- Reporters Desk
By Eric Fujimori, Editorial Intern
Surviving in the restaurant industry is no easy task. It requires careful management from both business and culinary standpoints, while providing excellent customer service. For a restaurant to make it in a close-knit area, support from the community can make all the difference.
Such is the case for Happy Diner, Zina Pizza and Filippo’s Pizza, which are each looking to seal their spot in San Pedro’s growing fleet of eateries.
Happy Diner Spreads the Joy
Happy Diner has quickly become the kind of warm and cozy family diner that usually only exists in sitcoms or movies. Now, it’s extending its welcoming reach even further.
On Nov. 21 of this past year, Happy Diner opened up its second location, just a few miles away from the original. Owner Roman Carrillo said that he decided to branch out in order to accommodate more customers and become familiar with a new part of the community.
“The goal was to meet new customers and bring home cooking to a different side of town,” said Carrillo.
Since first opening its doors in July of 2011, Happy Diner has always encouraged its customers to feel at home. They, in turn, have become very loyal. That same comforting feeling applies to the new location, even though its customer base is a little different.
Situated in a more industrial part of town, the new location serves many people looking to grab a quick bite during their lunch breaks. However, Carrillo and his staff, which includes his brothers Omar and José, still treat their customers with the same degree of excellent hospitality.
“Always have a good attitude, no matter who comes in,” Carrillo said. “I treat customers the way I want to be treated.”
Aside from a different customer base, the new Happy Diner also features a more modern interior, including tile floor and a granite countertop. The restaurant is also more spacious than the original, without sacrificing that homey diner feel.
As far as the menu goes, Carrillo wanted to stay true to Happy Diner’s homestyle cooking. While it is for the most part an exact replica of the original, the new menu has been slightly altered to feature some healthier options, such as the cranberry chicken almond salad and the salmon burger. In addition, the new location offers half portions of almost everything on the menu to accommodate those looking for a lighter meal.
It’s this constant pursuit of improving the dining experience of its customers that really makes Happy Diner stand out amongst other restaurants. Just ask San Pedro resident and loyal customer Steve Palumbo, who was the first guest at the new location.
“These are three of the hardest working guys I’ve ever seen,” Palumbo said, referring to the Carrillo brothers. “It’s amazing to see the amount of pride they put into their food. Whether it’s packed or there’s one person, they take the same approach in serving their guests.”
Palumbo’s support for Happy Diner stretches even further than eating there as many as three times a day. Acting as a sort of unofficial ambassador, he is always bringing in new guests and promoting the restaurant in any way he can.
Palumbo, a classic car and truck specialist, loves the diner so much that he had a large Happy Diner graphic painted on the side of his 1949 Chevy Thriftmaster. The graphic includes phone number and address in order to help spread the word about Palumbo’s favorite dining establishment.
“I believe in them,” said Palumbo. “This is family to me.”
With a strong mutual appreciation between Happy Diner and its customers, it’s easy to see how the new location is well on its way to becoming as successful as the original.
“When the food is good, the price is right and the service is excellent, success will come,” Carrillo said. “I’m really proud and happy for all the business over the years. All the support from the community has been great and I appreciate it.”
And though it does have a big reputation to live up to, Happy Diner’s new location is doing so with the same passion and charm as the original.
“We want customers to have the same experience they did at the old place,” Carrillo said. “It’s the same Happy Diner, happy as always.”
Zina Pizza Provides a Taste of Sicily
Since opening Dec. 13 of this past year, Zina Pizza has been serving up authentic Sicilian-style fare to many hungry customers. But owners John and Deborah D’Orio hope their food will also serve as a vessel of culture and history.
The menu is provided, in part, by John’s family recipes, which have been passed down to him from generation to generation. However, John has slightly altered some of these recipes to coincide with his own style of cooking.
For example, on his Sfincione, he deviates from past generations by adding sauces to it. Sfincione is a traditional Sicilian-style deep pan pizza that John tops with chunks of Romano cheese, onions, green olives and anchovies.
When you walk through the door, you’ll notice the restaurant is very narrow and long, which makes it seem like a boat. This is only fitting, considering John comes from a long line of fisherman. He even runs his kitchen like a captain. For instance, he calls out orders to his young and lively crew, while he bustles about rolling pizza dough and sprinkling on toppings.
Just as much as they want their food to be delicious, the D’Orios want their restaurant to be a friendly and comfortable environment for customers.
“You can go anywhere and get food, but can you go somewhere and talk with people and feel comfortable?” said Deborah.
But what is it that really makes Zina Pizza stand out?
“I think it’s just good old-fashioned homemade food,” Deborah explained.
From the kitchen, John added, “And lots of love!”
Filippo’s Pizza Plans to Branch Out
After more than 30 years of satisfying San Pedro’s pizza fix Filippo’s Pizza is looking to branch out and open new shops throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
Filippo’s son, Jerry Ciaramitaro, runs the restaurant. He hopes to have a new shop up and running by 2016. After the first shop opens, Ciaramitaro plans to open up two more shops each year for as long as he can.
“The sky is the limit,” Ciaramitaro said of his future business endeavors.
Eventually, Ciaramitaro would like to open a full-service, fine dining Italian restaurant, still named after his father.
“That would make my dad happy,” Ciaramitaro said. “It’s always about giving back to my parents. They’ve given so much.”
Filippo’s first opened on April 1, 1984, as one of the first pizza shops in San Pedro. Although there are now about 20 pizza places in the community, something about Filippo’s still keeps bringing customers back.
Much of the credit goes to the authentic cooking that Ciaramitaro learned from watching his grandmother make classic Italian food when he was younger.
“She was by far the best cook that I’ve ever experienced,” said Ciaramitaro.
He also takes trips to Italy every few years not only to visit with family and friends, but also to study how a proper pizzeria is run.
Over the years, Ciaramitaro has taken all the knowledge he’s gained about making delicious food and running a restaurant, and gradually implemented it into Filippo’s. It seems to be working.