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Published April 12 2013

Popular downtown spot Sammy's still slinging pizzas after all these years

Fargo - The staff refers to Sammy’s Pizza and Restaurant in downtown Fargo as “the Cheers pizza shop.”

"When people walk in we know their name, we usually know what kind of pizza they want, what they want to drink, what the family’s been doing – give hugs,” said Teresa Tilock, who co-owns the business with her husband, Peter.

It’s one of those places with regular, weekly customers – “sometimes twice a week,” Tilock said.

One group of regulars used to come in with their mother/grandmother, who always had a cup of coffee. She died, but she’s still remembered at Sammy’s

“It’s been just a tradition of mine that whenever they come in, even though Grandma’s not there, I always make a fresh pot of coffee and put the cup on the table,” Tilock said.

Gene Cortese opened the shop at 301 Broadway in 1956, simply calling it the Pizza Shop. It was the first pizza joint in town, and pizza has been served there ever since.

In the early days, pizza wasn’t the common dish it is in these parts today.

“They would line up for blocks waiting to get in here to have this thing called pizza,” Tilock recalled. “Nobody knew what pizza was.”

After Cortese sold the shop, it became Broadway Pizza. Peter purchased the shop in 1979 and called it Sammy’s, the namesake of Sammy Perrella, a late pizza maker who plied his craft in Hibbing, Minn. The recipe used at Sammy’s is the same one Perrella used, Tilock said.

Given all that history, you can bet there are a lot of memories within those walls.

“There are just so many tender, tender stories,” Tilock said. “And we’ve got a guestbook that I’ve had for years, that people have written their stories in: I got engaged in this booth, I had my first date over there, and these are people that are celebrating their 60th anniversaries.”

One time a lady whose husband had died came in and Tilock was able to show her a place in the guest book where he had written that he “fell in love” with the lady “over a Sammy’s sausage pizza.”

Tilock also doesn’t mind bragging on the shop’s pizza pies.

“You have to have a good recipe,” she said. “And I’ve got it.”

“Everything’s homemade, made from scratch,” she said. “All the product that goes into making the pizza is the best product that you can get. We don’t’ skimp at all.”

They grind their own beef, make their own sausage, slice the cheese themselves and make the crust right before your eyes.

And their product has earned them accolades beyond the Fargo-Moorhead area. Sammy’s Pizza was selected as North Dakota’s representative in USA Today’s “51 great pizza parlors” in 2010. Tilock said the shop earned the honor of second-best pizza in a Pizza trade magazine and has been in Time Magazine.

Eric Daeuber, who writes restaurant reviews for The Forum, said he adores Sammy’s.

“They do such a nice thin-crust thing,” he said

But Sammy’s is about much more than the pie.

“I remember when I reviewed Sammy’s a number of years ago. … I got emails from New York, I got emails from California, I got emails form Texas. I got an email – I want to say it was from Bolivia or someplace,” Daeuber said.

“These were all people who said, when I was a girl or when I was a boy, I remember going to Sammy’s and having pizza and all the girls sitting in a booth giggling when all the boys came in and sat down and flirting and all of those kinds of things. And that’s what Sammy’s does for Fargo.”

Daeuber said the shop has “produced a product that is a time capsule. It’s a culturally significant statement of what it means to have grown up in Fargo.”

Matt Kloberdanz has worked at the shop on and off for the past decade. He loves the pizza and the atmosphere of the place.

“When we’re filled up here, it’s a good time,” said Kloberdanz, who is writing a cookbook. “Everyone’s having fun, the workers are having fun.”

And, to talk to Tilock, it sounds like that rings true for her.

“I love this. I love it,” she said. “This is my enjoyment. I love coming to the shop. I love seeing who’s here and visiting.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734