In 1960, Italian immigrants Pat DeLuca and his brother-in-law Jim openedthe Willow Bar, a neighborhood bar for nearby factory workers, in Lansing,Michigan, but the pizza they served became so popular the business eventuallyswitched its name to DeLuca’s Restaurant and Pizzeria (delucaspizza.com). When Jim retired in 1977,the transition to family eatery wasalready under way as word spreadabout the pies, which featuredhearty sauce, a medium-thickcrust, and generous amountsof cheese and toppings. “Whenthey opened the business, ethnicfoods were just starting tobe popular, and pizza was only apart of what they offered,” saysof Pat, who owns the pizzeria withhis brothers, Chuck and Tom. “But years of perseverance and a dedicationto the consistency of the food worked well.” Eventually, the family wouldintroduce several pizza innovations to Lansing, in size (the 18” pie), toppings(spinach pizza and tuna pizza) and varieties (including stuffed crustand deep dish). Today, the kitchen is five times its original size to keep upwith customer demand.
Accordingly, DeLuca’s has won a slew of awards and recognitions over theyears; John claims that the family has lost count of how many consecutiveyears now the pizzeria has garnered awards as the best of Lansing. Johncredits the success to determination from the entire family:Pat’s wife, Helen, pitched in to develop the specialtysalad dressings (and still occasionally helps out, at 92years old); Aunt Louise worked until she was 93, pridingherself on the chocolate cake and homemade Italianspecialties such as manicotti and lasagna; Pat’s daughterSue works behind the counter, greeting and serving customers;and numerous grandchildren have pitched in tohelp over the years. “We began working as children andhave stayed with the business—we joke that pizza sauce,not blood, runs through our veins,” says John. “We’velearned that hands-on management is important, and wenever forget to appreciate our customers.”