“My family opened Gambino’s in Fairhope in 1975 and it was one of the first restaurants in Fairhope. I started working there when I was ten years old scraping off the plates for the dishwashers before I was promoted to dishwasher. I have been working in restaurants ever since. Making fire-roasted pizzas the right way with fresh ingredients was my dream and we are doing that at Pizzeria Delphina. We make our own sauce and dough and show people how pizza is supposed to taste instead of the cheap version at Little Ceaser’s.
The Gambino family came from Sicily, but I have never been to Italy. The restaurants take all of my time, but I feel like I have been there by being around my family. I still remember my great-grandparents speaking Italian. It is almost ghostly to me. Most of my family went into the restaurant business, including Gambino’s bakery in New Orleans.
I love being a part of the growth in Mobile. I remember when you didn’t walk down this part of Dauphin Street. My parents had Papa Rocco’s in Gulf Shores. People kept saying the growth was coming but sometimes we didn’t believe them. We closed the restaurant on the Tuesday after Labor Day until Memorial Day. On one of those closing days, we sat on a blanket in middle of Highway 59 to see how long we could sit there and drink beer before a car came. It was 48 minutes.
We are moving Delphina’s to the old Buck’s Pizza location across from the Cathedral. We need a bigger kitchen. People get frustrated because we can’t handle the volume and there are times we close early because we run out. It takes big ovens, big mixers, and lots of dough. Dough is best on its third day, but we can’t hold it that long because we don’t have room. We are going to open an oyster bar in this location. There will be some downtime in the transition, but we will be able to do more with desserts and will have more space to prep.
There have been a lot of restaurants in my past. Buster’s Brick Oven and Guido’s. The Ravenite in Fairhope is now owned by my ex-wife and my son already has the perfect pizza throw. We turned the Camellia Cafe building into a restaurant before it became Camellia Cafe. Opening restaurants is the fun part and I can do that on a shoestring, but the costs have gone up and it is harder to break in. We opened Little Italy in the Guido’s building in Daphne in 1987 for about $15,000. It was the first true pizza with homemade dough in lower Alabama and it went like fire. I have heirloom secrets passed down from my family. It is also in the technique. I have cooked under fantastic Italian chefs and there is always something to learn.
Changing to curbside and to-go service has been difficult. I have 12 employees and we are taking turns trying to keep everyone working. People have been supportive. People came from Mississippi and the Eastern Shore on Takeout Day. Locals say, ‘we won’t let you fail’ and that makes me feel good. We were having our best months before the Coronavirus happened. It is an anxious time but our customers are loyal and helping us through. Some get the same order, and I can name them by what they eat such as Sunday Cheese Pizza Man. Italian instructors at a community college in Panama City drive here just for Italian food.
Ihave been working in restaurants for 44 years of my 56 years and I am trying to keep up the passion. It is a hard business and sometimes I get burned out. I have realized my purpose is to make people happy with pizza. This is what God created me to be. As long as I stay true to that, it all works out in the end.”