Special Report: Sammy's at 60

Posted at: 04/28/2014 12:58 PM
Updated at: 04/28/2014 10:56 PM

Sammy's Pizza is something many families in the Northland have enjoyed at least once by now. 

It all began 60 years ago. Sam and Louise Perrella moved their small cafe from Keewatin to Hibbing. And with that move, expanded the menu with pizza. Sam had learned about the Italian item from the men who worked in the mines.

Jeff Perrella is the couple's youngest son. "I was born the year they opened. I'm Sam and Louise's baby," he laughed. "And I'm 60!"

He was a pizza maker when he met his wife, Camille. They ran the Hibbing store for years. Now they still have a big hand in the business, because the couple makes many of the food items sold there. And let's not forget the goodie bags, which contain the special ingredients that go into the sauce and dough at all 17 Sammy's Pizza locations.

"So we can keep the recipe my mother and father started in 1954, right on the money! There are no changes. Nobody gets to be creative, we gotta do it the same way," he explained. 

Rich Chalupsky and his wife Rachael operate the Hibbing location now. "I'm a 'started in the mail room' type story. I started flipping burgers and slicing cheese at the Grand Rapids store," Chalupsky said. "I still remember the day Tony hired Rachael. Most beautiful girl in the world, honest to God," he tells us.

Rachael laughed. "Now our two kids work here too. They started doing dishes, making pizza, and now they're on the floor," she said. 

It's that feeling of family and tradition that has kept this business going so strong.

"Many of our customer base are former employees and their families," explained Mike Jerulle, who operates the West Duluth location with his wife Pam. Their son Nick is the manager.

Nick told us that his favorite part of the day, is making pizzas. "I used to be the little kid who bugged all the older guys, and they'd yell at me to stop," he recalls. 

A pair of sisters who are both servers in West Duluth say working together is the best part. "People get us confused. Even when I was 9 months pregnant, people thought Ellie was me," laughed Erin Goetz.

Now Ellie is the pregnant one. She's expecting her first child, a boy. "Maybe he'll work here too," she laughed. After all, that's how she started. Her mother worked there as a server.

The major sense of family is keeping a server in Woodland there are long as she is physically able to. "I'll never leave. The Perrella family has been to my graduation, to my wedding, and to the hospital to see my babies. It's home here," Angela Day told us. 

She has a special Sammy's memory. She got engaged at the Woodland store. "My boyfriend Joel, who worked there too, popped the question right there at the front of the store. Then we had our rehearsal dinner at the downtown location."

During our search for good stories about Sammy's, we met some good customers.

Mary Jo Gazich told us that she had never had pizza before, until she had Sammy's. "I came to Hibbing in 1957. My nursing friend and her family and I came to Sammy's. We ordered pizza, not knowing what it would be like. But it was wonderful," Gazich remembers. She also remembers when Sam Perrella would come and visit his customers. "His line was, 'We're lovers, not fighters.' And when I think of Sammy's, I think of that line. And pizza, of course."

Diane Kuiti and her husband David are regulars at West Duluth. "I've had Sammy's since it first started in Hibbing. My uncle lived next to Sam Perrella in Keewatin. I remember standing on Howard Street, watching them do fancy things with the pizza dough through the window."

The Kuitis enjoy pepperoni. But one man we met, has a special request. "I've always said, there's no such thing as too much sauce. It took them awhile for them to believe me. But now they put on as much as humanly possible, along with extra cheese and pepperoni," explained Dennis Brostrom. He's a regular at West Duluth as well. The crew knows what he wants, when he pulls up.

Others like 11-year-old Molly Schottenbauer, like the Sam's Special. That's also Jeff Perrella's favorite. He reflects on the 60 years.

"I know my mom is proud. She's 91-years-old, and still visits Rich in Hibbing. To know that so many family and friends have been able to create a living doing this, serve their community, and make people happy, is great. And I know my dad would feel great."

To celebrate the anniversary, Sammy's is giving customers a 12" one-topping pizza for $.60, when they buy any 14" or larger pizza, Sunday, April 27th through Thursday, May 1st. 

Also on Thursday, May 1st, the Sammy's locations in the Northland and St. Cloud will be donating 60% of their proceeds to their local Disabled American Veterans chapters.