Buono’s Authentic Pizza turns 40
You may not realize it, but when you sink your teeth into the dough and sauce of a hearty slice at Buono’s Authentic Pizzeria, you actually taste a recipe brought over from the old country that is more than forty years old.
The well-known pizza shop is celebrating 40 years in San Pedro, but the history of the ingredients and technique began long before, in a land far, far away.
“My dad used to make bread for his whole town back in Ischia,” says owner and general manager of Buono’s, Frank Buono. “On my grandfather’s side, their expertise was baking. My grandmother’s side was in the restaurant business. So, we were all born into this business.”
It was his grandparents who began a cycle that would continue from Ischia all the way to San Pedro, decades later. “This exact location was an Italian market and deli fifty years ago, owned by my grandparents,” says Buono, about the San Pedro store located on the corner of 15th and Gaffey Street. “When we came over from Italy, my father bought it from them and made it into the pizzeria it is today.”
It was in 1967 that Frank Buono’s father, Nicolaniello Buono, moved to America and brought his wife, Antonietta and their four children, Frank, George, Oreste and Teresa. More than forty years later, all four children proudly represent the business in various roles.
“We use the same sauce that my grandmother made and sold when it was a market and deli. We try to use as much locally grown produce as we can, fresh spices, and we peel the garlic ourselves.”
Nicolaniello Buono, who passed away this September, taught all of his children an approach to pizza that is rooted in authenticity and quality. “He left a legacy of teaching,” says Buono. “He taught a lot about making this phenomenal pizza dough. It’s a two-hand procedure and it’s something we’ve always done.”
Although Buono Sr. retired early, he never stopped coming to the San Pedro and Long Beach locations, poking the dough and sampling the sauce to ensure it was up to par. Up until his passing, he grew an herb garden that was vast enough to provide fresh basil and parsley for all three restaurants.
Over the years, there have been new additions to the menu, recent remodeling of the San Pedro location and they’ve opened two more shops in Long Beach. Despite these changes, some things have stayed the same.
“We’re always looking for ways to improve, but the dough and sauce have not changed,” says Buono. “We use the same sauce that my grandmother made and sold when it was a market and deli. We try to use as much locally grown produce as we can, fresh spices, and we peel the garlic ourselves.”
Although this artisan approach to food has come into increasing popularity in recent years, Buono is proud to be an artisan by nature rather than because of trends. “Rustic artisan bread is in vogue, brick ovens are in vogue, using locally grown is in vogue; these are all things we’ve been doing for forty years,” laughs Buono.
“Unless it’s a thin crust, all of our dough is formed and flattened by hand. No machines, no rolling pin.” Buono says it’s the quality that has kept customers coming back every time. He recalls the early days when there were no chain pizzerias, just family-owned businesses. “When we opened, we were so popular that there would sometimes be an hour and forty-five minute wait,” he recalls. “There were only mom and pop shops in town, and people came here because of word of mouth.”
Despite local competition, Buono’s still has a solid base of customers. In the past four decades, Buono has seen first dates, marriage proposals and families who have made the pizza a family tradition.
“I drive here from Orange County just to eat their pizza,” says Buono’s customer Leticia Cervantes. “I work with kids and I was taking one of my kids to eat and she said, ‘We can just eat anywhere,’ and I said no. We’re going somewhere special. We’re going to get real pizza.” Cervantes says she frequents not only the San Pedro shop, but the other two locations in Long Beach as well.
Some customers have been patrons from the beginning. “This is the best pizza in the world,” says customer Frank Zaragosa. “I’ve been eating pizza here at Buono’s since I was five years old and now I’m 43.” Zaragosa grew up with 14 siblings and eating at the pizzeria was a favorite pastime, one that he now enjoys with his five children.
“This is why I love this business,” says Buono. “We’re in the business of making people happy.”
Furthering the business of making people happy, Buono’s takes part in a variety of philanthropic efforts. For the past 14 years, elementary and high school students have participated in Buono’s annual Youth Poetry Competition. Dozens of schools participate and students write Italy-centric poetry for trophies and pizza-related prizes. Buono’s is also a sponsor of the annual Labor Day race across the Vincent Thomas Bridge, Conquer the Bridge and they’ve sponsored the Long Beach Marathon for 20 years.
“These are things that are personally important to me and as a family,” says Buono. It’s a way the family can give back to a community that has given them their livelihood. In the future, Buono says they hope to expand and keep the family business thriving for future generations. Of the four children of Nicolaniello Buono, there are six children in the new generation. The oldest is 15-years-old and already hard at work bussing tables at the Willow Street location. The Buono legacy is in good hands. spt
Buono’s Authentic Pizza is located at 1432 S. Gaffey Street, (310) 547-0655. Long Beach locations: 250 W. Ocean Blvd., (562) 432-2211 and 401 W. Willow St., (562) 595-6138. For more information, visit www.buonospizza.com.