s a good ingredient.”
Another reason, Cuffaro said, is “A lot of people prefer ma-and-pa shops.”
“It’s just authentic Italian. All natural ingredients.”
The restaurant seats about 100 and can accommodate large parties up to 50. Cuffaro will soon expand next door.
It’s Cuffaro’s only location but he said he might eventually open another if his kids have an interest in getting into the restaurant business.
During lunch time, up until 4 p.m., customers go to the counter to order and the food is brought to the table. After 4 p.m., waitresses take orders.