Fifty years ago, Joe and Maria Pia Vitale and their young family moved into a small unassuming house on South Main Street. From those humble beginnings, a Paris tradition — Joe’s Pizza …
Fifty years ago, Joe and Maria Pia Vitale and their young family moved into a small unassuming house on South Main Street. From those humble beginnings, a Paris tradition — Joe’s Pizza — began, serving pizza and authentic Italian dishes for generations of Paris and area residents.
Giuseppe “Joe” Vitale and his wife, Maria Pia Trupiano had been married nine years when they landed in Paris established what is not a community tradition.
The Vitale family is celebrating their 50 years of their family restaurant business from 4-9 p.m. Sunday at the West Court Street location. Today, every 50th order carryout or dine in gets their meal free. On Sunday during business hours, customers can still register for a variety of prizes including Cubs-Cards tickets, shirts, free food items and last — and certainly not least — two lucky customers will win pizza for a year.
Joe’s Pizza is a destination for Paris natives returning to visit. For many years, Joe’s Pizza was open during lunch and was a favorite for Paris High School students. The restaurant has also been recognized as one of the best places to get pizza in Illinois.
But for brother and sister Eno and Josephine Vitale, Joe’s Pizza is not just a restaurant or a profession. It’s all about family.
“Our best memories always have friends and family in them,” Eno Vitale noted. After football or basketball games the restaurant is always filled with high school students and their parents celebrating.
For the Vitales, their memories include playing games in front of the pizza place like “Red Light, Geeen Light,” and “Mother May I.” “Our customers played with us,” he said. “They watched us grow up in front of them.”
One of Eno Vitale’s fondest memories growing up is “everyone knew everyone. We always felt like family with everyone.”
Customers would read the newspaper comics to them, he said. “Life was simple and we enjoyed it,” he smiled.
Josephine Vitale said it is important to the family to celebrate the 50th anniversary with their customers and the Paris community. “We’ve been part of the community since we moved here,” she said. “We’ve been through so much together as a community and we will continue to be here.”
A favorite memory for Josephine Vitale is decorating for Christmas as a family, including employees. “My mom and dad cooked for everyone, and we had a blast,” she recalled.
Joe’s Pizza is truly a family business, she noted, and all the children began working when they turned eight-years old. “We started when we were eighth years old, cleaning tables and helping with small things,” Josephine Vitale noted.
Her brother agreed, noting he began grinding cheese with a hand crank. “Then we got to move up to cutting vegetables, washing dishes and finally learning how to make pizza and getting family recipes.”
There have been some tough times for the family and the restaurant, the siblings admit, but the lessons learned from their parents have helped them persevere.
“Our parents taught us so much in life and a big part of that was how to keep going when things get tough,” Eno said. “It is extremely difficult being in the restaurant business these days but we are able to endure because of our community.”
Despite the challenges and ever-rising costs, Eno noted they have never changed the quality of products — no matter the cost.
“Paris has continued to support us for 50 years and that means the world to us,” he said.
And the Vitales and Joe’s Pizza support the community, too. There are not many activities — from high school and junior high athletics to Little League to the fine arts to community events like Christmas in Paris — that Joe’s Pizza hasn’t supported in one way or another.
Joe Vitale has been gone since August, 2020, while Maria Pia died in May, 1999. The entire family misses them every day, Eno said, but the lessons learned from their parent remain.
“They taught us to take pride in what we do and truly love what you do,” he said.
Josephine agreed. “They taught us that hard work pays off,” she said.
If Joe and Maria Pia were here today, Eno and Josephine Vitale believe they would offer a smile to them, “and that would be worth more than any words can say.”
“We know how much we meant to them and how proud they would be that we keep their dream alive,” they concluded.