Saturday, September 22

D’Amore’s serves up a slice of Boston in Westwood


Local pizzeria successfully rivals east coast as "˜best pizza in nation'

When Joe D’Amore came to California to pursue a career in
acting, little did he know he would become the owner of
D’Amore’s Famous Pizza Connection, a successful chain
of pizzerias.

The restaurant has thrived, with eight locations and a loyal
clientele. The most recent location is in Westwood Village, on
Broxton Avenue.

But such gains require hard work to keep a business going and to
maintain the traditional Italian cuisine.

“(D’Amore) opened my eyes on how hard a person must
work,” said Bryan Wong, who owned the American Steakhouse
Grill that used to stand in D’Amore’s current Westwood
location.

Though D’Amore said he could probably retire, he remains
constantly involved in the operation of his stores and is still
expanding his businesses, visiting each of his Southern California
stores at least twice a week.

D’Amore’s success story comes out of what he
describes as “tragedy” when he felt that he needed to
settle down after his wife Bonnie fell ill with toxic shock
syndrome.

In 1987, he gave up his demanding acting schedule that required
him to travel throughout the country to start a pizza business in
Canoga Park.

Even for a seasoned restaurateur, starting a restaurant in
Westwood can make anyone feel like a newcomer to the business.

Despite the awards and success seen in his other stores, high
rent and an out-of-the-way location down the street from more
popular eateries have proven challenging. But opening a location in
Westwood is part of D’Amore’s business strategy he is
sure will pay off.

“Having a Westside location is very pivotal,”
D’Amore said, noting that many people who live near his other
stores in the San Fernando Valley work in West Los Angeles.

D’Amore also caters to the casts and crews of Tom
Cruise’s movies, the television show “Alias” and
other celebrities.

“(Jim) Carrey will only eat our pizza,”
D’Amore said.

Though Bonnie never had a chance to see the business thrive
““ she died in 1990 ““ she saw many East Coast
transplants praise the pizza for being the real thing,
D’Amore said.

In fact, D’Amore’s Famous Pizza Connection has
surpassed East Coast pizza in the view of some critics. Citysearch
rated D’Amore’s the best pizza restaurant in the nation
in 2002, beating out pizzerias from Boston and Brooklyn.

The attention to quality D’Amore devotes to his pizza
seems almost obsessive. In what he describes as “a labor of
love,” D’Amore strictly adheres to his
grandmother’s recipes, which he collected six months before
her death.

The water he uses in his dough is imported from Boston because
of its low sodium content. D’Amore claims Los Angeles water
makes crust soggy.

The sauce used is made from tomatoes picked only in July, when
they are the sweetest. The cheese can only be Grande cheese from
Wisconsin and D’Amore is unwavering in keeping it this way,
despite being courted aggressively by California cheese makers.

Because D’Amore knows what it’s like to eat the
soggy slices of pizza after shooting movies late at night, he has
modified his trucks to house refrigerators and brick ovens to cook
the pizza on the spot when he caters.

A few changes have been made to the original pizza menu,
including the addition of a barbecued chicken pizza, but for the
most part, D’Amore’s follows his grandmother’s
recipes.

“(My grandmother) would be rolling in her grave if she
knew I used barbecued chicken,” D’Amore laughed.

D’Amore says that he hasn’t cut corners like other
pizza restaurants have, like using lard as a cheap substitute for
olive oil and storing pizza slices under heat lamps to keep them
warm.

People coming from Chicago or the East Coast, where pizza is a
regional specialty, still remain the biggest critics.

“I don’t think anything compares to the pizza in
Chicago, but this comes close,” said Samantha Pearline, a
student at the University of Judaism who has regularly eaten at
D’Amore’s restaurant since moving from Chicago.

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