Edit ModuleShow Tags

Time Capsule: Coletta’s Italian restaurant

This Memphis institution helped put pizza on the map in the Mid-South with a “smoking” innovation.



In 1922, Emil Coletta opened the Suburban Ice Cream Company, selling ice cream and Italian dishes. But when his son Horest took over the business in the early 1950s, he decided to focus more on food and added pizza to the menu. Largely unfamiliar to Memphis residents, pizza didn’t sell so well—at first. 

“To try to stimulate interest in pizza in general, he came up with the idea of barbecue pizza, which no one, even in Chicago or New York, had at the time,” recalls current owner Jerry Coletta, Horest’s son. “But in Memphis everyone knew what barbecue was, and people liked the pizza and started coming back for more.”

Though barbecue pizzas are on menus nationwide today, this Coletta’s signature item is difficult to copy, thanks to a homemade barbecue sauce and pork that’s smoked in-house. The specialty pie helped make expansion possible: By the late 1950s, Horest had opened up a second location, which burned down in 1996; a new second location was opened in East Memphis in 1999 and is managed by a fourth generation of Colettas. And it doesn’t hurt to have a celebrity endorsement—Elvis Presley frequently dined at the original restaurant, so fans from around the world regularly pop in to sit at Elvis’ table and peruse the memorabilia on the walls. 

To maintain consistency between locations, the restaurant makes its barbecue sauce, ravioli, meat sauce (300 gallons per week) and meatballs in a commissary, but the most important work takes place within the restaurants’ walls. “We try to get to know our customers by name,” Jerry says. “It’s one area in which independents can excel when competing with chains. Get out front and get to know the people who come in. Make your customers your friends. That’s what makes the restaurant business an enjoyable experience.” 

Edit Module

Tell us what you think at or email.

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Articles

Product Spotlight - April 2019

PMQ brings you the brightest ideas around for April 2019

SmartMarket: 5 ways DoorDash drives sales to your business

Pizza Sports Make a Splash on ESPN3

As ESPN3 brings U.S. Pizza Team events to a national audience, pizza sports can raise your restaurant’s profile and help you boost your sales and profits.

Danger, Will Robinson? As Robotics Improve, How Will They Affect the Pizza Biz?

Food bots can already make pretty good pies. And as they get smarter and cheaper, they could reinvent the pizza business.

Chef's Corner: Anthony Spina-O4W Pizza

Inspired by his own grandmother, this New Jersey pizzaiolo has brought classic Grandma-style pies to the ATL.

How to Build a Private-Label Food Business

It all starts with a high-quality product and extensive market research, says Lenny Rago of Panino’s Pizza.

Pizza Sports are Here to Stay, and Competitors Are Set to Become Stars

Tips for gaining a competitive edge in this year's acrobatic events, broadcast on ESPN3!

How to Par-Bake Crusts in an Air Impingement Oven

Follow Tom Lehmann's five-step method to prevent the development of pita-like pockets in your crusts.

Tyson Smokehouse Pizza - Recipe of the Month

Bonici Mesquite Pepperoni and Bakin' Bacon top off this spicy pie from Tyson Foodservice.

Old Forge-Style Pizza is a Cut Above

As the self-proclaimed pizza capital of the world, Old Forge, Pennsylvania has a style—and a sense of community—that’s all its own.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags