This Bay Area restaurant has served New York-style pizza for 76 years

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There’s a buzz at the intersection of El Camino Real and Santa Inez Avenue where a storied San Bruno restaurant has slung New York-style pizzas for more than 50 years.

It’s only 6 p.m., but dinner service at Toto’s Pizzeria is in full swing with dozens of pizzas underway. At a workstation, six employees move through customer orders in assembly-line fashion. While one spins and tosses dough into the air, another smooths rich tomato sauce over the blank canvas. Slices of tender mozzarella and flavorful salami decorate a pie before it’s scooped onto a board and delivered into the hot deck oven behind them. In no time, the cashier removes a long ribbon of customer receipts from the printer and tacks more orders onto the queue.  

“During a peak time, it’s like a little factory,” Robert Spadarella, Toto’s third-generation family owner, told SFGATE. “Our San Bruno store draws [customers] from the Peninsula all the way up to San Francisco.”

Toto’s is known as a family-friendly, no-frills restaurant with a small but mighty pizza menu. You won’t find seasonally inspired pies but rather a selection of eight classic options that feature a salami, mushroom and sausage pie, which happens to be the restaurant’s top seller and better known as the No. 2 on the menu. A small 12-inch cheese pizza will set customers back about $20 on the low end, but slices are large enough that leftovers are likely.

Toto’s Pizzeria in San Bruno, Calif., Oct. 18, 2023.Lance Yamamoto/SFGATE
Toto’s Pizzeria in San Bruno, Calif., Oct. 18, 2023.Lance Yamamoto/SFGATE

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When guests sink their teeth into a slice of Toto’s pizza, they also take a bite of history. Since opening the San Bruno outpost in 1972, Toto’s has remained true to its roots and continues to make pizza from a safely guarded family recipe created by Spadarella’s grandparents in the 1920s.  

“The family recipes were handed down from my grandfather, down to my father and mother, to me and my wife, and then our children,” he said. “We follow the same recipe because it’s worked for many years. Why would we want to change it?”

Delivery in a Cadillac 

Toto’s Pizzeria is currently owned and operated by its third and fourth-generation family members, including Spadarella and his sons, Frank and Nick. Spadarella recalls working at the family business from an early age. He bused tables, ran the dishwasher and occasionally learned how to sling pizza with his dad. 

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“You name it, I did it,” he said with a laugh.

(Right) Robert Spadarella and Nick Spadarella (Left) owners of Toto’s Pizzeria in San Bruno, Calif., Oct. 18, 2023.

(Right) Robert Spadarella and Nick Spadarella (Left) owners of Toto’s Pizzeria in San Bruno, Calif., Oct. 18, 2023.

Lance Yamamoto/SFGATE

Today, the family continues to operate their San Bruno and Belmont stores with the same dedication Spadarella’s grandparents did. Before Toto’s Pizzeria became a Bay Area fixture, the restaurant started in Brooklyn, New York, under a different name. In 1926, Caroline and Antonio “Toto” Spadarella opened a short-lived pizzeria called La Napoli, which was later renamed Toto’s Pizza and Pasta Restaurant in 1932 when the couple realized customers couldn’t pronounce the original name.

By the end of World War II, Caroline and Antonio took a fateful trip to San Francisco that changed everything. What started as a vacation out West became a new chapter for the couple who admired San Francisco so much that they canceled their return back home.

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“They fell in love with San Francisco because it reminded them of Naples, Italy, with all the hills and everything,” Spadarella said. “They called my dad and said, ‘We’re staying out here.’”

Not long after the move, Caroline and Antonio decided to bring a piece of New York to San Francisco when in 1947 they opened their first Toto’s Pizzeria at 26th and Mission Streets. Spadarella’s parents Frank and Ida, who were looking after the family business in Brooklyn, eventually packed their bags and joined Caroline and Antonio in the Bay Area. Toto’s moved and opened a larger space at 22nd and Mission Streets in 1951 and three years later in 1954, Spadarella’s dad Frank launched what became SF’s first pizza delivery service using a shiny new Cadillac. Historic San Francisco Examiner papers touted Toto’s as “S.F.’s Only Pizza Caterer” and a business “famous for pizza home delivery.” 

A young Robert Spadarella (left) tosses pizza dough at the former Daly City Toto’s Pizzeria while father Frank Spadarella (right) observes in 1961.

A young Robert Spadarella (left) tosses pizza dough at the former Daly City Toto’s Pizzeria while father Frank Spadarella (right) observes in 1961.

Courtesy of Toto’s

Antonio had a test run at delivering pizza years earlier when one of his customers fell ill. As the story goes, customer Joe Wells was a huge fan of Toto’s and frequented the SF pizzeria regularly. One day, Antonio noticed his absence and began to worry. When he learned that Wells was hospitalized due to tuberculosis, he hailed a cab and had pizza sent to his customer’s bedside three nights a week. Eventually, celebrated San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen caught wind and in 1950 wrote about the special delivery — calling Wells a “pizzacated” fan of Toto’s.  

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Eventually, more Toto’s restaurants would open across the Bay Area, with a swanky Daly City outpost in 1957, which had a banquet hall and cocktail lounge. San Bruno came afterward, followed by Belmont in the 1990s and San Mateo in the early aughts. Sadly the original San Francisco store burned down in the late ’70s and the Daly City restaurant would eventually close for good to make way for development. The San Mateo shop didn’t last after its lease ended but the San Bruno and Belmont stores remain under watchful care. 

“Still in the family”

Part of what makes Toto’s pizza special is its dedication to quality ingredients and preparation. Toto’s staffers get an early start at around 5:30 a.m., ahead of their 10 a.m. opening. According to Spadarella, the pizzeria uses a special flour made just for Toto’s that’s sourced from the East Coast. Most every other ingredient is locally sourced, save for anchovies that are shipped from Spain. Every day, the team works with pizza dough that’s rested for about 12 to 14 hours to crank out nearly 3,500 pies they sell each week. 

Inside with the employees at Toto’s Pizzeria in San Bruno, Calif., clockwise from top left: Maudilio Lopez grabs fresh pizza dough in the kitchen; Edwin Gomez and Carlos Rodriguez work the cashiers; Pizza a la Toto’s No. 5; Jaima Caal spreads sauce on a new pie.Lance Yamamoto/SFGATE
Inside with the employees at Toto’s Pizzeria in San Bruno, Calif., clockwise from top left: Maudilio Lopez grabs fresh pizza dough in the kitchen; Edwin Gomez and Carlos Rodriguez work the cashiers; Pizza a la Toto’s No. 5; Jaima Caal spreads sauce on a new pie.Lance Yamamoto/SFGATE

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Over the years, Toto’s has garnered a fanbase from all over the Bay Area, including customers from San Francisco International Airport. About 10 years ago, Spadarella got a call from the vice president of United Airlines, who surprised the owner when he placed an order of 700 pizzas for the crew. 

“I remember that because our sons called friends up to help us deliver the pizzas,” Spadarella said. “We’d never taken that many orders at one time.” While the massive order was a one-off, United continues to be one of Toto’s biggest customers, Spadarella said. 

When Toto’s isn’t serving flight crews, the team is busy caring for their local customers, many of whom grew up eating Toto’s famous New York-style pizza at the two remaining stores. For now, Spadarella isn’t interested in expanding with more stores but hopes that the next generation — currently ages 2 to 18 — will continue to move Toto’s into the future as the pizza business enters its ninth decade. 

An outdoor sign for Toto’s Pizzeria in San Bruno, Calif., Oct. 18, 2023.

An outdoor sign for Toto’s Pizzeria in San Bruno, Calif., Oct. 18, 2023.

Lance Yamamoto/SFGATE

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“What keeps us going is our legacy,” Spadarella said. “We’re very proud of it and we want to keep it going. It’s still in the family.” 

Toto’s Pizzeria, 1690 El Camino Real, San Bruno. Open Sunday to Thursday, 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Friday to Saturday, 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

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