Delaware restaurant legend Pizzadili passes away

Pete Pizzadili shows off his wine stock at his winery in Felton in 2018. (Delaware State News file photo/Gary Emeigh)

FELTON — Pete Pizzadili, an Italian immigrant who became a legendary Delaware restaurateur for more than 50 years, cast a large shadow wherever he went.

Mr. Pizzadili always cooked the tastiest dishes, served the perfect wine and never had a guest enter Pizzadili Delicatessen in Dover or Pizzadeli Vineyard and Winery in Felton who he failed to greet and then remember their name.

Those old-school business mannerisms and humble traits often displayed by Mr. Pizzadili disappeared from Kent County on Tuesday morning when he died after being ill over recent weeks.

The news came via a Facebook post in almost a hushed tone.

“It is with a heavy heart I am announcing the passing away of Pete Pizzadili,” Hoong Kai Chow, a family friend, posted on Facebook Tuesday morning. “Pete passed away early this morning. Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers.

“Pete was the pillar of the community. He was loved by everyone.”

Mr. Pizzadili is survived by his wife, Jean, and two daughters, Wendy and Angela.

The passing of the Kent County legend made the rounds quickly. Delaware State Fair President Ron Draper said Mr. Pizzadili had been a staple at the state fair every summer, serving both on the fair’s board of directors and as a food stand merchant.

“Pete enjoyed a unique status here at the fair,” Mr. Draper said. “He was a director with almost three decades of service and the owner of one of the most iconic food stands on the grounds that has operated nonstop since 1961. Pete used to hold court each night at his stand surrounded by throngs of friends, family and newcomers alike. Visiting his stand was a must for those who loved his curly fries, Italian subs, pizza and most of all his wave and smile.

“You felt like Pete had invited you over to his backyard to dine on some of the best pizza, subs and cheese steaks the fair has ever offered. Interesting thing is, I never saw him eat (with a laugh). Pete was all about family, friends, good times and great food and he always greeted you with a smile.”

The tributes flowed in steadily throughout the day after Mr. Chow’s post.

“Pete will be remembered as a kind and gentle man,” Terry Panicola Gough wrote.

“My deepest condolences to the family and their many friends,” wrote Linda Guyton Topping. “When we first moved to Delaware, it was a treat to go to their deli with my mom and order subs. They made mom happy conversing with her in French. My heart is sad, but heaven is rejoicing.”

Mr. Pizzadili was in the family deli business for more than 50 years, running it with his late brother Tony, who died in 2010, and had been in the winery business for the past 15 years.

In 1956, Salvatore Pizzadili arrived in the United States from Tuscany with his wife, Sabina and their three children, Tony, Pete and Maria in hopes of a better life. Their father’s two brothers had already moved to the United States and became citizens. The two uncles wrote their brother to tell him that they could sponsor the family and that they had everything needed for the family to be sponsored in the United States and ultimately become citizens.

At the time, to be sponsored in the United States, they needed to have a job and a home. The uncles built and opened the deli so that all of them would have a job. In 1967 after years and years of working at the deli, Pete and Tony bought the deli from their uncles and their American dream was born.

Pete Pizzadili said his secret to success came in his relationship to his customers — or, as he liked to call them, friends. Of course, having delicious Italian subs didn’t hurt, either.

“To us, we want to provide the best, which is homemade food, top-rated customer service, and a family atmosphere,” Mr. Pizzadili said in 2017. “For those who haven’t had the opportunity to have the Pizzadili experience, please come by and have a great time. We truly view each customer as a part of our extended family of friends and are committed to providing them with the event of your dreams.

“When you choose Pizzadili’s, for your event, we focus our time, efforts and attention on you and your special day. Ultimately, we want everyone to have the time of their life.”

As for the Pizzadili Vineyard and Winery, creating that was a culmination of a dream that Salvatore Pizzadili had for his two sons.

Pete and Tony’s father had always worked at and owned vineyards and wineries in Italy and he wanted his sons to start their own when they came to their new country. It was a dream that was finally realized in Felton in 2005 when the brothers produced their first wines, becoming the second winery in Delaware, after Nassau Valley Vineyards in Lewes, which opened in 1993.

“We are the epitome of a family-oriented business and our family is everything to us,” Pete Pizzadili said earlier. “This is truly the motivation and drive behind our business.”

While Mr. Pizzadili enjoyed spending time at the deli and vineyards, he also had an affinity for the Delaware State Fair.

Over the years he had become an icon to the foodies in the crowd and cooked at his final state fair last year.

“I was the one who brought subs to the fair. I brought pizza to the fair,” he told the Delaware State News last summer. “I’ve really enjoyed it but, you know, I’m getting older. It’s time to step back.”

Danny Aguilar, assistant general manager and director of marketing at the Delaware State Fair, said a visit to Mr. Pizzadili’s stand had become a state fair tradition, much like the midway, agricultural areas and music acts.

“Pete Pizzadili, together with his recently deceased brother Tony and their immediate family and close friends operated ‘Pete’s Pizza and Subs’ food concession stand at The Delaware State Fair each July,” Mr. Aguilar said. “Last July, in connection with the fair’s centennial celebration, Pete Pizzadili and his family celebrated their 58th year at the Fair. Pete Pizzadili served on the fair’s Board of Directors for 27 years.”

Mr. Pizzadili also believed that every business has their unique qualities that makes them different from others. He said he always believed in supporting every business — especially the local small businesses.

“We are a community and we should support each other and celebrate and encourage our differences,” he said. “It brings so much to our communities and, above all, to Delaware.”

Looking back at the legacy left behind by Mr. Pizzadili, Mr. Draper said, “Pete, his smile and wave will be sorely missed at the fair and throughout the greater Harrington, Felton and Camden area.”