In business together since 1984 producing films, doing furniture retail and investing in real estate, Tony and Mike Casanova now co-own and run Casanova Bros. Pizza in Gilbert.
“I learned from the old-timers, the old-school,” said Mike, who has worked in a pizzeria at age 16 in his native New York City. “We’d use deck ovens with the stone inside, which is a lot different than a lot of places now that have conveyor belt ovens. So, it’s the old-style way. The people who trained me were all old-school cooks.”
But he left the job after five years, explaining, “The food business is tough, the hours are hard and when you’re a young guy you like to have free time.”
Growing up, the brothers always had a love for movies – and they eventually started making a living with them.
“When I was younger, I had a movie projector in our basement,” recalled Mike. “We had a little movie theater. We still have those old movies. We used to charge kids money to watch movies. I would go out and buy and show more movies and that’s how we got into the movie business.”
While the brothers continue to do independent films and produced four in 2020, they also were eventually lured back into the pizza business.
They often had business meetings at Jake’s Pizza at Val Vista Drive and Guadalupe Road, the same shopping center where their pizzeria is now located, at 959 N. Val Vista Drive.
Mike noticed the Bakers Pride ovens in the back at Jake’s and remembers thinking, “Those are the ovens that really make good pizza. I’d love to buy a little place like this just to have one.”
After living here 10 years, they learned Jake’s Pizza was for sale. By January 2008, they were owners of the shop.
And when they became so popular they began looking for a bigger place, their landlord, John Patterson, helped them out, telling them “I really don’t want to see you guys go because you’re part of the community.”
Tony said the Patterson family was “phenomenal and they made this possible for us because they didn’t want to see us go.”
Mike has a succinct explanation for Casanova Bros. Pizza’s success.
“Good food,” explained Mike. “Quality, consistency, customer service no matter what business you’re in.”
“When you taste the food or if you look at the reviews, you see what people say,” Tony said. “We have people who travel long distances to come here. And they give us feedback and I tell them, ‘Everybody makes a different pie, lasagna, meatball. If you come here, we’re grateful but you’ll never hear us say anything bad about the competition. We’re very humble.’”
“We do make everything in-house. We like to make things from scratch. The recipes are actually recipes of our family. The sauce, the meatball, the eggplant. It’s a labor of love.”
When it comes to pizza, the Casanova Special seems to be a favorite.
“Tony recommended it because people would come in and order a white pie with fresh ricotta, butter and garlic-based, pizza cheese and a little bit of olive oil on it,” said Mike. “A lot of people like that. The most popular one with the white is with sausage and spinach. Then we have the red pie, the regular Neapolitan cheese pizza, where we have Boars head ham, homemade meatballs, sausage and pepperoni. And we call that one the New York Special.”
In addition to pizza, the restaurant serves pastas, calzones and wings.
What’s it like being brothers and running a business together?
“We both have patience,” said Tony. “I’m a little bit pushier when it comes to certain things. But overall, people come in here all of the time and say, ‘You guys have a lot of respect and love for one another.’
“It’s not an ego thing. That’s where a lot of brothers and family members have problems because they’re always using the measuring stick instead of saying, ‘Wait a minute, can we both do this together as a team so we can get there a lot quicker?’ People see that. I think that’s the magic of what we do.
“We’ve been blessed but most importantly with us, for brothers, is how we were raised. We still continue that tradition of honesty, integrity, of hard work and respect and most importantly humility and giving back.”
The pandemic hurt but the brothers have been pulling through.
“All of the servers got paid even though they didn’t have tables to wait on…We gave them tips from carryout orders. It was hard for everyone during that time,” Mike said.
Both brothers also were grateful for loyal customers.
“You look at the support that was given to us,” said Mike. “That’s where the humility comes in. People were making choices as to who they wanted to support…”
“We’ve got great workers,” said Tony. “But we don’t make great workers. Good workers come and we recognize those characteristics and we enhance those qualities. I don’t want people to be robots. Once that customer comes in they get that same feeling. If we’re not here, we get compliments…I have hundreds of customers who have my phone number who will give me a call and say, ‘Hey, Tony, the place is going good.’”
Information: at casanovabrospizza.com, 480-539-6200.