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Pina Pizza marks 60 years as a Downey landmark

By Alex Dominguez, May 2, 2019

Photo by Alex Dominguez

DOWNEY – Downey staple Pina Pizza reached a milestone this week, celebrating 60 years worth of Italian food, family values, and legacy. The Pina Pizza story officially began in 1953 in Cleveland, Ohio, running for four years. However, when family matriarch Pina Persico was told by doctors that she needed to seek warmer weather, the family of Pina, husband John, and children Johnny (deceased 2013), Caro, and Mila packed up and headed out west. “We picked up and came here,” said Mila Persico, daughter and youngest child of Pina. “We were looking around to find a shop to start a Pizza place. And then, about two years and one fateful car ride later, it happened. “We were driving down Paramount Blvd… I was in the backseat, my dad was driving my mom was shotgun, and I said ‘Look papa, look mama, look!’ and it said ‘For rent,’” said Mila. Pina’s endeavors in Downey started as a very small space on the corner where it still sits today, renting on a month to month basis for over 25 years. Meanwhile, as the leases of the businesses began to run out, the Persico’s took advantage, slowly growing and expanding to the restaurant that it is today. Councilman Alex Saab presents a City of Downey proclamation to Pina’s Pizza. Councilman Alex Saab presents a City of Downey proclamation to Pina’s Pizza. What really put Pina’s on the map though, Mila says, was when they started deliveries in 1962. “My dad bought a little Cushman Truck, a couple of them, painted it, and it looked like a little ladybug,” said Mila. “It was like a gimmick. We were the first in Southern California to do home deliveries. We put ovens on the back; we were like pioneers.” “It was a real gimmick, but you know what? It took off and it was a big risk.” Pina stayed heavily involved in her namesake pizza house until about a year or two before her passing in 2007. Still, her legacy lives on. If you ask Caro Persico – current owner, son, and middle child of Pina - the only thing that has changed about Pina’s is the staff and maybe some of the equipment; the food and recipes – all that of Pina herself – have not wavered. That’s why he believes Pina’s is now such a Downey staple. “I think it’s the quality of the food,” said Caro. “Over 60 years it’s stayed the same…We’re still using the original Pina recipes…If you ate a pizza in 1959 and you ate one today in 2019, it’s gonna taste the same.” “[Our parents] demanded high quality, and high-quality work out of their employees,” added Mila. “They weren’t slackers with them; mom was tough with them…she demanded the bar to be high, and it’s still high.” Demographically, Pina’s has seen a lot of change in the community. “A lot of our old-time customers are passed, moved to another state, or followed their children,” said Caro. “’These new people coming in…they’re first timers. I go ‘how did you find out about us,’ and [they say], ‘Oh we saw a review on Yelp,’ or ‘My neighbor told me.’” Mila added that many of the restaurants employees through the years have been students of the local high schools. Even though many have since moved on to other ventures, many return for the feeling of family. The family business continues to stay just that, in the family, with Caro’s son Michael now helping lead the charge. Michael hopes to eventually continue the legacy down to a fourth generation. “I have two kids myself; a 2-year-old and another on the way,” said Michael. “I’d love to see it carry on another sixty years. It’s all about commitment, loyalty, showing the family values that I was brought up, that they were brought up. Just as long as they know that this is a history and the family is still going on.” Alex Dominguez May 2, 2019

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